City of Denver Site Development Plan Process

If you live in Denver or have driven through it recently, you probably are more than aware that multi-family development is BOOMING in the City of Denver. I will use the word “multi-family” to define any apartment, townhome, or condo development. If the current City of Denver forecast is anything close to reality, this boom is here to stay for the next 5+ years.

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This environment is making profitable opportunities for not just the big developers but also many first time developers. This article is written more towards the developers (or potential developers) who want to start developing in Denver but have little or no experience in the City. Even the most seasoned developers can find frustration in the City of Denver development process that is associated with these projects. It’s immensely important to ensure your Civil Engineer (and design team) has the knowledge and experience to anticipate most of the things Denver will throw at you in the process.

The Denver development process generally consists of the following steps:

Step 1: Concept Plan
Concept Plan is the precursor to your formal site plan submittal. This is the City’s way of filtering out projects that have no chance of succeeding before the owner spends unnecessary money. This process will require a relatively basic level site drawings and elevations (at a minimum). Many times the city will require more detail if you trigger one of their other requirements. For example, if your lot is over 0.5 acres disturbed (not just in size), you will also need to include a drainage plan showing preliminary detention calculations. There’s several other items that can come up which might also require a preliminary utility plan.

I always recommend to my clients that we bring in a preliminary grading, utility and drainage plan along with preliminary architectural elevations to ensure we rout out all potential issues that the City might have. You will then attend a “Concept Plan Meeting” at City of Denver’s Webb Building downtown. Denver will assign you a planner to review your project and shepherd you through the process. The “Concept Plan Meeting” will have representatives from Denver’s review agencies: Fire, Zoning, Wastewater, Survey and Planning.

These agencies will provide you with approval or denial based on the materials and design you provide to the City. These comments will range from minor clarifications to complete deal killers. If you are denied on a minor clarification, we will just update the plans and re-submit. Assuming you’ve addressed all the conceptual concerns, its time to go to Site Development Plan.

Step 2: Site Development Plan
City of Denver will clear you to go to Site Development Plan once all conceptual level Concept Plan comments are cleared. The Site Development Plan process can take a couple of different directions. Based on the comments received in Concept, you will know what your Site Development Plan process will look like.

There are several other potential plans that you will need to get approved in this step. The first, and always, required portion is the Site Development Plan itself. This is a construction level set of drawings that show detailed site grading, utilities, layout, drainage, and landscape as well as a Survey sheet which must be prepared and stamped by a Colorado Licensed Land Surveyor (REMINDER: Altitude Land Consultants offers civil, landscape and surveying). In addition to the Site Development Plans, there are 6 others plans/processes that might accompany it: , Sewer-Use and Drainage Permit, Transportation Engineering Plan (TEP), Wastewater Construction Drawings (SSPR), Stormwater Construction Drawings, Denver Water Review, and/or Storm Water Management Plan.


Sewer-Use and Drainage Permit (SUDP):
An SUDP is required with all new building construction for EACH building. These permits are obtained from the City’s Wastewater Department. Generally speaking, these permits are quickly obtained within a 4-6 week period if SSPR is not required. The SUDP set must be prepared by a licensed engineer and include site layout, addressing, grading, utility design and any calculations associated with the design. As the developer, you should also be aware that you will need a geotechnical report to submit with these plans along with the plumbing plans for the building. Additionally, you are required to cut-off any existing sanitary sewer lines to buildings to be demolished prior to issuance of permit/approval. Also, the fees can be significantly costs ranging from $15,000 to $40,000 (and even higher) per building depending on the project’s sanitary sewer tap size and demand.


Transportation Engineering Plans (TEP):
The TEP is another one of the most common requirements when doing an infill project in Denver. As part of your construction, you will be required to replace any adjacent, damaged infrastructure such as sidewalk, curb, and alleyway. It’s quite common to be required to remove and replace adjacent alleyway and this will trigger a TEP process and review by the City’s Transportation department.


Wastewater Construction Drawings (SSPR):
The wastewater construction plans must be approved by Denver Wastewater Department. These plans become a requirement when doing any proposed public/private sewer mains as well as any major sanitary sewer items (i.e. pump stations). As the developer, you are allowed one sanitary sewer service header per building without triggering this requirement. The plans generally include all site, grading, utility layout and include plan and profiles of the proposed sanitary line.


Stormwater Construction Drawings:
This is very similar to the wastewater construction plans but this is for storm water design. This design is reviewed by the Wastewater Department. The deliverables on this process consist of a set of stormwater design plans as well as a drainage report. You will need to meet all the requirements of the Denver Stormwater Triage checklist. This checklist can be found in the Storm Drainage Design & Technical Criteria Manual. These plans become a requirement if your project contains a detention facility, storm infrastructure, or any other major stormwater infrastructure.


Denver Water Review:
Generally speaking, Denver Water won’t make comments or review your conceptual plans. It’s frustrating but the way things are currently. I generally recommend to my clients to have a separate sit down in the concept phase with Denver Water if there is anything proposed beyond water services on-site. Denver will require a set of plans to be reviewed if your project needs any of the following: Public Water Main Extension, Fire Hydrant Installation, Fire sprinklers or any other major water infrastructure installation. The Denver Water review can be a lengthy process depending on what you are proposing to install, so its smart to get on this process right away if its required.


Storm Water Management Plan (SWMP):
A SWMP is required in Denver if you disturb over an acre of land in your development. Let me clarify that this is NOT a catch-all rule. I’ve seen sites smaller than an acre get forced into a SWMP due to being “High Risk”. These sites found asbestos while excavating and were, therefore, required. The SWMP deliverables are a narrative and erosion control set of plans. This will be the plan in which your contractor shall follow to ensure that no downstream properties are polluted by your development. A SWMP is sometimes called a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) in other jurisdictions. City of Denver will review your SWMP for completeness and sometimes provide comments.


There can be a large amount of deliverables required by the City of Denver depending on your job. One of the most important things you can do as a new developer is to find a design team who you can trust and knows the jurisdiction you are developing in. In the City of Denver, ALC is a trusted design team to dozens of both seasoned and not-so-seasoned multifamily developers who expect a smooth process through City of Denver’s SDP requirements. Our project managers have worked with every project coordinator at the City and have the experience to get approval as quickly as possible.

Altitude Land Consultants help you navigate this process with greater ease, eliminate costly mistakes and loss of time.

By: Eric Burtzlaff, PE

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