City Leaders Remain Opposed to Colorado Land Use Bill Even After Amendments

Proposed amendment would create ‘housing-forward community’ exemption.

Even as lawmakers work to modify a sweeping bill concerning land use in the state to assuage concerns about its reach, city leaders remain opposed to the legislation’s premise.

Senate Bill 23-213, championed by Gov. Jared Polis as a major legislative priority, is a multifaceted proposal to reform Colorado’s zoning codes to promote density and encourage housing production. As introduced, it would have required large cities in the state to upzone land that currently allows single-family homes, a provision that drew intense opposition from mayors and local leaders across the state who argued it usurped local control.

The bill was heavily amended Tuesday to roll back that preemption, among other changes. Cities would only need to allow multiplexes and middle housing options on 30% of the land currently zoned for single-family homes, prioritizing transit corridors.

It might not be enough, however, to win over city support.

“I feel the same way I felt before,” said Littleton Mayor Kyle Schlachter.

While city leaders generally agree on the bill’s goal — to increase housing, especially affordable units — they take issue with the preemptions it intends to set on land use and zoning decisions historically made at the local level. The amendments keep that intact.

“Fundamentally, the premise and principle of the bill has not changed. It is still an overreach and it is still taking away home rule authority from local municipalities,” Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko said. “It is still taking land use decisions that have been part of local control for over 100 years and putting them in the hands of the state.”

Centennial is one of over 50 municipalities to oppose SB-213.

In some ways, Piko said, the amendments make the problem worse, since it could “pit the 70% of my city against the 30% of the city that has to have duplexes.” She worries about how the city, which is made up of mostly single-family neighborhoods, would choose which areas to upzone.

The amendment encourages the rezoning to allow multiplexes to be developed along transit corridors.

Support for a statewide housing assessment

Amy Phillips, the mayor of Avon in Eagle County, said she wants to see a statewide housing needs assessment completed before overarching state mandates are considered. Many mayors also said they would like to see an assessment before larger legislation. That’s essentially what Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer suggested a rejected amendment on Tuesday.

Phillips said that amendment would have addressed a lot of her concerns, as well as what she has heard from other ski towns in the state.

“The housing needs assessment needs to be the first step. How can you overlay legislation when you don’t even know what you need?” she said. “The cart is planted firmly in front of the horse right now. It needs to be a bottom-up approach with communities providing valuable input that can then be analyzed and structured into a statewide housing needs plan.”

Under the bill, cities would need to analyze their housing stock and create plans every five years to address shortages.

“In my opinion, there’s no place for this bill at all. The only thing the state should be doing is convening a housing study,” Piko said.

Desire for more city exemptions

Another major amendment to the bill shifted zoning requirements for rural resort job centers. They wouldn’t be required to allow multi-family housing or accessory dwelling units like Front Range cities, but they would need to pick from a list of affordability strategies.

“I’m glad they did that,” said Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula. “I still have concerns about the legislation as drafted and I’m hoping for some more amendments, in particular around the affordability pieces and around (the Department of Local Affairs) role.”

Mamula said that increased density without affordability guardrails, so that new units would go to workers and not people seeking vacation homes, could be “catastrophic” for cities like Breckenridge.

“I do value that (Polis) has decided that this is an important thing for the state. Housing is a critical need in the state. Where we get a little sideways … is that the one-size fits all approach just doesn’t work,” Mamula said.

Broomfield Mayor Guyleen Castriotta said she would like to see an amendment similar to that carve-out for rural resort towns for so-called “housing-forward communities” that are already working towards increasing affordable housing stock. A drafted amendment shared with Colorado Newsline would add a new category of municipality that meets or exceeds the bill’s housing requirements.

Housing-forward communities would need to have a housing unit growth rate equal to or greater than the statewide rate, have two-thirds of their new residential permits over three years be for middle housing and have a certain number of affordability measures in place, among other characteristics.

“We’re asking for that same approach (as the rural resort job center amendment) to incentivize and support communities, as opposed to using the hammer,” Castriotta said. She called the stake-holding process before the bill was introduced disingenuous and exclusionary of local governments.

“If there are bad actors who aren’t doing enough, go after them,” she said. “But what (they’re) doing to communities like Broomfield, who have been housing-forward for years, is disincentivizing and won’t make things happen quicker.”

Mayors are also concerned about water availability. Under an amendment, local governments would need to notify the state of their need for an extension or exemption from some requirements if they have water limitations. Phillips said that helps.

She questions, however, what could happen if more water gets diverted to supply increased Front Range development.

“It could end up harming those of us in the high country,” she said.

Other leaders agree that the bill needs to go further on that water concern.

“The legislation also doesn’t do nearly enough to address water availability. In Thornton, we have developments for affordable and attainable housing that we can’t let move forward because we don’t have the water to provide these developments,” Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann wrote in an email.

The current amended version of SB-213 will likely not be the final product, as sponsor Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno and other legislators have promised more changes if and when it makes it to the Senate floor. It was scheduled to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee Friday but was delayed.

The leader of the opposition of the bill, Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Kevin Bommer, is unhappy with the amended version. The organization worked with Kirkmeyer on her amendment.

“I’m hoping that proponents will come to their senses and realize that if they actually want to help affect the pace of development of affordable housing, we’re better working together than in an adversarial way. So far, no one’s listening,” he said. “The clock is ticking to get it right. If they can’t, a dead bill is better than a flawed bill.”

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