Denver residents sue city over safe camping sites

After months of arguments and appeals, a group of Park Hill residents filed a complaint in Denver District Court question how the city of Denver has enabled the creation of safe campsites for homeless people.

“If you want to make huge changes to the city’s zoning code that potentially affects all owners and residents of Denver, these things have to go through the political process. The mayor and Denver city council have to be involved,” says lawyer Dan Burrows of Institute of Public Trust, a non-profit organization “created to uphold our state’s constitution and uphold the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility upon which Colorado was founded.”

Burrows filed a complaint with fellow lawyer Sarah Baker in Denver District Court on August 17 on behalf of a group of Park Hill residents. The lawsuit challenges the Denver zoning administrator’s decision to create an “unlisted temporary use” allowance for secure campsites across the city, including residential areas such as South Park Hill.

Denver currently has two secure camping sites: one in a parking lot on campus Régis University and another in the parking lot of Park Hill United Methodist Church, on Montview Boulevard between Forest and Glencoe streets.

While the establishment of the Regis location was relatively quiet, the decision to locate a safe campsite in South Park Hill caused conflict between neighbors, city officials, nonprofit service providers and the ‘church.

In May, five Park Hill residents sued the nonprofit that runs secure camping sites, Colorado Village Collaborative, along with Park Hill United Methodist Church, its senior pastor, and the City of Denver, to shut down the establishment of the secure camping site at the church.

Denver District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones dismissed the case later in the month, ruling that before a lawsuit could be brought, plaintiffs must first exhaust all possible administrative remedies regarding their issues with the secure campsite plan – in particular, with the zoning board that approved it. The residents therefore filed two appeals with the Denver Adjustment Council for Zoning, challenging the creation of an unlisted temporary use for secure camping sites and the authorization of the Park Hill site.

Prior to the hearings on those appeals, however, the secure camping site opened in South Park Hill. The CVC and other service providers define the concept of a secure campsite as a model of harm reduction, which keeps people away from camp sweeps while providing them with a stable place to live with centralized access. services, showers and toilets.

Click to enlarge Secure campsites offer individual ice fishing tents.  - CONOR MCCORMICK-CAVANAGH

Secure campsites offer individual ice fishing tents.

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh

While collectively expressing the belief that Denver City Council should create legislation to make space available for safe camping sites and not simply leave it to the Zoning Administrator, members of the Adjustment Council for zoning appeals voted to dismiss both appeals. While a majority of the board of directors was in favor of the Park Hill site-specific appeal, a qualified majority was required to overturn the zoning administrator’s decision.

This appeal decision was made earlier this month. The lawsuit against the city followed.

“The allegation concerning the Park Hill site is [that the zoning administrator] did not properly consider health and safety. There was no community meeting, there was no discussion. This site exists next to a preschool and a few blocks from an elementary school, ”says Burrows.

Kevin Reidy, Leah Capritta and David and Ella Rodman, all residents of Park Hill, are the plaintiffs in the case; David Rodman was a plaintiff in the original May trial. Denver Deserves Better, an organization whose goals include “representing the general rights of the citizens of the City of Denver with respect to the city’s management of the homeless population and those with addiction and mental health issues. serious which contribute to the degradation of the city’s living environment and safety. Reidy is the chairman of the newly formed group.

Unlike the previous lawsuit, the new lawsuit does not name the Colorado Village Collaborative as a defendant.

“I understand from the operator’s point of view. It’s not really their fault. They put it where they could get it,” Burrows explains.

Although his organization is not a defendant this time, Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, defends the concept of safe camping. “Denver deserves racially and economically diverse neighborhoods,” he says. “People deserve homes. A privileged few should not be allowed to stand in the way of the implementation of the basic principles of a just and equitable city.”

The Denver City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the matter. Read the complaint here:


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Sally J. Minick

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