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Blueprint Denver – Small Area Plans

This is a good example of:

Creating nested planning areas to match local investment with big picture municipal goals


A small area plan is any plan that addresses sub-areas of the city and are nested within larger scale plans (e.g., comprehensive & regional plans).  Small area plans cover a specific geography that often has a cohesive set of characteristics. In Denver, small area plans can cover three different geographic scales — neighborhood, corridor, and district regardless of the size of the area.  Denver has also created a separate category for areas surrounding transit stops and stations. (see: Transit Oriented Development (TOD) website)

In order to prioritize areas selected for small area planning, Denver has set the following criteria:

  • Evidence of disinvestment and deteriorating housing – high vacancy, unemployment and poverty rates;
  • Significant change is occurring or anticipated;
  • Public facilities and/or physical improvements need to be addressed;
  • Opportunities for substantial infill or redevelopment are present;
  • Opportunities arise to influence site selection, development or major expansion of a single large activity generator; and
  • Transit station development opportunities.

There are currently 62 completed small area plans. Here are two examples that show how Denver customizes plans for areas.

Cherry Creek 2

The Cherry Creek small area plan includes four sub-areas with separate plannign strategies. Image: Cherry Creek Area Plan, Denver CO

Cherry Creek:  In 2012, Denver updated the Cherry Creek small area plan to analyze opportunities and challenges, align plans with new policies and regulations, and get in front of anticipated infill development.  In order to update zoning, the city undertook two studies:

  • Cherry Creek North Urban Form Study – An Urban Form Working Group was formed and charged with identifying urban design, building form, height and design strategies that would reflect the plan vision for a prosperous, attractive and walkable Cherry Creek that blended with adjacent residential neighborhoods. The group participants included Cherry Creek residents, representatives from Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District, local architects and planners.
  • Shopping District Development Study – The city performed a feasibility analysis to answer questions as they relate to the Cherry Creek North (CCN) shopping district study area:
    • To what extent does unused development capacity exist within existing zoning and why has it not been utilized fully?
    • Given the cost of land in Cherry Creek, does development capacity have to increase to make projects feasible from a real estate development perspective?
    • What would be the effects (in terms of development feasibility, residential and employment density, and quality of the built environment) of adjusting maximum building heights and building form in CCN, as proposed in the preliminary area plan concepts? Is there a set of “optimal” building heights in Cherry Creek North on 2nd and 3rd Avenues for encouraging feasible investment while also maintaining transitions into the residential neighborhood to the north?
    • What market exists for additional hotels, types of hotels, and what types of locations make sense for new hotels?

10th & Osage Station Area Plan – This station area plan is part of the Central Corridor light rail plan and shows how progressively more detailed area plans fit within several larger plans.  In this case, Blueprint Denver > Central Corridor> La Alma Lincoln Park Neighborhood Plan >10th & Osage Station plans. The 10th & Osage area plan directed several activities including new street connections, rezoning and the South Lincoln Redevelopment Master Plan (which won EPA’s 2012 smart growth award for equitable development).

Small area plans rely on an assessment of existing conditions (e.g., zoning, buildings)

Small area plans rely on an assessment of existing conditions (e.g., zoning, buildings)

URL link to Main Resource:

Project Location :

Denver, Colorado, US

Development Context:





City of Denver,

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