Colorado land use bill, touted as Democratic priority, scaled back to survive committee vote
Amendments reduce housing density requirements, ADU mandates
Housing units across the street from the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s Five Points Neighborhood on Oct. 28, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
A signature housing bill from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and state Democrats, who identified it as a major priority at the very start of the legislative session, made it through its first committee hearing Tuesday night with significant amendments that scale back its intended scope.
The most significant amendment to Senate Bill 23-213 reduces the scope of “middle housing” allowance in Colorado’s biggest cities. Instead of being required to allow multiplexes up to six units in all residential zones, those cities — which include Denver and its surrounding metro neighbors, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Fort Collins — will need to allow multiplexes up to four units on 30% of land where single-family homes are currently allowed, with a priority for transit corridors.
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That was the “biggest concession” that bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno offered to the Senate Local Government and Housing Committee on Tuesday. The committee considered hours of public testimony on the bill earlier this month.
“The biggest change is that we are removing the biggest preemptions that folks have expressed concerns with about this bill,” he said.
The bill faced tough, united opposition from many city leaders across the state who argued the sweeping zoning reforms infringed on local control. The amendments were a response to those concerns, but, though Democrats control large majorities in both legislative chambers, it’s unclear if the changes will bring more municipal leaders and lawmakers to support the bill.
Another revision scales back density requirements along key corridors like rail lines and bus routes with frequent stops. Cities would need to upzone 25% of the land near stops to allow at least 25 units per acre.
So-called rural resort job centers, which include places like Aspen and Vail, are exempt from requirements on accessory dwelling units in the amended version of the bill. Instead of having to allow ADUs on single-family lots, the cities would need to choose 5 of 16 offered affordability strategies. While allowing ADUs is on that list, so is implementing an inclusionary zoning policy, reducing development fees, reducing parking requirements and leveraging city-owned land for affordable housing development.
“(The amendment) is a really good start, because they give the rural resort communities credit for what they’re doing. It will promote the menu of initiatives that they’ve undertaken already and not do anything to slow that down,” Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, said.
Senators seek further changes
While he voted for the bill in committee, Roberts said there is still work to be done for him to vote for it on the Senate floor.
Roberts introduced another successful amendment that adds a 10-year sunset review on the entire bill. That would allow for two cycles of the bill’s required housing needs assessment before lawmakers could decide to renew or throw out the policy.
The three committee Republicans voted against nearly every amendment and criticized it as going against the will of local governments. An amendment from Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Weld County Republican, offered an amendment that would have erased the bill and the policy preemptions for local governments. Housing needs assessments would still be required, as well as a summit for local governments to come up with housing solutions.
The amendment failed, but the summit idea received support from multiple members of the committee, including Democrats.
There will likely be further significant amendments offered to the bill once it hits the Senate floor. Roberts, Democrat Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Democrat Sen. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs all said they want to see more changes.
“There’s still more work to do on this policy, specifically around naming out the strategies to combat displacement, specifically making sure that we get right the full spectrum and range of affordability strategies … that should be part of this work as well,” Gonzales said. “This bill and the amendments you see reflected are a result of being responsive.”
Democrats proposed the bill as Colorado communities look for ways to address a severe shortage of affordable housing.
The House committee advanced the heavily amended bill on a 4-3 party line vote. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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