Teller Commissioner Takes Heat for Supporting Controversial Affordable Housing Bill
The Teller County Commissioners have spent much of their time in recent months at the state Capitol battling a slew of legislation that they believe attacks rural life in Colorado.
More specifically, the commissioners, who are staunch Republicans, have verbally attacked legislation that chips away at the authority of local law enforcement agencies and make purchasing guns more difficult.
But at the same time, they have strived to work towards compromises on certain issues of mutual concern, such as affordable housing. These often involve dealing with key leaders of the Democratic Party, which now have huge majorities in the state House and Senate. In fact, Commissioner Dan Williams was recruited to help in the process of devising a state plan to try to alleviate the lack of affordable housing, while still protecting the interests of rural areas.
Needless to say, Williams and the bill supporters have received a little heat on this issue, which many critics say is too heavy-handed and represents a loss of local control. But proponents argue that the affordable housing problem in Colorado needs a tangible solution.
The new affordable housing bill, promoted by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, was introduced to state Senate recently. It is is aimed at requiring municipalities along the Front Range to allow more multi-family units within larger cities and in resort communities. Governor Polis and the bill’s supporters say that more density and availability for affordable housing developments could be the answer to rising housing costs in the state.
But since the bill was introduced, it received a backlash from many local mayors in the cities that would be affected by the new law. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spoken against the bill saying that local governments should be able to handle zoning issues and that the state does not need to step in. He warned bill supporters that unless changes are made to this legislation, it could be tied up in court for years.
In fact, earlier this month the Colorado Springs City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to oppose Senate Bill 23-213, which would set state standards and force municipalities to contain zoning options for affordable housing developments. The council agreed that if the bill passes several land use and zoning decisions would move from being made at the local level to being decided at the state level by the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).
The bill has also been criticized by other small communities, such as Monument. According to a report aired last week by KRDO News, the mayor and six council members there have strongly opposed the bill and even conducted a short rally against the measure. The town’s representatives’ main arguments are based on the fact that Monument’s current infrastructure can’t handle more people and that the bill’s, “One size fits all” approach would not work in every municipality along the Front Range.
The town’s representatives also said that there isn’t a guarantee that the zoning changes would necessarily create more affordable housing than what is already available. “The increased density that would be allowed if this were to pass would be catastrophic to Monument’s culture,” Monument Mayor Mitch LaKind told KRDO.
But Williams has maintained that housing affordability is becoming a major issue even in rural counties like Teller. Being the only Republican backing the bill, Williams hopes that the added availability of affordable housing will help Teller County keep up with high levels of growth, while giving them a way to become exempt from some of the more urban-style requirements. He has described the bill more as a compromise in the move to establish more affordable housing.
“When we had the (High Park) fire, my sheriff’s deputies, 90% of them live in Colorado Springs. They do that because the housing is just not affordable anymore,” Williams told KRDO. “We need to have a conversation when our first responders can no longer live in Teller County because prices have gone up.”
Williams has admitted that the bill isn’t perfect, but that it represents a good start to try to battle the affordable housing issues that have been plaguing most of the state. He said that those opposing the bill should offer up some solutions to fix the legislation, instead of strongly opposing it altogether.
County Commissioners Help State Lawmaker with Property Tax Reduction Bill
In other legislative updates, Colorado State Senator Mark Baisley thanked all three of the Teller County Commissioners that helped Senate Bill 23-108 pass in the Senate and get the nod in its first House Committee. The bill is aimed at providing much needed relief from property taxes that are slated to take a large increase this year.
If passed, the bill would allow “a local government to provide temporary property tax relief through temporary property tax credits or mill levy reductions and later eliminate the credits or restore the mill levy.” The temporary reductions would then have to be reviewed annually by the local government.
Congresswoman Brittany Pettersen Visits Teller County First Responders
Last Thursday, U.S. House Rep. Brittany Pettersen, who represents District 7, made the voyage to Teller County to meet local officials and first responders at the Northeast Teller County Fire Department.
According to Williams, the visit was part of her efforts to meet government representatives in the southern part of her district and to show her support for a proposed local firefighter training center.
“It was her first visit to Teller County and we had asked her and Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet to support us with a congressional directive spending bill request for a regional firefighter training center,” Williams explained.
“It’s basically so that we can train on putting out fires. It would be hosted in Teller County, but it would benefit about five counties around us. Right now, we have to go to Fort Carson to do training and when we go down there, we can’t have an engine respond to a fire if it’s down in Fort Carson. She was very supportive of that and then the other one was to buy a new ladder truck because the current ladder truck there now is about 35 years old.”