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New homes are seen under construction near the Montaine community on Oct. 17, 2022, in Castle Rock. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Gov. Jared Polis and Democrats in the Colorado legislature on Tuesday significantly pared back their major land-use bill amid big questions about whether their signature affordable housing initiative at the Capitol this year can get enough support to pass.

Colorado’s largest cities would no longer be required to let multifamily housing with up to six units be built in all residentially zoned areas under a major amendment made to Senate Bill 213. Instead, those cities — like Denver, Aurora, Boulder, Englewood, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Pueblo, Thornton and Westminster — would only have to let duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes be built in 30% of their land area currently zoned for single-family homes, concentrated around train and high-frequency bus corridors where applicable.

The change shifts the legislation away from attempting to broadly increase housing density to a more limited approach linked to transit. Without the changes, it appeared the bill, which has received major opposition from cities and towns across the state, would lack enough support to clear its first committee. 

In all, there were 17 amendments made to the bill, totaling dozens of pages. One of the major changes reduces land-use requirements on resort communities, like Aspen and Vail. 

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The Senate Local Government and Housing Committee approved the overhauled measure on a 4-3 vote late Tuesday night, with all of the Democrats on the panel voting “yes” and all of the Republicans voting “no.” It was unclear whether the measure would have enough votes to advance and the committee hearing was delayed for hours while amendments were finalized and negotiated. 

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, warned that more changes were needed. “By no means does the work stop here,” he said. 

Heading into Tuesday’s committee hearing, Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, appeared to be the swing vote on the committee. He cast a reluctant “yes” vote. “I still have concerns with where the bill is,” he said, adding that there will be “a lot more to do” to get him to back the bill once it is debated on the Senate floor. 

But two other Democrats on the committee — Sens. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Tony Exum of Colorado Springs — also expressed anxiety about the measure before voting to advance the legislation. The pair said more changes were needed.

“You will see more amendments coming,” Gonzales said.

An effort by Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Brighton Republican on the committee to erase the measure and replace it with an alternative policy with no policy preemptions for local governments was rejected. “Senate bill 213, as it stands right now, … is never going to get us to affordable housing,” she said. “All it’s going to do is preempt local governments.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval before it can advance to the full Senate. 

How cities could meet the 30% threshold and changing density rules

Under amendments adopted Tuesday, cities and towns would have to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built in a half-mile radius around rail stations and a quarter-mile around corridors with bus-rapid-transit or where a bus stops every 15 minutes.

If a municipality doesn’t want to allow building of two, three or four units next to certain transit stops they could opt to zone for that kind of housing in a different part of their city or town proportional to the area around a transit stop that would have been affected. In doing so, however, the municipality would have to take steps to prevent people living in those areas from being displaced and would be encouraged to focus the zoning around walkable areas.

At a minimum, Colorado’s largest cities would have to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in 30% of the areas that are currently zoned for single-family homes. The requirement would also apply to large cities that don’t have train stops or bus rapid transit and bus routes with 15-minute frequencies, though they would be encouraged to prioritize their placement of denser residential zoned areas near transit.

Additionally, the amendments remove a provision preventing cities from mandating that new duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes around train stations and along bus routes with a lot of frequency be accompanied by parking. Instead, the change allows municipalities to require that a half a parking spot be built alongside each new housing unit.

The cities that would be subject to the requirements include: Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Brighton, Broomfield, Castle Pines, Castle Rock, Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Columbine Valley, Commerce City, Denver, Edgewater, Englewood, Erie, Federal Heights, Glendale, Golden, Greenwood Village, Lafayette, Lakewood, Littleton, Lochbuie, Lone Tree, Longmont, Louisville, Northglenn, Parker, Sheridan, Superior, Thornton, Westminster and Wheat Ridge.

Outside of the Denver metro area, Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Grand Junction and Pueblo would also fall under the mandates. 

The amendments would also require that cities with bus rapid transit zone for an average housing density of 25 units an acre in at least 25% of the housing-eligible land within a half-mile of stops. The requirement would be the same for within a quarter-mile of corridors with frequent bus routes.

Cities with trains would have to zone for an average housing density of 40 units per acre in 50% of the housing-eligible land within a half-mile of stations.

“Rural resort job centers” wouldn’t face such strict requirements

Another amendment adopted Tuesday significantly changes the zoning shifts that would have been required of so-called rural resort job centers, including the Eagle River Valley near Vail and Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen. 

Rural resort job centers are defined as municipalities that have a population of at least 1,000 and at least 1,200 jobs and are outside of a metropolitan planning organization, like the Denver Regional Council of Governments or the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization. They also have regional transit service with at least 20 trips per day. The legislation’s rural resort centers include: Avon, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dillon, Durango, Frisco, Glenwood Springs, Mountain Village, Silverthorne, Snowmass Village, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Winter Park.

As originally written, the measure would have required adjacent towns in rural resort communities to work together to determine where to increase housing density and to identify bus corridors and work to increase residential and commercial development surrounding those corridors.

A light rail train waits for passengers at RTD’s Peoria Street station in Aurora. Aug. 10. (Kevin J. Beaty, Denverite)

Under the amendments, rural resort communities would be required to choose at least five options from a menu of 10 to 15 affordability strategies included in the bill. Most of the resort communities already employ many of the listed strategies.

One of those options is letting property owners build accessory-dwelling units, also known as ADUs or “granny flats.” Other strategies on the menu include restrictions on short-term rentals, like those listed on Airbnb or Vrbo, deed restrictions, expediting building permit review, and establishing a local revenue source to develop affordable housing. One strategy would be for municipalities to waive permitting, infrastructure and utility fees for building affordable housing developments.

“I think they sort of missed the boat in this first draft and what should apply to us and what would work best for us,” said Eric Mamula, the mayor of Breckenridge and owner of Downstairs at Eric’s restaurant.

Mamula said his community’s top concerns with the introduced version of the legislation involved a lack of affordability restrictions on new construction and no requirements that buyers and residents of new housing be part of the local workforce. They also worried about the absence of permanence for affordability and other regulations involving the newly mandated housing. 

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Last month Mamula said resort communities would be working with lawmakers and the governor to “make sure we are getting the point across that we need some protections for our smaller ski town communities.”

“I feel like we are being heard,” he said. 

Accessory-dwelling unit changes

The original version of the bill would have required rural resort centers to allow ADUs. Under the amended version adopted Tuesday, only municipalities in the rest of the state would be prevented from restricting them. Right now, ADUs may be built in many towns and cities only in certain zoning areas and the size of the units is governed by lot size. The bill would prohibit cities from requiring that new parking accompany any ADUs that are built.

One amendment adopted Tuesday at the behest of Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Boulder County Democrat, adds unincorporated parts of counties to the list of places where ADUs can’t be prohibited.

The Gallingers built their 550-square-foot garage ADU to host friends and family during visits. Through an error in construction, the garage ended up being too tall, leading the couple to seek an individual zoning variance for the unit. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Another change to the bill adopted Tuesday would allow municipalities to notify the state of their need for an extension or exemption from the requirements based on shortfalls in their water supply or infrastructure. 

Unchanged in the bill are a preemption on occupancy restrictions based on whether people living in a home are family members, as well as efforts to streamline manufactured housing.

Still pending in the legislature is a measure that would ban municipalities from imposing growth caps while also repealing caps that have already been adopted in cities like Golden and Boulder. 

Colorado Sun staff writer Jason Blevins contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...

Elliott Wenzler

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her...