Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Denver

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Examples of attached and detached ADUs

What is an "ADU"?

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are self-contained, smaller living spaces that are an extension of an existing property. They are often called mother-in-law suites, granny flats, casitas, backyard cottages, garage apartments or basement apartments. An ADU has its own kitchen, bath and sleeping area, but is not considered a separate property that could be sold on its own. 

Learn more about these living spaces

What might change in how Denver regulates ADUs?

City planners are working with community members to look at how the Denver Zoning Code regulates ADUs. This project will not rezone any properties. It will look at how ADUs are designed, how they fit in with different types of neighborhoods and block patterns, and how updates to the zoning code may reduce barriers to creating ADUs. 

Participate in this project

See if your property is zoned to allow an ADU

How to Get Involved


Spread the Word

Invite others to participate in the zoning code update for ADUs.

Arrange a meeting or workshop for your community group

If you are part of a neighborhood or interest group and would like city staff to attend a meeting or an event, please let us know! We are happy to set up presentations, Q&A sessions, or just listening sessions where we can hear from your members directly, either virtually or in person.

Schedule now


Stay Tuned

Sign up to receive email updates as activities such as public workshops, small groups, and surveys are scheduled.

About Accessory Dwelling Units

As cities grow and change, the way people live changes too. Many people want a separate space where elderly parents or kids living at home can still have independence, a space that can be rented out to generate income, or just to rent a smaller, more affordable space. Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, are a low-impact way to meet these needs and expand housing options for people of all ages.

ADUs are self-contained, smaller living spaces that are an extension of an existing property. They are often called mother-in-law suites, granny flats, casitas, backyard cottages, garage apartments or basement apartments. An ADU has its own kitchen, bath and sleeping area, but is not considered a separate property that could be sold on its own. 

Read more in the project background report(PDF, 3MB)

See if your property is zoned to allow an ADU

Constructing Accessory Dwelling Units(PDF, 560KB)

Scroll down for...

  • the History of ADUs,
  • ADUs Today,
  • the Facts on ADUs in Denver, and
  • Additional Resources.

History of ADUs

Accessory dwelling units have long been part of the fabric of Denver, and many other cities around the U.S. Pictured below is the Grant Street Mansion, built in 1892 with an adjacent carriage house. Much like the design of ADUs today, the carriage home provided living quarters above an area for storing a horse-drawn carriage. Historic carriage homes still exist in many older Denver neighborhoods, including Baker, Capitol Hill, Curtis Park, City Park West, Congress Park, Cole, Whittier, Speer, Country Club, West Washington Park, and Platt Park.

Left: Grant Street Mansion circa 1892 (credit Denver Public Library)
Right: Grant Street Mansion circa 2021

Historic Grant Street Mansion in the Capitol Hill neighborhood (credit: Denver Public Library) The Grant Street Mansion and carriage house today


ADUs Today

Today's ADUs take many forms. They can be built as a free-standing structure in the backyard, could be built above a garage, could be an addition built onto the main home, or could be a converted space within the main home, such as an attic or a basement. The choice of how and where to build an ADU will depend on the property owner's needs and construction budget as well as zoning and building codes. 

Instagram icon  Explore more ADU styles from around the world >


The Facts on ADUs in Denver

  • The Denver Zoning Code regulates height, overall size, setbacks, and more. This zoning code project will look at how these standards impact ADUs.
  • An ADU must look “compatible” with the main house. It must be smaller than the zoning allowance for the main house and fit in with the neighborhood. This project will improve how ADUs fit in with different neighborhoods and block patterns.
  • In single unit zone districts, the owner of the property MUST live on the property, either in the ADU or in the main house.
  • This project will improve how ADUs fit in with different neighborhoods and block patterns. It will not change what uses are allowed in single-unit zone districts.
  • All ADUs are reviewed according to the Denver Building and Fire Code to ensure structures are safe and can be accessed by first responders.

Additional Resources

AARP: The ABCs of ADUs - A guide to accessory dwelling units

AARP Livable Communities: ADU 'Hot Topics'

5280 Magazine's Guide to Building an ADU

American Planning Association's ADU Collection - Policy guidance from around the country

Project Scope and Timeline

 ADUs_Project_Schedule_Graphic.png

The foundation for this project is Blueprint Denver, a citywide land use plan that was adopted by Denver City Council in 2019 after three years of public outreach. Thousands of residents helped create the policy recommendations in Blueprint Denver, which included these recommendations for ADUs:

  • that barriers to ADU construction be removed, 
  • that zoning rules be reviewed and adjusted so ADUs fit into a variety of neighborhood contexts.
 

Scope 

This project aims to implement the Blueprint Denver recommendations through a community-driven update to the Denver Zoning Code. This project will not change where in the city ADUs are allowed, but will look at how they are designed, how they fit in with different types of neighborhoods and block patterns, and how updates to the zoning code may reduce barriers to creating ADUs.

Read more in the Project Background Report(PDF, 3MB)

Timeline

Over the next year, city planners will work with residents to develop the specific language for new ADU zoning standards. This work will include public workshops, small focus groups, and surveys to...

  1. explore the challenges residents currently face in constructing an ADU,
  2. evaluate possible alternatives for resolving these challenges while achieving the project's goals of reducing barriers and improving design outcomes,
  3. work with residents and the Community Advisory Committee to recommend a particular strategy, and
  4. develop and write the zoning standards.

Adoption process: Both the Denver Planning Board and Denver City Council must vote in favor of adopting the new text into the Denver Zoning Code. 

Community Advisory Committee and Project Team

Updating the zoning code is a collaborative, community-driven process facilitated by an independent consultant working with city staff and guided by an advisory committee of residents, local businesses, neighborhood groups, community-serving organizations and other constituencies from across Denver.

Community Advisory Committee

A key element of the project's outreach plan is the community advisory committee. The committee will provide input on key issues, challenges and opportunities, as well as on proposed alternatives. The input will be considered by city staff and summarized in the city’s final Strategy Report to City Council. 

Committee members were selected from more than 80 community members who submitted the interest form. The committee includes people from across Denver with experience from different neighborhoods and housing types. Some committee members have specific expertise in ADU design/construction, real estate, historic preservation and/or affordable housing.

View committee selection criteria(PDF, 101KB).

View committee charter(PDF, 260KB).

See Project Archive for summaries of previous committee meetings.

Name

Neighborhood, organizations, and other affiliations

Councilwoman Kendra Black

Is the Denver City Council Member for District 4.

Councilman Chris Herndon

Is the Denver City Council Member for District 8.

Gabriel Calderon

A Berkeley resident and a member of BRUN-Berkeley Regis United Neighbors RNO.

Ozi Friedrich

A Baker resident, architect, chair of the Baker Landmark Committee, and a member of the Baker Zoning Committee.

Emily Goodman

A Community Navigator for East Colfax Community Collective.

Naomi Grunditz

A Clayton resident, planner and aide for Council District 1.

Mary C Hawthorne

A Wellshire resident and member of Cherry Hills Heights HOA.

Chelsey Hume

A Virginia Village resident and an ADU project manager for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver.

Lisa Kerin-Welch

A Mayfair-Montclair resident, real-estate advisor for ADU4U and a member of STRAC-Denver’s Short-Term Rental Advisory Committee.

Pamela Jiner

A Montbello resident and director of Monbello Walks/Montbello 2020.

Jennifer Steffel Johnson

A Park Hill resident and CU Denver Professor of Planning.

Rosemary Stoffel

A University Park resident, board member of University Park Community Council, concerned with design review and short-term rentals.

Shawn Johnson

A Sunnyside Resident who has met barriers in building a fully accessible ADU for his aging mother.

Gosia Kung

A Sloan Lake resident, architect, and Denver Planning Board Member.

Terra Mazzeo

A City Park West resident, architect and owner of AlleyFlats, an ADU prefabrication/development company.

Brooke Murphy

A La Alma-Lincoln Park resident and a planner/impact associate for Elevation Land Trust.

Cesar Olivas

A Chaffee Park resident and an Architect working closely on affordable housing projects in Denver and throughout the rocky mountain region.

Donna Repp

A Mar Lee resident and past president of the Mar Lee/Brentwood/Sharon Park Neighborhood Association

Suzanne Reede

A Regis resident concerned with housing options and short-term rentals near the university.

Sarah Senderhauf

A Park Hill resident and ADU sales manager/real-estate broker with L&D Construction.

Renee Martinez Stone

A West Highlands resident and Executive Director of WDRC-West Denver Renaissance Collaborative.

Michelle Ferrigno Warren

An Athmar Park resident and Athmar Zoning Committee member.

Darcy Wilson

A Cole resident, construction professional for Stan Mar, and a member of the African-American Construction Council and UNDR – United Neighbors of NE Denver.

 

Project Team

Josh Palmeri 
Senior City Planner – Project Manager 
Joshua.Palmeri@denvergov.org 

Libby Kaiser 
Senior City Planner 
Libby.Kaiser@denvergov.org 

Fran Peñafiel - Habla español 
Associate City Planner 
Francisca.Penafiel@denvergov.org 

Abe Barge 
Principal City Planner 
Abe.Barge@denvergov.org 

Consultants and Partner Agencies

    

Project Archive

Public materials and recordings will be available here as the project progresses.

Newsletters

Advisory Committee Meetings

Advisory Committee #1
4:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 3, 2022
Virtual meeting via Zoom


Advisory Committee #2
4:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 7, 2022
Virtual meeting via Zoom


Advisory Committee Meeting #3
4:30 - 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 5, 2022
Virtual meeting via Zoom


Advisory Committee Meeting #4
4:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 9, 2022
Virtual meeting via Zoom