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Major changes to sweeping land use bill fail to win over opposition

Eighteen amendments have failed to win over the opposition to a major land-use bill working its way through the state legislature. The Colorado State Capitol is pictured here on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.
Lucas Brady Woods
Eighteen amendments have failed to win over the opposition to a major land-use bill working its way through the state legislature. The Colorado State Capitol is pictured here on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.

Major opposition to Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Democrats’ expansive land-use bill has put its path forward in doubt, despite significant changes meant to bring critics on board. At least eighteen amendments have been made to the original bill, with more expected to be introduced soon.

The bill, Senate Bill 213, aims to address the housing affordability crisis by increasing housing density across the state. It cleared its first obstacle in the legislative process last week, when the Senate Local Government & Housing Committee approved it along a thin, party-line vote.

“There will be further refinement, further fine tuning, further exploration of concepts in order to address the very valid concerns that have been raised to date,” bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Dominic Moreno said during the committee hearing.

One major change loosens the bill’s zoning requirements for the state’s biggest cities including Denver, Aurora, Boulder, Englewood, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Pueblo, Thornton, and Westminster. The original bill required them to allow for up to six-unit housing in all residential areas.

Now, the bill only requires those cities to allow for duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, and they would only have to allow them in 30% of areas currently zoned for single-family homes. It would also direct them specifically to allow for multi-unit housing in the neighborhoods around transit hubs and bus routes. Each housing unit near public transportation also no longer has to be accompanied by a parking space. Instead, half a parking space would be required for each unit.

Amendments also rolled back requirements on Colorado’s resort communities like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Durango, Frisco, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride. Called rural resort job centers in the bill, those are towns that have at least 1,000 people, 1,200 jobs and regional public transportation.

With the changes, those communities would be able to choose from a list of housing strategies, some of which they are already using. Those strategies include allowing for accessory dwelling units, restricting short-term rentals and waiving fees on affordable housing construction.

Another change in the bill would allow cities and towns to apply for an exemption based on limitations to their infrastructure or water supply.

Even with the changes introduced so far, many supporters of local control over housing are still opposed to it, including the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Incorporated, organizations representing the state’s cities and counties.

Kevin Bommer, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League told KUNC the group will not support the bill “Unless preemption of home rule authority and local control of land use and zoning is removed.”

In other words, the group is against what it considers the state overruling local government control over local matters, which, in this case, is land-use.

The Colorado Association of Ski Towns also remains opposed. The association’s executive director Margaret Bowes said the amendments don’t go far enough to get their support and wants to see a statewide assessment of housing needs before implementing land-use reform.

“This bill is trying to be a one-size-fits-all, and housing and housing issues in rural resort communities are just so different from other areas of the state,” Bowes said. “We like the idea of let's really get our arms around exactly where the challenges and problems are and then design policy around addressing those needs.”

The income requirements for affordable housing that are listed in the bill would not work for the resort communities she represents, she said. Under those limits, many people in those communities would make too much to qualify for affordable housing but too little to afford the high cost of housing there.

Democratic Sen. Dylan Roberts, whose northwest Colorado district encompasses a number of resort communities, has similar concerns and remains in opposition to the bill. He’s also concerned about the impacts increased density could have on the state’s water supply.

For Roberts, it’s important to “ensure that increased density and increased development on the Front Range doesn’t mean that more water has to come over from the Western Slope.”

“Density, in theory, should actually be more water-efficient than sprawl,” he said. “But I think there are some guardrails and protections we can put in the statue to ensure that developments here on the Front Range have adequate water resources before they’re approved.”

He wants to see the bill require assurances from local water providers that there’s enough water and enough infrastructure to serve new housing development before construction begins.

The bill is now awaiting a fiscal review in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but it’s unclear if it has the votes to pass. An appropriations hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, but that was postponed until Wednesday morning.

The vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, could be a deciding vote, but she expressed her opposition to the bill in a recent column, specifically opposing reductions to local control. All committee Republicans are expected to vote against it. They believe the bill amounts to state overreach of local control.

If the bill passes a fiscal review, it moves to the Senate floor. Despite the ongoing opposition, Senate President Steve Fenberg is confident it will pass, even if that takes more changes.

Copyright 2023 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Lucas Brady Woods
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