State Sen. Jeff Bridges joined Rep. Barbara McLachlan in Durango Thursday to cap off the first day of a two-day tour soliciting input from local stakeholders on affordable housing in advance of next year’s legislative session.
The duo was joined by local and regional policymakers, including La Plata County commissioners Matt Salka and Clyde Church; Durango Mayor Melissa Youssef; Durango Fire Protection District Marshal Karola Hanks; planning staff members from the city and county governments; leadership from the Region 9 Economic Development District and a handful of constituents.
The discussion was apropos of Senate Bill 23-213, Gov. Jared Polis’ failed legislative initiative to address the state’s affordable housing crisis.
The bill was gutted after outcry from local governments objecting to the state’s seizure of local control with respect to housing density and development zoning.
The legislation, which went through multiple iterations before expiring on the Senate calendar, would have forced municipalities to zone for increased density and foisted other requirements related to growing housing stock on resort towns and suburban areas.
“The biggest concern was really, it was more catered toward large (municipalities), more like the Denver area, and that's why we essentially came out against it,” Salka said. “… The other concern, too, was that I felt like it was kind of pushed into the legislative session without really any feedback from counties across the state of Colorado.”
Bridges, a Democrat representing south metro Denver, said he hoped his visit would inform similar legislation in the future.
“One of the challenges last year with the bill was that we usurped a lot of that local control,” Bridges said. “I think there are certain things the state can say we want to make sure you do, (and) we want to give you the support to do it. But we want to make sure you can do it in the way that’s best for your community.”
The lawmakers’ tour took them as far west as Dove Creek, through Mancos and Cortez, north to Silverton on Friday, and east to Bayfield and Pagosa Springs.
“From Dove Creek to Denver, you have these challenges, (but) they look different,” Bridges said. “The solution in Dove Creek is going to be very different from the solution in Denver.”
But, the senator said that across the state, he has heard a common cry that development infrastructure is lacking.
“It’s important to understand that 82% of my jurisdiction is unhydrated – it does not have central water system,” Fire Marshal Hanks told Bridges. “We cover 365 square miles, and 82% of that isn’t covered. So as there may be land, it may be prime for multifamily (development) … the infrastructure isn’t there.”
Various stakeholders also urged the lawmakers to push a variety of initiatives, or to refrain from pursuing certain approaches.
Pat Vaughn, chairman of the regional housing alliance of La Plata County, pushed Bridges and McLachlan to pass better legislation protecting builders from construction defects lawsuits, which he said are pursued by predatory lawyers causing skyrocketing insurance rates.
A local resident voiced support for rent control for mobile homes – a proposal another attendee called “ludicrous.” McLachlan voted against a failed house bill that would have repealed a statewide ban on local governments implementing rent control.
Dan Armentano, a planner with the city, suggested that the state could take action to allow accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in developments that currently have covenants restricting the construction of anything but single-family homes. But he warned that legislation that would gut the ADU design standards already in place, such as S.B. 213, would not find support from local governments.
Bridges said the comments will be a part of a “statewide perspective,” with which he intends to view the 2024 legislative session. Polis has already indicated that he intends to continue pressuring legislators to take action on affordable housing.
“Local elected officials, local leaders, are partners in solving Colorado’s statewide housing affordability crisis,” Bridges said in an interview with The Durango Herald after the event. “We, as legislators, in approaching this issue next session, need to treat them as such.”