Colorado cities and counties will soon be prohibited from imposing population and residential growth limits under a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jared Polis.
House Bill 1255 will also repeal existing growth caps enacted in Lakewood, Boulder and Golden when it takes effect in August.
“We know we have more work to do to make sure that all our communities are part of the solution, but what this bill does is it says no community can be part of the problem any longer,” Polis said before signing the bill.
The bill was introduced as a companion measure to Senate Bill 213, which would have rewritten land-use rules across the state and was the governor’s signature effort at the Capitol this year to encourage more affordable housing. But Senate Bill 213 failed on the final day of the 2023 legislative session, leaving House Bill 1255 as one of the only major housing bills approved by the General Assembly and signed into law this year.
Rep. William Lindstedt, D-Broomfield, one of the prime sponsors of House Bill 1255, said while the measure was aimed at assisting the various elements of Senate Bill 213, it still will have an impact.
“It really does point the finger at the worst kind of action that you can see from a local government to limit housing,” he said.
House Bill 1255 aims to address the availability of housing by stripping local governments’ ability to limit how much new housing can be added to their communities.
“Anti-growth laws enacted by local governments severely undermine the ability to construct the additional housing units Coloradans need,” the legislative declaration in the bill said.
The bill will require that local governments at least have a hearing for new developments before deciding whether to reject them, Lindstedt said.
“The impact is big with (the) cities being preempted, but the larger impact is that other communities can’t get on that policy and make the problem worse,” he said.
Local governments across the state were strongly opposed to both House Bill 1155 and Senate Bill 213, calling them an overreach by the state and complaining that they would prevent communities from deciding how to address their unique needs.
House Bill 1255, however, didn’t receive nearly as much attention — or blowback — as its counterpart.
“That one got overshadowed by the clearly more sweeping Senate Bill 213,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League.
Still, the Colorado Municipal League, which represents cities and towns across the state, viewed House Bill 1255 as a similar attack on local control.
Elected officials in Pitkin, San Miguel, Routt, Summit and Huerfano counties signed a joint letter opposing the bill in May. Mayors and council members in Aspen and Fountain signed on as well.
“This bill responds to the policies of four Colorado municipalities, but strips away critical tools utilized by local governments across the state to actually achieve affordable housing, reduce sprawl and incentivize the prudent planning of water, natural resources and infrastructure development,” the letter said.
The letter argued the bill could harm the state’s water supply, rural lands and agricultural areas, and that it failed to encourage any new affordable housing.
The bill offers temporary exemptions for local governments that need to develop their infrastructure, including water services, to accommodate growth. Also excluded from the ban are areas with inclusionary housing ordinances, which require a certain amount of affordable housing to be built each year, and local governments that have recently experienced a natural disaster and have been inundated with new construction requests, such as the town of Superior, which was hard hit by the 2021 Marshall fire.
Golden’s growth cap, which limits residential development to 1% each year, was approved by voters in 1995. This year, the cap permitted only 88 new units.
Lakewood’s cap, which was approved by voters in 2019, has the same 1% restriction per year. In 2022, about 700 units were permitted.
Boulder has the same cap, which allows about 400 new units each year. It was originally enacted in the city in 1975 with a 2% limit then was reduced further to 1% in 1995.
The bill’s other sponsors are Rep. Ruby Dickson, D-Greenwood Village and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver.
Wednesday was the deadline for Polis to sign or veto any bills passed by the legislature during its 2023 lawmaking term, which ended May 8. House Bill 1255 was the final measure to receive a bill signing ceremony, which Polis said was intentional because he thinks the measure is so important.
Any bills the governor doesn’t veto or sign will automatically become law at midnight.