Local officials say state ‘More Housing Now’ plan ignores rural resort needs | AspenTimes.com

Local officials say state ‘More Housing Now’ plan ignores rural resort needs

A pair of land use bills recently introduced at the state Legislature aims to address the housing crisis by eliminating red tape, but officials in the area say the legislation would hamstring local government’s ability to regulate growth and affordable housing.

Gov. Polis and supporters tout the “More Housing Now” bills — SB-213 and its lesser known counterpart HB-1255 — as solutions to the growing statewide housing crisis, with record-setting prices and low inventory. 

SB-213 is a land use bill that would mandate the Department of Local Affairs to oversee stringent housing regulations like allowing accessory dwelling units as a use by right where single-family units are permitted, lift restrictions on middle housing like duplexes and triplexes, plus eliminate occupancy and square footage requirements. 

HB-1255 seeks to ban local governments’ ability to restrict growth with specific respect to residential building permits unless in the case of a natural disaster. The bill has already passed its committee 9-2 and will be discussed on the House floor Tuesday. 

In conjunction, local officials say the bills incentivize increasing supply without sufficient protective measures for sprawl and affordable housing. 

“Our local governments are delivering affordable housing and preventing sprawl and managing our transportation impacts in good ways and ways better than is happening around the state,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury. “And these blunt tools are really going to make it a lot harder for us to be successful.”

The county land use code includes a growth management quota system to “manage the rate, type, location, quality and ultimate quantity of growth within the rural and urban areas.” Applicants get scored by criteria to allow only a certain amount of square footage in a year. 

That system would not survive under a potential passage of HB-1255. 

Kury said that the bills fail to address resource management adequately. In the Western Slope, local government officials are constantly fending off Front Range demand for water, she said. And if density and use by right allowances take off as written in the bill, demand for water, and transit and conflict with wildlife will only increase. 

“I would have preferred that this conversation start from a resource capacity base,” Kury said. “What is the water supply availability? What are our natural resource conditions? What are our wildlife conditions? Where are our transportation networks existing and planned for?”

Critics also say the language in the bills does not grant rural resort areas to meet the needs of their unique housing markets. 

Rural resort job center municipalities are granted some flexibility in SB-213 and would be required to report a regional housing plan to DOLA. 

But Ward Hauenstein, mayor pro tem of the city of Aspen, said that language in the bill requiring 10% of housing units be set aside for households that make no more than 80% of the area median income in mixed-income multifamily housing is not a sufficient protection for areas like Aspen. 

“Affordable housing for a rural resort job center is different from what affordable is in the Front Range. They’re vastly different costs of living, and the cost of housing is so much higher here,” he said. “Whoever made my cappuccino, or whoever makes the beds at Aspen Square (Hotel), or plows the street or drives the buses … when you compare their livable wage to AMI in the Front Range, it is vastly different.”

​The bill does permit jurisdictions to apply for different requirements for percentage of units, but still is not sufficient for Hauenstein, who said he would like to see any housing stock growth reserved for workforce housing only. 

“For me, it’s projection of centralized power to a lower level of federalism. The Federalist Papers were all about a federal government projecting to the states. This is a state projecting down to Aspen,” he said of the bills. 

He does recognize the irony of calling out the state government for overreach fresh off the heels of the city of Aspen’s controversial residential building and short-term rental permit moratorium.

“I think I reconcile state or governmental interference in the free market by the effect it has on the public,” he posited. “Governmental intervention (from the city) was to try to offset the negative impacts of short term rentals and residential development.”

He likened the bills to a failed attempt by the city in the past to incentivize ADUs without deed-restriction or occupancy requirements. Instead of the units going to the local workforce, the ADUs sat vacant, became STRs, or were later absorbed into the main house on the property through construction, he said.

Longtime land planner Alan Richman, whose chops include working for the city of Aspen, also used the city’s ADU example as anecdotal evidence for why the state bill would not work as intended in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“This community has allowed accessory dwelling units without restrictions and they just turn into secondary dwelling units for the owner, and they don’t do a thing for affordability,” he said.

Over his more than four decades of working in land use, Richman said, demand and supply have never equalized. He expressed disgust at the state’s attempt to solve the housing problem of localities. 

“In a community like ours the supply could be unlimited and it would still not do anything whatsoever for affordable housing needs,” he said. “There’s an unlimited demand for people with money to come to these places.”

The bills both have a long way to go in the state Legislature before they become law, and Kury said that she is hopeful that the governor’s office and state representatives will incorporate rural resort towns’ need for deed restrictions, greater autonomy and the outright death of HB-1255. 

“(Pitkin County) supports development near density and on transit with an eye towards water impacts and all that, which I think SB-213 endeavors to do,” she said. “It just has a lot of problems. I don’t think we would ever get to a position of support because our municipalities are so opposed to it. And they are our direct partners.”

If HB-1255 survives, she said, “The pre-emption needs to be narrowly tailored towards affordability like deed restricted, affordable housing. A community cannot say no to deed restricted, affordable housing or something along those lines.”

Kury said the county is aligned in opposition with a variety of local government coalitions and lobby groups across the Western Slope.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, Commissioner Francie Jacober, Apen Mayor Torre, and Kury have all testified in front of the Legislature about the negative impacts they believe the bills would bring to the area. 

The county and their counterparts have already begun discussions on potential lawsuits, should that be the last course of action for rural resort governments to take. But for now, the legislative process will play out in Denver.