Colorado legislators weigh hefty changes to sweeping land-use bill

Colorado legislators will weigh a slew of hefty changes to a sweeping land-use reform bill Tuesday afternoon, a sign of the depth of opposition facing a marquee piece of legislation championed by Gov. Jared Polis as an answer to the state’s housing crisis.

The bill’s supporters have previewed imminent changes to the legislation in the nearly two weeks since the Senate’s Local Government and Housing committee heard roughly 12 hours of testimony on SB23-213 and the impacts it’ll have on the state’s myriad zoning laws.

The proposed amendments include carveouts for resort areas and a significant cut to the bill’s initial plan to allow middle housing — like duplexes — to be built on any single-family plot in Colorado cities. To address concerns from affordable housing advocates, another amendment would also better spell out what steps local governments must take to counteract displacement and gentrification.

In all, Commerce City Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno plans to offer 65 pages of amendments to a proposal that already has 105 pages. They will be considered by the Senate’s housing committee Tuesday afternoon.

As written, SB23-213 would allow accessory-dwelling units and middle housing — duplexes up to sixplexes — to be built on single-family plots across the state, regardless of local bans. The measure would also encourage higher-density zoning in key areas, require the state and local governments to undertake housing planning studies, and clear other regulations, like occupancy limits and certain parking requirements, in a bid to build more housing in a more strategic manner.

One of the most significant amendments, provided to The Denver Post on Tuesday, would limit the type of middle-housing development that previously was broadly encouraged under the bill. Instead of allowing for sixplexes to be built on single-family lots, the amendment would allow up to quadplexes.

It would also limit where that housing could be built: As the bill’s written now, a property owner could choose to build a quadplex on any single-family lot in many cities. Under the amendment, though, middle-housing development would be pared down to near transit stops and in other “key corridors” in cities, equivalent to at least 30% of all single-family lot space.

Another amendment would give resort communities more flexibility than their urban Front Range cousins in accepting the broader zoning changes in the bill. The amendment would set up a list of 16 housing strategies and require rural communities to pick five to implement.

Resorts could, then, choose to build more ADUs or middle-housing — provisions that larger, urban cities would be required to do under the bill. But resort communities could also choose to forgo them in favor of other options on the list. Those options include cutting development fees; establishing a local revenue source for developing affordable housing; or reducing or eliminating parking requirements.

Local officials in resort communities have warned that allowing for more ADUs and middle-housing will only increase their short-term rental and second-home stock, rather than boost housing for workers and residents. The carveout also represents a sizable change to a plan that has been billed as a way to create a uniform approach to a statewide housing crisis.

In a legislative session during which lawmakers have grappled with abortion, gun reform and drug policy, the land-use bill has become one of the most contentious of the year. A broad coalition of housing, business and environmental groups have all come out in support of the bill, arguing it’s vital to solve the state’s spiraling housing crisis while addressing pollution, sprawl and the discriminatory history of single-family zoning. Several other states have undertaken similar steps in recent years, and Polis has thrown his weight behind it as a way to kickstart the state’s lagging housing supply.

But several local governments, including Denver, Colorado Springs, several Front Range suburbs and a number of resort communities, have joined arms in opposition. Local leaders have argued the bill steps on their authority and sets a one-size-fits-all approach to what they contend is a problem with different contours across the state.

The amendments are unlikely to fully assuage local governments’ flat opposition; Kevin Bommer, the executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, told legislators earlier this month that unless the bill is changed to remove any mandates or preemptions of local ordinances, his group would continue to oppose it. He reiterated that opposition to The Post early Tuesday afternoon.

The bill is set for a tight committee vote Tuesday. The Senate’s housing committee has a 4-3 Democratic majority, and two key votes — Democratic Sens. Dylan Roberts and Julie Gonzales — both asked critical questions of SB23-213 during its first public testimony hearing two weeks ago. The mayor of Avon — Roberts’ hometown — testified against the bill during that hearing.

Gonzales’ concerns revolved around displacement and gentrification. Her fears are shared by affordable housing advocates: If the bill passes and property across Colorado’s cities becomes more valuable for development, they argue, current residents may be displaced by developers looking to cash in.

As it’s written, the bill requires local governments to undertake housing assessments and to incorporate to-be-determined anti-gentrification strategies into those studies. Advocates contend that’s not enough. To ease that concern, Moreno’s proposed amendments would spell out what exact strategies local governments must choose from in the bill, rather than leaving it up to state regulators to craft later. The changes would also include specific consideration of the income, education and homeownership levels of impacted areas.

If the bill passes the committee Tuesday, it will move to the full Senate for the first of two likely contentious votes. The legislative session ends May 8.

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