Polis presents land use plan to fix the state’s housing crisis


After months of guarded anticipation by city councils and mayors, SB23-213 Land Use was introduced in the state Senate on March 23 by State Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno. Other prime sponsors are State Reps. Steven Woodrow of Denver and Iman Jodeh of Aurora. 

At a press conference announcing the plan on March 22, Governor Polis said, “The last time Colorado made major land-use changes was nearly 50 years ago. We were a very different state…Housing and the cost of housing is something we know we need to do something about. An unprecedented coalition is here calling for action. We have labor leaders and business leaders, environmental advocates and housing advocates, local elected officials from across the state, Republicans and Democrats, all of whom are saying, let’s take action now to increase the housing supply in our state.” The governor told the crowd that stakeholders held 125 meetings to devise the plan, adding, “The cost of housing continues to go up,” pointing to the impact of rising interest rates, even when home prices stabilize. He described the key components of the plan as

Legalizing the building of the most affordable types of homes, creating options for property owners, thereby empowering homeowners to be part of the solution;

Gov. Polis’ announcement of his housing plan drew support from many corners, including J.J. Ament, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.

Incentivizing multifamily housing near transit-oriented development, creating more opportunities “to get to work and where you want to go in a less expensive and more convenient way;”

Cutting red tape and removing barriers to reduce cost and time delays making it easier to build a variety of housing types; 

“Assessing statewide housing needs, working with local communities to develop and implement affordability strategies that are tailored to both local and regional needs. We have the flexibility for local leaders to do more, to go above and beyond.” 

Moreno explained, “The solutions we are proposing focus on setting goals and eliminating restrictions so we can build more homes that people can afford quickly.”

Greenwood Village Rep. Ruby Dickson said, “We need to start not allowing these localities to arbitrarily limit where people can and cannot live,” but, she added, “People have legitimate concerns about wanting to maintain resources, they want to maintain the nature of their communities.”

GV Mayor George Lantz told The Villager that GV is opposed to the governor’s proposal and plans to issue a formal resolution saying so at its next city council meeting.

The bill proposes to have the executive director of the state’s department of local affairs (director) determine “no later than December 31, 2024, and every five years thereafter,” a “methodology for developing statewide, regional, and local housing needs assessments,” including having local housing needs assessments include an allocation of the regional housing needs of the area.

Based on that methodology, cities are to “develop a housing needs plan and submit that plan to the department of local affairs,” that includes how the municipality will address housing needs assigned to it in the local housing assessment, as well as affordability strategies it will employ from a menu of strategies developed and published by the director.

This all-hands-on-deck effort to address the state’s housing crisis includes the director issuing a report about how to “incentivize growth in transit-oriented areas and infill areas…” To do so, “The director shall promulgate a transit-oriented area model code that…imposes minimum residential density limits for multifamily residential housing and mixed- income multifamily residential housing in the transit-oriented areas of tier one (cities).” Tier one cities are defined as 1) being in a metropolitan area of 1,000,000 or more; 2) having at least 10% of its land designated as urban; 3) having a population of at least 1,000.

State Rep. Ruby Dickson (D-Greenwood Village) spoke out in support of the governor’s proposed housing plan.

The bill also requires that “middle housing” and accessory dwelling units must be allowed as a use by right in any part of…a (city that) allows single unit detached dwellings as a use by right.”

Other provisions of the bill include language that:

Prohibits a planned unit development from restricting accessory dwelling units, middle housing, housing in transit-oriented areas, or housing in key corridors in a way not allowed by this bill;

Modifies the content requirements for a city’s master plan and requires cites to adopt or amend master plans as part of an inclusive process, and requires cities to submit master plans to the department;

Allows cities to sell and dispose of real property and public buildings to provide property for use as affordable housing without voter approval;

Prohibits homeowners’ associations from restricting accessory dwelling units, middle housing, or housing in transit-oriented areas.

The front page of the Denver Post on March 26 talked about rents that have gone up 50% in two years, evictions at a four-year high, and the median cost of a single-family home hitting almost $600,000 in January, while hourly wages increased a paltry 27% in the seven years between August 2015 and August 2022. 

The problem is obvious. The solution is less clear. On March 22, Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, called SB23-213 a “breathtaking power grab” that “mainly benefits developer interests to the detriment to the quality of life and access to local elected officials expected by Coloradans with no guarantees that anything built will be affordable.” 

Pointing to our state’s, “rich tradition of local control, constitutional home rule, the latter of which cannot be legislated away,” Bommer said, “We expect (our legislators) will reject this legislation and throw their support behind partnering with…local governments to tackle affordability issues together.”

Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and Castle Rock Mayor Jason Gray have spoken out publicly against the measure. The cities of Centennial and Cherry Hills Village have issued strongly worded statements opposing this bill, which can be found on pages 8 and 9 of this newspaper. 

University of Denver Professor Jeffrey Englestad said, “Having a statewide one-size-fits-all policy as it relates to land-use is dangerous. Zoning is not a state issue. It’s a local issue.”

Opposition to the plan is far from universal. Statements of support have come from Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett and Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul, as well as Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue, and Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams, as well as CU President Todd Saliman. Pogue explained she supported the plan because it calls for regional cooperation, something that is important because, “The housing crisis doesn’t respect county borders or municipal borders.”

On March 24, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMCC) expressed its support for SB23-213 Land Use, issuing the statement, “Providing housing that is available and affordable is imperative for our economic competitiveness efforts and keeping Metro Denver the best place to live and do business in the state. Housing is the economic competitiveness issue of our state. After examining the 106-page bill and meeting with key stakeholders, including the Governor’s office, The Chamber is encouraged by the bill’s intent to lift onerous regulations and deliver housing to the market.” J.J. Ament, DMCC president and CEO, spoke at the governor’s press conference.

Like all bills, SB23-213 will be first heard in committee, where it is expected that numerous amendments will be proposed as it begins to make its way through the legislative process.