Mandated statewide fire code proves controversial

DENVER – Several members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration are pushing for a statewide code to require homeowners in wildfire-prone areas to create defensible space around their houses.

But local governments and homebuilders are fighting the effort.

Hickenlooper created a task force on wildfire and insurance issues at the beginning of the year, and the group is trying to finish its report by autumn.

Divisions within the group were laid bare at an Aug. 16 meeting dealing with whether Colorado should join states such as California and Oregon in adopting a statewide standard for building in the wildland-urban interface.

Panel members from the Colorado Municipal League and the state homebuilders’ association want the governor to issue a recommendation, not a requirement, that cities and counties adopt stronger codes.

But Kevin Klein, head of the state Division of Homeland Security, pushed for a stronger requirement.

“What is going to keep us from having a race to the bottom in terms of standards and codes in order to be competitive in the real estate market?” Klein said. “A recommendation from the governor just doesn’t do much.”

Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Department of Regulatory Affairs, also pushed for a requirement, not a recommendation.

“We’re not saying ‘Don’t develop.’ We’re saying, ‘Develop in a way that’s sensible,’” Kelley said.

The task force decided to recommend to Hickenlooper some sort of a mandate from the state, although its report won’t have unanimous support.

Homebuilders and local governments have two of the state Capitol’s most powerful lobbies, and their opposition will make it difficult to get the Legislature to adopt a mandated building code.