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Climate-change activists sing praises of proposed package of Colorado housing, land-use reforms

March 25, 2023, 10:49 am

“Housing policy is climate policy.”

That’s the mantra from Gov. Jared Polis, his top officials and their allies in the environmental movement as the Colorado governor and Democrats in the General Assembly move forward with an ambitious package of housing and land-use reforms.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Senate Bill 23-213, unveiled by Polis and legislative leaders on the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday, would dramatically loosen restrictions on the types of housing that can be built across most of Colorado’s major population centers. So-called Tier 1 cities in and around Denver and other large metro areas would be barred from prohibiting duplexes, townhomes and accessory dwelling units in any residential area, and from blocking multifamily developments along public transit corridors.

After passing several significant overhauls of state climate laws since 2019, Democratic legislators appear unlikely to consider any sweeping new rules directly targeting greenhouse gas pollution this session. But in addition to increasing housing supply and affordability, supporters argue that Polis’ “More Housing Now” plan will come with major long-term climate benefits.

Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office and Polis’ top climate official, called SB-213 “one of the most important climate bills the (Legislature) has ever considered.”

“It would vastly increase the opportunity to build housing near public transit, and in core communities where residents can walk to stores, schools and jobs,” Toor wrote on Twitter. “These are exactly the climate-friendly places where Colorado should be growing, not sprawling into ag lands and habitat.”

By cutting down on car travel and overall energy use, communities that build housing more densely can drastically reduce their carbon footprint. Changes in urban planning alone, scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in a 2022 report, could achieve roughly a quarter of the emissions cuts needed by 2050 to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

“Compact cities with shortened distances between housing and jobs, and interventions that support a modal shift away from private motor vehicles towards walking, cycling, and low-emissions shared and public transportation, passive energy comfort in buildings, and urban green infrastructure can deliver significant public health benefits and have lower GHG emissions,” the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report said.

In addition to requiring cities to allow multiplexes and ADUs, SB-213 would abolish minimum parking requirements for many new housing developments, another longtime goal of multimodal transportation advocates. A second tier of cities outside major metro areas, including many mountain resort towns, would face a less stringent set of requirements.

The Colorado Municipal League, which represents Colorado’s 270 city and town governments at the Capitol, is among SB-213’s chief opponents, calling it a “breathtaking power grab.”

But the proposal is winning high marks from a long list of environmental advocacy organizations, who worked with the Polis administration, lawmakers and business groups to craft the bill, and have released a set of 10 “principles for sustainable and equitable land use in Colorado.”

“Colorado is facing two crises: housing availability and climate change,” wrote Alana Miller, director of Colorado climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Fires and extreme weather are threatening the Colorado way of life while many people struggle to find housing that meets their needs. Thankfully, smart policies can help address both.”

“We all deserve clean air to breathe and a stable place to call home,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement. “That’s why we’re very encouraged by this policy and its potential to help reduce climate emissions, create more diverse housing options to meet the needs of Colorado, and help Colorado build a more sustainable and equitable future.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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