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Our View: Housing bill needs more local control

Good intentions come with SB23-213 but it’s too rushed

Unintended consequences. This is the greatest concern if the Polis administration-backed SB23-213 on land use for affordable housing were to move through the state Legislature as is.

That’s not likely to happen, though, become there’s too much opposition – mostly around losing local control.

La Plata County, Bayfield and Ignacio are firmly opposed. Durango hasn’t yet taken a position.

No doubt, the intention of the bill is coming from the best place, especially around building dense, cluster housing near public transit to reduce emissions. We do appreciate the governor pulling out the stops with a process to address and jump-start housing needs across the state.

But the bill lacks finesse. And we never want to hand over local control. Say state controls and we hear state overreach.

SB23-213 aims to remove barriers and reshape Colorado’s locally set zoning rules to build more housing and, ideally, reduce the cost of apartments and homes, which brings up another concern. Affordability is no guarantee in this bill. More housing does not equal more affordability. In fact, luxury units could slip in under the radar.

Ideally, that would not happen. But at this time, there’s nothing to ensure units are affordable three, five, 10 years from now. After guidance from the Department of Local Affairs, municipalities would have to develop and submit housing needs plans by December 2026, and every five years thereafter. The plan must include affordability strategies with at least two suggested by the state. But DOLA’s deadline to produce this menu of strategies is December 2024. Tough to get behind this so quickly without details.

This measure would also open the door for property owners to build accessory dwelling units and duplexes through simplexes on single-family lots.

SB23-213 was born from the realization that across the state, the all-local approach has not resolved the housing crisis. Looking at municipalities alone, potential for lack of follow-through is built into the system. City Councilors change along with priorities.

But comparatively, we’re off to a good start here with the Best Western renovation for low-income residents, the Roost – however pricey – for workforce housing, and other projects in and around Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio.

Would local governments get credit for these efforts? Could we earn more autonomy?

Polis has said SB23-213 does maintain local control: Cities would have some authority over how new development looks and be allowed to configure state-level zoning standards into their own codes.

Still, we want more local control. For example, it might be easier to waive fees in urban areas with robust budgets. But here, small towns may count on those fees.

Also, water and transit. Language about water is slight and vague. Transit remains a subject of study in the Four Corners. And the $15 million appropriated from the general fund to the housing plans assistance fund is well-intended, but not nearly enough.

We appreciate serious attention and action. But this bill feels too rushed and too controlling, without considering specific needs in the Southwest. The Legislature will adjourn on May 6. How can the many questions be resolved and work completed by then? It’s not realistic.

La Plata County has a list of common concerns. One is that neither Polis nor his staff reached out to the county or the Southwest, at least that anyone can recall. The BoCC is calling for a statewide tour, where Polis learns more about impacts, how the bill would work and to see what’s already happening locally, and the progress made.

Don’t get us wrong. The bill is chock-full of good ideas, such as prohibiting requiring a minimum-size footprints for homes.

To stay off life support, this bill must be amended to the max. Now, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach to a problem with multiple challenges. We’re a place that encourages community input. This has been left out, too.

And local control. We will grip tightly to it.