Less than a week after a land-use bill hailed by Gov. Jared Polis as a way to solve Colorado’s affordable housing crisis was gutted in the state Senate, a group of House Democrats is making a last-ditch effort to resurrect portions of the legislation, including those requiring cities to zone for increased housing density around bus and train stops.
Reps. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver and Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, the two lead sponsors of Senate Bill 213 in the House, have drafted a set of amendments they plan to introduce during a committee hearing Tuesday that would add back some of the most controversial elements of the original bill.
The proposed changes, which would have to be approved by the Senate before the bill could be sent to Polis’ desk, come a week before the end of the Colorado legislature’s 120-day lawmaking term. The session ends May 8.
The prospect of the changes, as well as the bill’s overall future, are murky, in part because the reason the legislation was significantly pared back in the Senate was because of a limited support for imposing land-use policies on municipalities.
“We’re doing our best to loop in our friends in the other chamber,” Woodrow said in an interview Monday with The Colorado Sun.
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and a lead sponsor the bill, said Monday evening he had not yet reviewed the amendments.
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The measure started out as an ambitious overhaul to residential development rules in Colorado. It would have essentially eradicated single-family zoning in the state’s biggest cities while forcing resort towns and suburban areas to take a host of steps to boost their housing stock.
The legislation was slowly watered down to appease skeptics before it reached the Senate Appropriations Committee, where all density requirements for cities were taken out. The measure effectively became solely an effort to form a state board tasked with helping communities assess affordable housing needs and develop long-term plans.
Woodrow and Jodeh’s proposed amendments would add back in the requirements for local governments to zone for a certain level of density within specified distances from bus and train stations and routes.
The amendments would 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.
Another change the House sponsors plan to offer would add back in a prohibition on Colorado’s largest cities regulating accessory dwelling units, also or ADUs or “granny flats.” Under the introduced version of the bill, ADU restrictions would have been mostly eliminated across the state.
The proposed changes would not, however, add back in broader requirements around changing single-family residential zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.
“We’re confident that what we send back will have the integrity of the original intent of the bill reinfused,” Jodeh said.
Woodrow and Jodeh worked closely with the governor’s office in developing the amendments, Woodrow said.
In a statement sent to The Colorado Sun Monday, Polis’ office said the governor appreciates “all of the work on the policy up to this point” and the commitment by sponsors and the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee to more housing.
The Colorado Municipal League, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for the state’s cities and towns, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the bill. After the local-control elements were removed from the measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, CML Executive Director Kevin Bommer said he felt the legislation was headed in the right direction.
Still, the group planned to withhold support of the measure unless the bill’s sponsors all vowed to keep those changes.
After reviewing the amendments Monday evening, Bommer called the proposals “baffling” and that he thought sponsors would have “come to their senses.”
“I guess the sponsors and proponents aren’t really that interested in tackling affordable housing issues,” he said. “They are doubling down on a strategy that will put the bill on a collision course with the courts, where they will ultimately lose.”
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Dozens of cities and towns across the state have come out against the legislation, complaining that is supersedes their control and restricts their ability to manage their communities’ infrastructure and water needs.
Woodrow said he believes the people who would support the legislation just haven’t had the opportunity to do so.
“They’re too busy working,” he said, “they’re cooking our food and picking up our trash and recycling and driving us to the hospital in ambulances and teaching our kids.”
The bill will be heard Tuesday in the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee after the House finishes its floor work.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.