More time OK’d to make re­pairs

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jon Mur­ray

The Den­ver City Coun­cil in­cor­po­rated sev­eral ideas from the city’s skep­ti­cal artist com­mu­nity Mon­day be­fore ap­prov­ing a vol­un­tary amnesty pro­gram aimed at ad­dress­ing safety haz­ards in un­per­mit­ted spa­ces.

City of­fi­cials pro­posed the new Safe Oc­cu­pancy Pro­gram last month and por­trayed it as the first of its kind in the coun­try be­cause it al­lows res­i­dents to stay in the build­ings while they’re brought up to code. The pro­gram is aimed in part at de­fus­ing six months of ten­sions stoked by the shut-downs of two pop­u­lar arts spa­ces in the River North Art District in De­cem­ber, just days af­ter a deadly ware­house fire in Oak­land, Calif.

At Rhinoceropo­lis on Brighton Boule­vard, in­spec­tors “red tagged” the build­ing be­cause of fire-code vi­o­la­tions and be­cause five peo­ple were liv­ing in an in­dus­trial build­ing that wasn’t zoned for res­i­dents.

Last week, the coun­cil heard protests from arts ad­vo­cates and oth­ers who ex­pressed con­cern dur­ing a hear­ing about weak ten­ant pro­tec­tions in Den­ver that could ham­string some artists who want to avoid sim­i­lar evic­tions. Speak­ers cited other is­sues that also could dis­suade res­i­dents and their land­lords tak­ing ad­van­tage of the new pro­gram.

Am­plify Arts and All In Den­ver, an­other group that has pressed for more so­lu­tions to the city’s af­ford­able-hous­ing prob­lem, worked out sev­eral changes with the De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment and coun­cil mem­bers be­fore Mon­day’s vote on the pro­gram.

The coun­cil ap­proved the amended pro­posal 12-0.

To sign up for the pro­gram, which is set to last through Jan­uary 2020, par­tic­i­pants will have to come for­ward and agree to make safety im­prove­ments by cer­tain dead­lines set by the Den­ver Fire De­part­ment and other city agen­cies. The city will al­low tenants and own­ers to live in build­ing with some code vi­o­la­tions as long as they are mak­ing progress, but they will have to fix life-safety haz­ards up front.

But it’s still un­clear whether many own­ers or tenants of DIY, or do-ity­our­self, venues will vol­un­teer for the pro­gram.

“We knew this was go­ing to pass, and we wanted to try to make it bet­ter,” said Kim Shively of Am­plify Arts.

Coun­cil­woman Deb­bie Ortega pre­sented the pro­posal amend­ment, which added an­other six months to the two-year span of the amnesty pro­gram, gave par­tic­i­pants a full year to com­plete im­prove­ments (in­stead of nine months) and re­quired the plan­ning de­part­ment to sub­mit reg­u­lar progress re­ports on the pro­gram.

The pro­gram also will be avail­able for the build­ings al­ready closed by the city.

A grace pe­riod will ap­ply to any build­ings vis­ited and cited by in­spec­tors in the next six months.

And the coun­cil will un­der­take a sun­set re­view of the pro­gram be­fore it lapses, giv­ing of­fi­cials a chance to ex­tend it.

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