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Land-use bill championed by Polis, opposed by ski towns, gutted of upzoning requirements

April 26, 2023, 4:05 pm

The affordable Capitol Square Apartments in downtown Denver (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline photo).

A Colorado legislative committee stripped the major provisions of a housing bill championed by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday morning, turning it from a dramatic reshaping of zoning laws in the state into an effort to assess statewide housing needs without preemptions on local governments.

With an amendment from the Senate Appropriations Committee, approved on a 4-3 party-line vote, the bill, now a far cry from its introduced version, heads to the Senate floor.

“I am very appreciative of the sponsor for working through what was, for me, a very clear bright line, which were the preemptions in the bill. The remaining provisions of the bill do not actually address land use, which was my primary concern. Land use, in particular, are those areas in particular that I believe are constitutionally given over to local governments,” Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, said Wednesday morning.

Zenzinger was an unclear vote for the bill on the committee. Her vote was necessary for it to pass and make it to the Senate for consideration.

“There are still some provisions of the bill I’d like to see changed and I’m hoping we can have those conversations in earnest on the floor,” she said.

The amendment nixed the parts of the bill that would have required certain local governments to allow higher density residential development, specifically multiplexes and accessory dwelling units, on land currently zoned for single-family homes. Those provisions drew intense criticism from municipal leaders, who argued that they infringed on local-control authority.

Now, a marquee piece of legislation from Polis, a Democrat, to address the state’s housing and affordability crisis is a shadow of its introduced version. Democrats have strong majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

The bill was already significantly amended during its first Senate committee hearing to carve out upzoning requirements for so-called rural resort job centers like Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge.

Now, the bill would form a state board to oversee housing needs assessments at the state, regional and local levels. The assessments would inform long-term plans for municipalities that take into account affordability, anti-displacement strategies and water needs.

It would still prevent municipalities from imposing occupancy limits based on familial status.

Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, argued on Wednesday that the amendment was inappropriate for the Appropriations Committee to consider and pass.

“It seems that all norms of what have become an appropriate Appropriations committee amendment have now been broken, and we are now dealing in the substantive in what is not a committee of reference,” he said. He wanted to refer the bill back to the committee on local government and housing.

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, the bill’s sponsor, countered that the amendment simply strikes concepts already discussed in the first committee.

Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Kevin Bommer, who opposed the introduced version of the bill, tweeted on Wednesday that if bill sponsors can commit to retaining the bill as amended, instead of trying to restore it during floor debate or if it gets to the House, the organization could get behind it.

The Legislature adjourns in less than two weeks.

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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