Spurred by changing regulations and a softening economy, Denver builders discover their creative sides.

By Carolyn Weber

With a dramatic leap from just 4,000 to more than 22,000 housing units a year in the 1990s, Denver has been one of America's fastest growing cities. But the demand, coupled with a labor crunch, left builders so busy trying to deliver product to the market that innovative designs quickly became a low priority. Buyers had to settle for the standard beige vinyl boxes.

But now the economy has tempered a bit, and permits have flattened for the first time in a decade. So builders are using the downtime to update their designs. "A design revolution was inevitable," says Cheri Meyn, president of the Genesis Group, a marketing and consulting firm. "The builder community is embracing new designs in order to get entitlements, for access into sophisticated master plans, and to stay competitive as the market tightens up."

Pattern books in communities like the upcoming Stapleton, a classic TND on the site of the former airport, are changing the rules in the Mile-High City. Many jurisdictions now require rear-loaded garages, front porches, and historically correct details. Although the builders grumbled at first, most are amenable and excited about the opportunity for change.