Jason Hornyak is the head of the Chaffee Park Neighborhood Association
What’s special about where you live in North Denver?
What I like most about Chaffee Park is the neighborhood’s positive relationship with and attitude toward change. A few months ago, Chaffee Park became the first neighborhood in Denver to voluntarily change its zoning in order to be more inclusive of different housing types. The idea to re-write the code to allow our residents to build Accessory Dwelling Units came from my neighbors, as did the volunteer research and outreach efforts that made the change possible. What struck me most were the many people who donated their time and energy, not because they want an ADU themselves, but because they understand that the benefits to the community go beyond their stake as an individual.
What would you like to see improve in 2021?
I would like to see more of the barriers that stand in our way of creating affordable housing removed from my neighborhood, my district and the city as a whole. Our zoning code is filled with outdated regulations that restrict our ability to provide housing for people. Denver’s housing shortage is a problem of our own making: A preoccupation with parking, setbacks, occupancy limits and how many units are allowed per parcel has greatly limited the supply of housing despite skyrocketing demand. I would like more people to understand the connection between land use and our housing crisis, because it is a direct cause and effect. It breaks my heart to hear people in this city prioritize their ability to store their private vehicle on the public street over allowing their neighbor to provide a bedroom for a roommate. I’m sure this sounds silly to most of you, but this is the debate surrounding the proposed Group Living code change: People are more concerned about their free parking than the housing security of others. If we want this city to be a more equitable place to live, then we’re all going to need to learn how to better share our space.
What have you done to get through the pandemic?
The darkness of the pandemic came with a bright silver lining for my family when we welcomed the birth of our son Arlo on December 29th (so, any of my answers to these questions seem clumsily written, please cut me some slack because I am still very much in the throes of newborn sleep deprivation!) If you do the math, you’ll realize that we became pregnant right at the beginning of the lockdown period in late March. Yes, he is a quarantine baby, and one of the first of the impending COVID baby boom… but before you write us off as a cliché, you should know that we were trying BEFORE the pandemic happened! – So besides doing what many others did like honing hobbies, rediscovering a love of home cooking, and gathering around a computer for virtual happy hours with friends, we also devoted a great deal of time and energy toward prepping for parenthood. We read parenting books, took online classes, and remodeled the spare bedroom as a nursery. It was actually a pretty convenient time to be pregnant, since my wife and I didn’t feel as if we were missing out on much by staying home. The same can be said for having a newborn! We would be holed up in our nest regardless of the pandemic, so at least we don’t have to turn down any social obligations! Tragically, since she does not feel comfortable flying across the country right now, my mother won’t be able to meet her grandson until she is able to get the vaccine. Though really, all she is missing out on is 20 dirty diapers a day, so perhaps it’s not a bad thing to delay her trip until Arlo is old enough to do something besides digest milk!
What are some favorite places to hang out in your neighborhood?
Chaffee Park is almost entirely residential, and our only public space besides a few gas stations and fast food restaurants is the park on 51st and Zuni street (despite being an absolute jewel of the city, the park doesn’t technically have a name! Hopefully we’ll be able to remedy this in the near future). The lack of public space, and the fact that we are cut off from the rest of the city by the highway, means that we have to make the best out of our private areas- like our backyard oases. We may not have any restaurants, but we can cook dinner for our neighbors on our grills; we may not have breweries, but we can sample a home brew from the garage next door; we may not have a place to purchase fresh vegetables, but we can trade our garden surplus with our friends down the street. Backyard hangs are a perfect way to bond with your neighbors, and are crucibles for community building.
Who in the community do you admire?
I admire the people that think it’s ok to not clean up after their dogs in the park, because it takes a special kind of brazen confidence to think that this is acceptable behavior. I’m kidding, of course… Who I really admire are people to volunteer to solve problems that they didn’t create, like the folks in Chaffee Park who gave up a Saturday morning in September to thoroughly clean 51st and Zuni Park. This was a part of a District One effort spearheaded by Council Woman Amanda Sandoval (whose proactive approach to her position is also something that I admire) to encourage a sense of productivity and community service in a time of pandemic induced isolation. My friend and neighbor Kate Hilsenbeck swept between the cracks of literally every piece of sidewalk under the pavilion, and did so with her perpetually great attitude. She always shows up to our neighborhood meetings and events and lights them up with her presence, as does my other friend and neighbor Anne Long- whose dedication to her community is without rival. I look up to both of these women and try to emulate their attitude with my civic engagement. I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to volunteering, so keeping my attitude aligned in the right direction is crucial for me to avoid burnout. Having the examples of great attitudes around me goes a long way toward keeping me on task for my community.