Controversial Housing Bill Moves Forward, But Watered Down with Key Changes

Teller Commissioner Takes Lead Role in Drafting State Plan

Rick Langenberg

The Teller County commissioners have gained quite a reputation this year for taking a lead role in the ongoing fight to defend the interests of rural Coloradoans and  Second Amendment, gun ownership rights, along with trying to assure that local law enforcement agencies have adequate resources.

They have been much more involved in state matters than previous boards, traveling to the state Capitol  on a regular basis to testify on key bills and endorse the positions of rural counties, which still constitute a hefty portion of Colorado. In most cases, they have found themselves at odds with Democratic lawmakers, which now sport historic majorities in the state House and Senate and fully occupy the governor’s office.

One prime exception, though, has been an ambitious effort by Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat with reported presidential aspirations, to advance the need for affordable housing by developing an overall state plan that does away with local restrictions and red tape. It would have permitted more high density, multi-family  housing in metropolitan areas, high transportation corridors and resort communities; while giving rural areas a few exemptions, but mandating  more accessory dwellings in these communities.

Commissioner Dan Williams was the sole Republican county leader, chosen, to help draft the plan, eventually crafted into Senate Bill 213. Williams was recruited largely because of his role as serving as Teller’s head planner for a number of years.

This resulting proposed legislation, though, generated a storm of criticism from leaders of metropolitan areas, with Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers threatening to tie up this bill in court for decades, unless significant changes were made. Other groups, such as the Colorado Counties, Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League made similar threats. Most of the concerns dealt with the potential loss of local control in zoning hearings for new housing projects and some of the new requirements and mandates.

Under the original state plan, some higher-dense housing projects could get okayed through more of a state-approved streamlining process with future developments getting the green light by a use-by-right, with the voices and concerns of impacted residents and local officials not being heard like they have been in the past.

Williams often found himself battling members of his own party, urging them to come up with alternative solutions and changes to the legislation. He has cited the serious problem of affordable housing, noting in a television interview that many fire firefighters engaged in the recent 403 blaze came from outside the area.

He was responding to comments made by town officials of Monument, who  heavily opposed the proposed affordable housing bill, and even organized a rally against the legislation. Williams questioned if some of these critics even read the detailed legislation.

Changes Well Received by Bill Critics

But after much negotiation, the concept and goal still has remained the same, but the state’s role has been transformed into more of a housing partner, and not a regulatory agency, according to Williams. It also has opened the door for significant grants for more affordable housing efforts and ways to adjust master plans to advance the need for more affordable housing.

“It is a much better bill,” said Williams, at last week’s regular commissioners meeting.

And in an email last week, he said the legislation is moving along well, and said he didn’t mind taking heat from fellow Republicans. “That’s part of our job and after six combat tours I am used to being out front,” said Williams, in an email.

“The important thing is rather than throw up our hands because there is a super majority (of Democrats) at the state Capitol we rolled up our sleeves and stay engaged in the process and have garnered trust.  I believe you will see many of the organizations that were publicly against this bill and offered little to no alternatives or solutions change from opposed to support.  We have worked tirelessly for months now, and this amended bill is about as good as it will get.  Attainable housing is a hard nut to crack, and we have gone from victim to having a conversation to actually helping to write one that will work, protects our rural lifestyle and will level the bar between rural Colorado and the I-25 corridor with now over 5 million people.”

The measure appears poised to get approved by state lawmakers, based on recent reports.

On the downside, the commissioners have definitely lost the fight against the bombardment of gun control bills. Late last week, Polis signed four new gun control measures, and several more are nearly ready for action. The commissioners have spoken against these efforts, saying they are not penalizing law abiding citizens.

Commission Chairman Erik Stone, though, believes that some of these measures will get overturned in court.