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Townhomes and single-family residences are seen near the Montaine community on Oct. 17, 2022, in Castle Rock. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The major land-use bill presented by Gov. Jared Polis and top Democrats in the Colorado legislature as a way to tackle the state’s affordable housing crisis was gutted Wednesday morning to remove any denser residential zoning requirements on municipalities. 

Instead of forcing Colorado’s largest cities to allow duplexes, triples and fourplexes on at least 30% of their land currently zoned for single-family housing, a 39-page amendment to the measure would form a state board tasked with helping communities assess affordable housing needs and develop long-term plans. Those plans would be focused on preventing displacement and improving transit access and use, while taking into consideration water scarcity.

The evisceration of Senate Bill 213 is aimed at getting the legislation through a skeptical legislature.

“All legislation in this building (depends on) whether or not you have the support to move on to the next step,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and a lead sponsor the bill. “Senate Bill 213, in its current form, didn’t have that support.”

The changes represent a major defeat for Polis, who during his State of the State address in January touted the land-use measure as the centerpiece of his affordable housing plans this year. 

“We need to bring our land use policy into the 21st century and prepare ourselves for success these next 150 years,” Polis said in the address. “It’s time to legalize more housing choices for every Coloradan and give homeowners more freedom.”

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In a written statement to The Sun, a spokesman for Polis said Tuesday evening that Polis is “focused on ensuring that solutions are driven by the data and will actually work to reduce housing costs.”

“When Colorado leaders talk about housing, we need to talk about the real people this crisis is affecting and how the status quo isn’t working. The reality is that too many Coloradans cannot afford to rent or own a home in our state and the governor is focused on delivering real, data-driven results for people,” said the statement, which didn’t directly address the planned rewrite of the measure. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly and stakeholders on behalf of the real Coloradans demanding solutions as the bill moves through the process.”

Colorado Politics first reported the planned rewrite of the measure.

Senate Bill 213, which narrowly cleared its first committee last week after being dramatically pared back, didn’t appear to have enough votes to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee this week.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who sits on the Appropriations Committee wrote in a Colorado Sun opinion piece published Sunday with GOP Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Brighton that the measure “should be amended to eliminate state control of local land-use planning.”

Zenzinger was one of two unclear votes for the measure on the committee. Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, has also expressed skepticism about the bill.

If either Bridges or Zenzinger joined the GOP members of the panel in voting “no” on the measure it would have failed. 

Zenzinger said Tuesday night that she would vote for the bill if the amendment passed Wednesday, which it did. “The main thing it does is take out the land-use preemptions that I think are unconstitutional,” she said. 

The bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday by a 4-3 vote, with Republicans on the panel objecting to the change being made without a new public hearing.

Moreno said conversations about statewide zoning changes aren’t over in the legislature.

“I absolutely think as zoning reform is going to be a topic and future legislative sessions,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll. be able to work with our local partners to figure out a way forward on that.”

Moreno said the failure of the bill as it was introduced is a nod to how large of a policy change it would have been.

“Senate Bill 213 sought to do a lot,” he said.

Dominick Moreno speaks during a press conference outside the Capitol
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at the Colorado Capitol where legislation changing local land-use policy was unveiled. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

The measure would still prevent municipalities from imposing occupancy limits based on familial status. Zenzinger said she feels that is still “stepping on the toes a little bit of local government,” but that as long as the state isn’t directing local land use then she can support the measure. 

Still, the Colorado Municipal League, which represents cities and towns across the state, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill, hasn’t yet changed their position on the measure.

“We definitely think it’s a big step in the right direction,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of CML. 

But the organization won’t change its position unless the governor’s office and all sponsors commit to leaving the amendment intact.

“We want something that takes preemption off the table so we can start working together on shared goals,” Bommer said. “This amendment gets us pretty darn close.”

The original version of the bill was immensely complicated and aimed at increasing Colorado’s housing stock. Proponents hoped that would, in turn, drive down prices as supply got closer to meeting demand.

But municipal leaders have been furious about the prospect of having their hands forced by the governor and legislature. Republicans have been uniformly opposed to the bill, and a number of Democrats have been highly skeptical of the legislation.

If the amendment is adopted it would still have to be approved by the full Senate and the House. If the House were to try to restore the measure to its original form, the full Senate would have to approve the changes before sending the legislation to the governor.

Moreno said other bills passed by the legislature this session will improve Colorado’s affordable housing situation.

The legislature, for instance, is separately considering a bill that would unwind local housing growth caps and prevent any new caps from being implemented.

Senate Bill 213 isn’t the only affordable housing bill introduced in the legislature this year to fall apart. The Senate Housing and Local Government Committee on Tuesday night rejected House Bill 1115, which would have eliminated a prohibition on local governments enacting rent control policies.

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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...