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Land use bill authors stand by sweeping legislation, citing availability, affordability

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The Pine Ridge Apartments construction site. Unlike many new apartment building around Colorado, the Pine Ridge Apartments will remain relatively accessible at two stories.
Photo: Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson

According to authors of the land use bill making its way through the Colorado Legislature, the primary goal is stopping communities from exclusionary zoning that prohibits the construction of multifamily housing.

Known as SB23-213, the land use bill was unveiled in March by Gov. Jared Polis and Democrats as a solution to the growing housing crisis.

While municipalities statewide are voicing opposition to the bill, authors are saying the 105-page document is vital to the state’s future in providing an adequate supply of affordable housing.  

In this case, affordable housing does not mean more single-family homes, but instead duplexes, triplexes, other multiplexes, townhomes, condos and apartments.

According to the authors of SB23-213, some Colorado cities and counties have implemented zoning policies that decrease or completely bar the construction of multifamily housing.

Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver, co-authored SB23-213 with Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Arapahoe County, and Majority Leader Sen. Dominick Moreno, a District 21 Democrat covering Adams County, Commerce City, Federal Heights and Westminster.

Woodrow said while some communities have done an “exemplary” job at addressing affordability, others have not and state intervention is required to stop the growing crisis where housing costs are at an all-time high and availability is at an all-time low.

“This bill really does increase individual property rights,” Woodrow said. “If you are a property owner, you have the right to build an accessory dwelling unit and the government will not be able to prevent that. Some feel like we are taking away rights. We are adding to them. This bill will have some flexibility, but it does set forth some minimum standards.”

Since the bill’s introduction, several Denver metro communities have passed resolutions to oppose the bill, including Westminster, Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Centennial. Other communities have said they may take similar votes.

At the center of the opposition is the plan for the state intervening in local development decisions, removing home rule authority. Home rule is a form or structure of governing defined by the citizens of a municipality or county that allows for more control over matters of local significance.

According to the proposed bill, municipalities will be required to submit land-use codes to the state. The state will review the proposed codes and if they are deemed insufficient, the state will impose its own codes.

Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully said the bill takes a one-size-fits-all approach and it will not work for all Colorado communities.

Woodrow said he disagrees, that the bill allows communities to develop and plan growth, but they have to meet minimum standards to avoid state intervention. He stressed the bill has tiers to address all populations, including suburban, urban and mountain towns.

“It is not a one-size-fits all,” he said. “This only goes into effect if a community refuses to adopt the (minimum) required standards. The only time you are affected is if you decided to ignore it.”

The reason the state is taking steps to intervene in local control is because of the excessive use of “exclusionary zoning,” by some Colorado communities, Woodrow said.

Exclusionary zoning laws place restrictions on the types of homes that can be built in a neighborhood. Oftentimes, these laws prohibit multifamily homes and set limits on building heights.

Rep. Lisa Frizell, R-Castle Rock, said SB23-213 is a misguided piece of legislation that does nothing more than declare war on single family home construction.

“It’s built on a faulty premise that everyone wants to live in high density housing,” she said.

 Frizell said if the Democratic-led legislation wanted to adequately address the housing crisis, it would focus on the impact fees and permit fees that cities and towns are charging developers.

Pointing to Castle Rock as an example, Frizell said home prices have skyrocketed due to the costs home builders are having to pay local entities to build.

According to the fee sheet on the Town of Castle Rock website, a developer building a 2,000 square foot home can pay over $21,000 in impact fees, which includes a line item for parks and recreation, fire protection, municipal facilities, police and transportation.  That total does not include other required permit fees.

The construction of a multifamily building is more than $17,000 per unit, according to the fee schedule.

In drafting the legislation, Moreno said the authors looked at what other states have done, specifically naming California and Oregon, which have also implemented land-use codes.

Moreno said the steps taken by both the Democratic-led states would not fit Colorado’s current and future needs.

“(SB23-213) is drafted to provided local options for municipalities to choose from,” he said. “This sets goals and gives choices on how to meet those goals. It’s easy. If (municipalities) don’t then the state will step in. There is a bit more choice than other states.”

In its early stages, Moreno said lawmakers have agreed not to immediately take votes on the proposed legislation, instead opting on April 6 to listening to debate, concerns and ideas.

Moreno said he has heard complaints that the bill does not address affordability enough. The Adams County senator said amendments are likely as the bill moves through the process.

Moreno said the bill does address affordability in the area of availability. Moreno said it increases stock, which means added supply will drive down home prices.

According to a monthly report from the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, the median price for a single-family home in February was around $600,000, a more than 5% decline from the month before.

The median price for a condo was around $400,000 in February.

As amendments for better language, and clarifying information on water and infeasibility are already on the table, Rep. Mark Baisley, a District 4 Republican, which covers parts of Douglas County, Fremont County and Jefferson County said he is “pleasantly surprised” that both Democrats and Republicans have expressed opposition to the bill’s current language.

Even with possible amendments coming to the bill, Baisley said it still wouldn’t work because the entire bill lacks “humility” and the only way to fix it is to redo it completely.

No matter what concessions are made in areas of affordability and language, Baisley said at the core of the bill is taking away home rule, which likely will not be eliminated.

The state intervening just means more government, more state oversight and less local control, Baisley said. That aspect alone makes the bill unlikely to ever be successful.

Woodrow said it is sweeping legislation and can take time, noting that success will be gauged in 10 or 12 months. Instead, he said this bill addresses current needs while allowing Colorado to grow in a more strategic way.

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