As Gov. Jared Polis works to find a solution to the lack of affordable and attainable housing in Colorado, local leaders are voicing concerns over the sweeping legislation proposed through the state Legislature known as SB23-213.
The bill would preempt a great deal of local control over land use by setting state mandates for greater housing density and reduced parking requirements.
Nearly a week after Polis and Democratic lawmakers unveiled the land use bill to address the growing housing crisis, Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully said the biggest issue is taking away local power.
“Arapahoe County is a reflection of the good that is happening in our state,” she said. “We have come together to look at our successes and take on our challenges. I have some concerns on how this one-size-fits-all approach is going to work.”
Warren-Gully said with 13 cities and towns in Arapahoe County, many of them are already working together to address the housing issues and what can be done at the local level.
The City of Centennial has been working for more than a year on a housing study focused on the local needs. Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko said SB23-213 would wipe that out and require municipalities to follow new requirements.
In Castle Rock, Mayor Jason Gray said, “The town’s policies — and more importantly, our planning — have provided for an array of market-based housing choices within Castle Rock while respecting property owners’ rights and ensuring quality town services, like long-term renewable water. We cannot allow the governor and the General Assembly to upend our community’s planning and character — and Castle Rock homeowners’ financial investments — with this overreaching legislation.”
Gray said the council will vote on a letter and resolution to officially oppose SB23-213 on April 4.
Castle Rock is not alone. In Parker, while the council hasn’t taken a stance on the bill, town officials said a discussion and possible vote would be coming soon. Littleton may also consider an official action to oppose the measure.
In an email statement to Colorado Community Media, Littleton Mayor Kyle Schlachter said he appreciates the legislation the bill is trying to address, while noting that housing is an important issue that even Littleton has labeled as a top priority.
“While I personally would support much of the land use changes SB23-213 suggests here in Littleton, such as ADUs (accessory dwelling units), missing middle housing, parking requirements, and occupancy requirements — I am concerned about the unprecedented preemption of home rule authority,” he said. “I think removing local input from land use decisions would be a step in the wrong direction for our state.”
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.
Through home rule, Piko said, Centennial has worked directly with citizens to create housing options to fit local needs, which SB23-213 would end.
“Centennial has recently engaged with our residents on several large housing projects, like The Streets at Southglenn and The District. Between The Streets at Southglenn and The District, we're looking at adding an additional 3,000 units to our community,” she said. “That process allowed for the opportunity to engage with citizens, the developer and the city to work through project proposals together to amend projects to meet the needs of our community. Even though not every citizen is happy with the outcome, they have the opportunity to have their concerns heard by their local officials who can be held accountable for the outcomes of the development.”
Warren-Gully said Arapahoe County is working to address the housing shortage. The county currently has more than 108,000 units already approved for construction, which would provide homes for nearly 280,000 people.
“That’s planned housing for all those people,” she said. “The problem is all those homes will not be built by next year. Development will happen not overnight. This legislation just can’t make them get built faster.”
Arapahoe County is expected to reach 800,000 residents by the year 2030. The current population is just over 650,000.
Cherry Hills Village Mayor Katy Brown agreed with Piko and Warren-Gully, saying a lot of collaborative planning that has gone into meeting Arapahoe County needs at local levels would be undone with the bill passage.
“You've just heard a lot about the great work that's being done to address housing needs locally in Arapahoe County,” she said. “You've heard about the smart and collaborative planning and development that takes into consideration the unique communities in our county. But this bill would put an end to all of that by taking decision-making out of the hands of local communities and giving it to the state.”
Under Polis’ land use bill, cities and towns would be barred from limiting the construction of multiplexes and add-on housing units.
Opponents say that is not so simple.
In Colorado, Warren-Gully said, it may sound good to create these plans to force more housing, but the cost is not necessarily going to compute. To give an example, Warren-Gully said when a home valued at $450,000 is instead developed into a triplex where the units are sold for $750,000 each — affordability is still an issue.
“Density does not address affordability,” she said. “We have to be much more intentional to make things affordable.”
Brown said zoning is currently created by local governments with extensive input from the community.
“By allowing increased density on any single-family lot as a use-by-right, this bill takes away a community's ability to situate housing where it makes sense,” Brown said. “Where it can be sustainable for things like water and sewer. Questions like — Are the pipes underground big enough to handle the increased volume of water and well, frankly, poop that has to go down them?... Are the roads wide enough to accommodate the travel, parking and emergency vehicle access? My community still has some narrow dirt roads. It wouldn't make sense to build an apartment building there, but we might be required to do so under this new legislation.”
Piko said she supports the idea of building more townhomes and condominiums in the metro area, however, past legislative decisions and liability for developers have created a hesitancy to build them over the years.
Schlachter said SB23-213 could also create extra layers of bureaucracy and regulations and that passage of this legislation would mean restricting development of new housing instead of encouraging it.
During a recent town hall, Sheridan Mayor Tara Beiter-Fluhr said with current projects and future plans, the city is working to increase affordable housing without mandates from the state. SB21-213 does not actually guarantee affordable housing while municipalities like Sheridan are working to provide “truly affordable housing,” she said.
With housing being a statewide concern, Schlachter said SB12-213 does not cover it. Schlachter said solutions that work for Denver may not make sense for Littleton, just as Littleton solutions may not work for neighboring communities.
“I wish the affected municipalities had been brought to the table sooner to help craft legislation that would better address the issues regarding housing affordability,” he said.
SB23-213, which was officially introduced on March 22, will be discussed in committee on April 6.