State Push for Affordable Housing Moves Forward

Teller Commissioner Helps Secure Compromise In Land-Use Reform Package

Trevor Phipps

The Teller County Commissioners have not sparred too many punches in the battle to defend the issue of local control and citizens’ rights when it comes to fights at the state Capitol

Since the beginning of the year, they have been on the forefront regarding regular bouts regarding gun control legislation, green energy mandates and law enforcement restrictions.

All three commissioners have spoken against many bills proposed by Democrats at the state level including new gun control laws and bills that aim to limit the power of law enforcement.  But unfortunately, they face tough odds, as the Dems now occupy huge majorities in the state House and Senate, and occupy the governor’s mansion.

The have tried to craft some compromises to smooth out the edges or lessen the impacts for area residents.

But after months of getting doors slammed in their face, the Teller County Commission, led by Dan Williams, finally emerged as a winner in a conciliatory move to establish a state-wide plan. This plan was aimed at fostering more affordable housing developments while protecting the character of rural sections of Colorado and not relinquishing any local control.  This forthcoming policy change on housing and land use control is one area that has created much angst among elected leaders in Teller and even in Green Mountain Falls, with fears of state mandates and power grabs that could put dense, undesirable developments in their backyard. Moreover, they worried about land use decisions getting taken away from local officials, or greatly reduced.

In fact, some feared the rural lifestyle as a whole was in danger of getting trashed in favor of rules more applicable for big urban areas, as part of bold actions considered in the current legislative session.

Compromise Reached After Months of Negotiations

For the last several months, though, County Commissioner Dan Williams has been working with Democrat leaders from across the state to help represent rural areas regarding affordable housing developments. The issue that the commissioner sees as non-partisan is aimed at making it easier for affordable housing developments to get built within the state.

In fact, Williams spent most of last week meeting with key players in the bill to make the final changes before it was officially introduced to the state Senate last Tuesday. Williams joined Governor Jared Polis for two press conferences last week to talk about the bill that could allow for more attainable housing developments across the state, but still maintain local control for area governments in rural burgs.

If passed, the bill would establish a more uniform approach across the state when it comes to affordable housing projects. The bill includes creating state standards and making it so municipalities in certain regions of the state cannot pass laws and ordinances that could hinder attainable and affordable housing developments. In fact, current growth bans, implanted in certain municipalities, would go by the wayside.

According to Williams, the bill mainly effects municipalities along the I-25 corridor. There are exceptions in the bill for rural communities so that they do not have to adhere to the same standards.

Williams said that he was asked last October to help a number of state leaders come up with a bill that would help solve the problem without hurting rural communities. Since Williams was the only former planning director out of more than 300 county commissioners across the state, he became the only Republican involved in the process to draft the bill.

The last time the state gave any guidance on land use reform was in 1974 and since things have greatly changed in the state since then, lawmakers and the governor decided it was time to implement some major land use reform. “In a super majority we were facing the possible complete loss of our 1041 Land Use Authorities, something we have had for over 100 years,” Williams said. “We were facing a ‘one size fits all approach’ trying to solve the attainable housing crisis that faces us all but is particularly bleak on the front range now over 5 million people. We were facing a Denver solution to all of Colorado and a super majority that could make that happen.”

But through Williams efforts of representing the 47 counties of rural Colorado, the bill was created in a way that preserves local control and upholds the 1041 Land Use Authorities. Instead of a “Denver-centric” or one size fits all approach, the bill contains a menu of options and a lot of flexibility.

Williams also pointed out that the bill now contains no unfunded mandates, and there will actually be $15 million in funding to assist counties with planning and developing master plans and housing needs assessments for attainable housing.

The county commissioner said that property rights are strengthened as accessory dwelling units will now be allowed where appropriate. “Rural lifestyle, rights, and who we are will continue to be completely protected,” Williams explained.

Williams said that after hearing about “explosive growth” across the state the bill tries to make the growth more planned and deliberate. “They are not changing anything at the county level or the city level if they embrace some of this stuff,” the county commissioner explained. “So, for multi-family housing or attainable housing, there are some municipalities that have zoned that out. Then there are adjacent counties that are picking up all of the load. So, there is a fairness issue between counties. So, what they basically say is that by a certain date, everybody should have a base level of zoning that will allow for some multi-family and attainable housing. And if they don’t, a state will have a minimum for it.”

According to a policy summary of the bill, the measure plans to help the issue of a lack of affordable housing in the state by removing restrictions on housing to increase construction of developments for Coloradans on every budget. The bill will also help other improve issues in the state like a lack of workers, water usage, and reduce pollution.

People who spoke in favor of the bill include several organizations representing service workers in the state including firefighters. “Rising costs of housing is outpacing the wages of fire fighters and without affordably priced housing options, many firefighters commute 1-2 hours to their firehouses. We have seen this problem worsen and expand over time to all corners of the state. I am glad to see our state and local leaders taking action to make housing in Colorado more affordable and available for our fire fighters, workforce, and all other Coloradans,” said Dennis Eulberg, Executive Director for Colorado Professional Fire Fighters.

Polis’ effort, though, has sparked a fair amount of criticism from such organizations as Colorado Municipal League. But the commissioners believe the compromise crafted with Polis will work well for Teller property owners and area leaders. They have described it as a rare win in a tough political battleground.