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Rule changes could make it easier for Denver homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), possibly as early as next year.

The city’s ADUs in Denver project has been working to identify the barriers that prevent homeowners and builders from erecting carriage houses, granny flats and other supplementary housing structures on their properties. The feedback from community members and builders will make its way into draft rules next month and could receive city council approval in early 2023.

“From builders, we’ve heard plenty of frustration about the rules we have in place now being a barrier, that they can’t make the projects work for homeowners,” says Abe Barge, a principal city planner involved with the project.

For example, builders are bumping up against a rule that limits ADUs to 1.5 stories, which often increases costs for homeowners and requires them to build a larger unit to maximize habitable space. Lot size limits also prevent some homeowners from adding an ADU, even if they’re located in a district that’s already zoned for ADUs.

In a city short on housing, ADUs could help provide renters with more options in existing neighborhoods while providing homeowners with an additional source of income.

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“ADUs can better serve the needs of a growing population and accommodate people in different phases of their lives, like downsizers or young professionals,” Barge says.

City council members have already rezoned several Denver neighborhoods to allow ADUs, but there hasn’t been a rush to build them. In 2021, just 64 ADU permits were issued. If adopted, the new rules could promote more ADU construction, but Barge says any increase in units will likely be gradual. “We’re not expecting a huge boom,” he says. “I would expect to have the biggest year ever for ADUs next year, but that doesn’t mean hundreds, more like dozens.”

Corey Dahl

Corey Dahl is a writer and editor. She has written for a wide variety of news and trade publications, in print and online. Corey has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and a master's in communications management from Webster University. She lives in Denver with her dog Rosie.

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