‘Aspen amendment’ on a state housing bill still leaves local electeds wary | AspenTimes.com

‘Aspen amendment’ on a state housing bill still leaves local electeds wary

About all that can stop the part of Gov. Jared Polis' "More Housing Now" with the "Aspen Amendment" is the governor himself.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

A state bill that would limit local governments’ power to regulate growth through land use laws got tagged with an “Aspen Amendment” before passing Thursday. 

But local leaders still oppose the bill, saying it is too vague and does not sufficiently protect affordable housing measures.

HB-1255, or the Regulating Local Housing Growth Restrictions bill, is part of Gov. Polis’ “More Housing Now” package of proposed legislation. Its goal is to implement “uniformity in land use laws” to tackle the housing crisis by prohibiting the enactment and enforcement of local anti-growth laws, which includes population growth limits and limits on development or building permit applications. 

The stakes, as set up by the bill, correlate to the need for Colorado to add an estimated 162,000 housing units by 2027. Whether those units are free market or deed-restricted affordable housing is not specified.

Compared to its larger counterpart, SB-213, that aimed to compel localities to allow greater residential density and other housing-related requirements, HB-1255 has flown under the radar.

The Denver Post reported late Monday evening that SB-213 died in the Senate.

HB-1255 passed third reading in the state Senate on Thursday and is now headed for the governor’s desk. 

State Sen. Perry Will and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco routinely voted against the measures.

Early drafts of the bill, first introduced in March, did not include any affordable housing language. After blowback from entities including Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, the Local Government & Housing Senate committee got in amendment L.024, which reads: Amend re-engrossed bill, page 5, line 12, strike “REQUIREMENTS,” and substitute “REQUIREMENTS THAT REGULATE OR RESTRICT MARKET RATE DEVELOPMENT OR REDEVELOPMENT IN ORDER TO ENFORCE AFFORDABILITY REQUIREMENTS.”

In relation to the rest of the bill, that amendment would still allow a governmental entity to regulate growth so long as that regulation enforces affordability requirements. 

Inclusionary zoning or impact fees are potential real-life examples of this amendment. But Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said the bill is still too vague. 

“I know that (Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-8) was trying to thread a needle on this, and I appreciate that,” she said. “But how it plays in with our growth management system is just really unclear to me from that language.”

McNicholas Kury went on that not regulating free market development on its own and regulating it through the lens of enforcing affordability requirements does not make sense, in her opinion. 

And even though the amendment allows for governmental entities to deny permit applications, a framework for denials is not spelled out, which concerns McNicholas Kury.

County Commissioner Francie Jacober agreed that while the amendment helped to return some agency back to government bodies like the Board of County Commissioners, it did not go far enough for the county to fully support it. 

“We just didn’t think it was a significant enough change for us to support it. But we would like to work with legislators to come up with something that works for all the jurisdictions,” she said. “We don’t want to abandon all of our municipal partners and other county partners for whom this could be a heavy lift.”

Aspen Mayor Torre concurred in a Monday afternoon email to The Times.

“The overlap between SB-213 and HB-1255 is where growth policy meets land use implementation,” he wrote. “All of this will do very little to forward attainable, affordable housing without some provisions for maintaining affordability and accessibility.”

The bill originally only made exceptions for instances of disaster emergencies. Now, the bill would allow for government entities to enact temporary, non-renewable anti-growth laws during disaster emergencies, when developing or amending residential land use plans, or extending/acquiring public infrastructure and services or water resources. 

The bill also would allow governments to deny a permit based on lack of water resources. 

Pitkin County aligned with a number of government entities and organizations in opposition to HB-1255 and SB-213. Some of those partners include the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, Colorado Counties Inc., Club20, and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments — plus a number of counties, boards of county commissioners, and municipalities. 

Jon Stavney is the executive director of NWCOG, a regional association of local governments. He said many of their members routinely expressed exasperation with the state. 

“There are people that I talked to who are very tuned into these things … that just breathe a sigh of relief when the legislative session is over,” he said. “Like, we’re playing defense. We just have to keep track of what’s going to move our cheese or what’s going to gore our ox.”

McNicholas Kury said that the county does not currently have a legal strategy in terms of pursuing legal action against the state to prevent HB-1255 from taking effect. 

All that could stop it now would be a referendum petition filed or action from the governor. 

Jacober was adamant that the state legislation will not sway Pitkin County from its goal to deliver affordable housing and reasonably contain growth, while continuing to prioritize natural resources, open space and agricultural lands. 

But HB-1255 will have a say in the county’s ability to realize those goals. 

An update on SB-213 and a debrief on HB-1255 between the coalition and their lobbying teams in Denver is scheduled for Tuesday. The legislative session ended Monday at 11:59 p.m.

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