Governor-backed land use, housing overhaul dies in the Colorado legislature

Colorado Democrats’ push to overhaul land use law and increase housing density fell apart during the final, busy day of the state Legislature’s lawmaking session Monday.

Democrats could not work out an agreement among themselves about how to increase homebuilding in Colorado’s cities and resort towns, and the high-profile land use bill backed by Gov. Jared Polis failed without being brought to a vote reconciling different versions of the legislation.

The proposal, known as Senate Bill 23-213, or what the governor called the ‘More Housing Now’ bill, would’ve upended city and town land use powers to increase housing densities in neighborhoods and allow home construction that was hoped slow the skyrocketing costs of housing in the state.

The idea of the state driving land use policy drew strong opposition from city and town governments, bringing mayors from Colorado’s cities and mountain resort areas to the capitol to decry what local government officials viewed as the usurpation of local government land use authority.

The Colorado Municipal League, the powerful organization advocating for the interests of city and town governments in the state, expressed hope the failure of the bill could lead to state and local government partnership around housing issues.

“Early in the legislative session and in testimony, CML committed to a vision of affordable housing legislation Colorado municipalities could support and that would both preserve constitutional home rule and local control, as well as address the urgent need for affordable housing across the state,” said Kevin Bommer, CML executive director. “We still are committed to that vision.”

The failure of the bill is a significant defeat for Polis and the coalition of housing advocates that rallied around SB23-213.

The ambitious bill was cast as a solution to a statewide shortage of housing construction that would encourage affordable housing. Polis rallied housing advocates and personally introduced the measure in March from the steps of Colorado’s gold-domed state Capitol.

The bill, as initially drafted, would have overridden single-family residential zoning codes in Colorado’s metropolitan areas and mountain resort job centers.

Multi-family duplexes, triplexes and up to six-unit projects would have been allowed as a use-by-right in single-family neighborhoods. Local governments would no longer be able to stop the construction of accessory dwelling units — detached structures known as ‘mother-in-law’ apartments or ‘granny flats’ — nor would those communities be able to deny the construction of dense multifamily projects near public transit hubs.

The state’s Department of Local Affairs would oversee approval of local governments’ planning for affordable housing, and local rule would have required some of inclusionary zoning mandate affordable units of developers paying into local affordable housing funds.

But Sen. Dominick Moreno, the Democratic Senate majority leader representing Adams and Arapahoe counties, gutted the bill last month in an amendment that removed nearly all elements of state preemption of municipal land use authority.

That version of the bill passed the Senate.

State House co-sponsors Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, and Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver, amended the bill again May 3, restoring the state’s power to require housing density — of 40 housing units per acre or more — around transit routes and train stations and allow accessory dwelling units.

The House version of the bill, which ballooned to exceed 200 pages, also added measures meant to keep new construction projects from pricing out existing residents and protect against the gentrification of neighborhoods.

Monday, the Senate paused its work while Democratic lawmakers and Polis’ administration negotiated to reconcile the differing versions of the bill.

The recess, coming in the final hours of the 120-day legislative session, dragged on all Monday afternoon.

SB 23-213 remained on the agenda for discussion and a vote when the Senate restarted the session around dinner time.

But, while discussion took place about another high-profile bill altering the state property tax code, Moreno texted members of his caucus telling them that no version of the land use bill would be brought to a final vote before the session ended by law at midnight.

The ”More Housing Now’ measure was dead.

Backers of affordable housing immediately expressed hope that the idea of increasing housing densities in population centers and encouraging homebuilding that puts people close to jobs and transit would still become policy priorities.

Conservation Colorado, a large environmental group, and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a progressive energy policy group, issued a joint statement urging a continued push for land use reform and affordable housing.

“SB 23-213 provided ambitious solutions to solve our twin crises of housing and climate, and while we are incredibly disappointed to see this legislation not make it to the Governor’s desk this year, we know that change can take multiple years to come to fruition,” the organizations said in a statement issued as news of Moreno’s spread Monday night.

Democratic leaders have scheduled a Tuesday morning press conference to discuss their legislative accomplishments and how they’ll address issues remaining after the end of the session.


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