BY FREDA MIKLIN
HD3 State House Rep. Meg Froelich, who has served in that role since January 2019, held an online town hall meeting on May 24 to provide a summary of the 2023 legislative session for her constituents in Cherry Hills Village (CHV), Englewood, Sheridan, and Denver.
As chair of the Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee, she was heavily involved in the activity around SB23-213 Land Use, the governor’s land use legislation, which was lost in the final days of the session when the state Senate chose not to take the bill up after it was amended in Froelich’s committee.
Froelich said there was opposition to the bill as it was originally drafted from elected city leaders in all the cities in her district, noting that she received “hundreds of (strongly worded) voicemails” from CHV residents. She “sought to assure them” that, by the time the bill got to her committee, not only had language about single-family zoning been removed, the language applicable to residential housing around light rail stations had already been changed from the area within one-half mile of these stations to one-quarter mile, which “fully excluded CHV, so the vociferous objections to development around (light rail stations) that continued to come in from CHV residents was a little bit challenging.”
She continued, “I definitely think we need to develop around our transit hubs. As a community that has two light rail stations at Arapahoe and Orchard (in Greenwood Village) that remain undeveloped…it’s frustrating for a state (in which) housing and housing affordability for a variety of incomes (including) middle income folks and middle housing (e.g., townhomes) …was the number one thing I heard when I knocked on doors…across the state in the last election.” She noted that she knocked on doors in multiple house districts in addition to her own to help her colleagues running from other areas, adding, “SB23-213 was an attempt to address the housing crisis and to focus development around transit hubs, which could have been a tremendous boon to Englewood and the redevelopment of the Civic Center.”
She noted, “I definitely think that the process by which the governor developed the bill and handed it to us was less than ideal, and that’s an understatement, but I think that the goals of addressing dynamic change, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and increasing housing stock were valuable goals that I also share.” She also talked about accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which, Froelich pointed out, research has shown can alleviate pressure on the housing market, adding that many CHV properties currently contain ADUs which are often undistinguishable from the main house. Still, allowing ADUs as a use by right, “was not something that CHV residents expressed any interest or support for,” she “duly noted.” In response to a question from a listener, Froelich agreed that the failed legislation provided that, “the size, design, and setbacks for ADUs were explicitly left to local governments.”
In the end, Froelich agreed that the process by which the bill was originally developed was “highly dissatisfactory,” and as a former municipal elected official (she served on Greenwood Village City Council from 2003-2008), she “understood the concerns about the interplay between the state and local control.”
On the issue of property taxes, she pointed to SB23-304 Property Tax Valuation, signed by the governor on May 24, 2023, that requires county assessors to follow certain procedures and provide disclosures to property owners about how the market value of their property was determined.
She also pointed to the legislature’s plan to lower property taxes for all Coloradans, to mitigate the sharp increases in property values that occurred during the past few years, noting that it will require voter approval and will appear on the ballot this November as Proposition HH.
The other related measure the legislature passed was to cause TABOR refunds that will be paid to Coloradans in the coming cycle to be the same amount for everyone. Under the rules that had been in place, higher income earners would have received higher refunds than lower earners.
Froelich noted other actions taken by the legislature to make housing more available and affordable, including limiting the amounts landlords can require for deposits to two months’ rent. Actions were also taken to make sure money appropriated as a result of Proposition 123, the affordable housing initiative passed by voters in 2022, is being “appropriately spread around the state,” and that “middle housing is available for local workers like teachers and first responders and isn’t being snapped up by corporations.”
Regarding the five bills passed this year to address gun violence, Froelich noted she formed the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus last summer with Senators Rhonda Fields and Tom Sullivan, both of whom have lost a child to gun violence. When a listener asked why Gov. Polis did not support an assault weapons ban, Froelich explained that there wasn’t adequate support for the bill in the legislature and, “We have no way to enforce this type of law,” because the only enforcement tool is the ATF (federal agency that regulates alcohol, tobacco and firearms) and the ATF doesn’t enforce state laws, adding that the ghost gun ban can be enforced because the ATF is charged with serializing weapons and ghost guns are those that have not been serialized.
On the relationship between mill levies and TABOR, Froelich pointed out that it requires the state to return any surplus to taxpayers. As a result, to get additional money, school districts then go to their residents and ask them to approve bond issues and mill levy overrides to fund certain expenditures. Voters in Cherry Creek, Littleton, Englewood, and Sheridan School Districts have historically voted for these bonds, often for new construction, which has the effect of raising property taxes because the legislature cannot raise taxes or retain surpluses.
Froelich pointed out that she was the only House Democrat to vote against SB23-285 that renamed the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission, now known as the Energy & Carbon Management Commission, “to reflect the expanded regulatory authority over deep geothermal and underground natural gas storage.” GV Rep. Ruby Dickson was a prime sponsor of that bill. Froelich pointed out that Gov. Polis “is excited about hydrogen in the energy space but we need to be careful we are using fossil fuels to create it.”
She also noted that there is a task force currently meeting on HOAs and special districts “that will hopefully result in bipartisan legislation next year.”