Do the proposed amendments to the land-use bill do enough for mountain communities? |

Do the proposed amendments to the land-use bill do enough for mountain communities?

Even with the proposed amendments, local municipalities and water providers still oppose elements of bill

As a controversial land use bill continues through the Colorado Senate, proposed amendments could answer some (but not all) of the the changes local communities, organizations are advocating for.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

In March, Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic state lawmakers introduced a land-use bill that aims to address the state housing crisis by imposing substantial planning and mandatory land-use regulations.

Last week, the Senate’s Local Government and Housing committee heard over 12 hours of testimony for the 106-page bill. Much of the opposition to the bill came from municipalities across the state that expressed fear of the unintended consequences of the state wading into local land-use issues. The hearing included local testimony from Avon, Gypsum, Vail and Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority representatives.

New changes

The bill is currently set for an action-only hearing in the same committee on Tuesday, April 18, with over 50 pages of amendments proposed, according to a draft of these changes obtained by the Vail Daily.

One of the biggest overhaul areas is for communities, defined as “Rural Resort Job Centers” in the bill. There are 15 communities that fall within this tier, all of which are members of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns. Within Eagle County, only Avon and Vail are considered rural resort job centers. Eagle and Gypsum would both fall under the “Non-Urban Municipalities” tier.

One of the proposed amendments includes streamlining the legislation for these rural resort communities by putting those provisions into one section.

Support Local Journalism

One of the main concerns mountain communities initially expressed about the bill was that there was a lack of language around affordability. For mountain communities, which rely heavily on deed restrictions and other policies to ensure housing for local workforce and residents, this signaled concern about the impact of increased density.

The proposed amendments address some of these concerns, including clarifying affordability protections around deed restrictions and short-term rentals for rural resort communities. 

Other amendments around affordability include the creation of an “affordability menu,” meant to increase flexibility and support around current efforts from municipalities.

In addition, the amendments strike rural resort job center municipalities from sections of the bill around key corridors, transit-oriented areas, middle housing and accessory dwelling units. This would allow these ski towns to be exempt from some of the mandatory upzoning proposed in the bill. 

It also proposes adding a section on housing needs planning for these rural resort communities to participate in a regional planning process around housing. 

More amendments needed

Even with the changes, these rural resort communities have significant concerns with the bill. According to a letter penned by Colorado Association of Ski Towns President Jonathan Godes, the association is asking for the bill to be scaled down to “only the housing needs assessment” followed by a “more inclusive process with a reasonable timeframe to consider affordable housing strategies and appropriate statewide regulations.”

The letter to senators details specific amendments the association still wishes to see in the bill as well as its concerns.

The concerns detailed in the CAST letter include the following:

  • The late introduction in the legislative session of such a sweeping and impactful bill;
  • An inadequate period of time to thoroughly review the bill and proposed amendments for technical accuracy;
  • The heavy reliance on the Department of Local Affairs to determine many details that are not addressed in the bill;
  • The additional workload and existing capacity of RRJCs to perform the required planning work in addition to our existing workloads that are directly related to increasing affordable housing;
  • The capacity of DOLA to administer their new responsibilities of this bill; and
  • Areas in the bill will create new and not wholly defined standards for land use that CAST expects will increase the potential for litigation in each of the RRJC communities.

The letter also details seven specific amendments the association wishes to see added to the bill, based on the already-proposed amendments. These amendments range from changes to definitions — including an amendment definition of affordable housing, in which the communities want to see it revised so that each community can define its housing needs — changes to language to give jurisdictions more control over certain criteria, and more.

While Gypsum, and Eagle, fall under a different tier than the rural resort municipalities like Avon and Vail, the proposed amendments that would exempt those rural resort communities may also limit some of the impacts to the town, according to Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann. For the town of Gypsum, these amendments do little to change its opposition to the bill.

“The Town of Gypsum remains hopeful that the legislature will come to recognize that this bill isn’t right for Colorado and will kill this bill,” Rietmann said. “The legislature should reassess other ways it might be helpful and partner with communities in addressing housing needs in the state.”

At the core of this opposition is that the state would still be restricting local control.

“The State of Colorado has already made commitments both in statute and in the state constitution that local land use planning and zoning is a matter of local control because local governments and their elected leaders are closest to the lands affected by such decisions. Local leaders must be responsive to the people and citizens who live there, and citizens should have influence and a voice in how they’d like their communities to develop,” Rietmann said, adding that the bill “undercuts citizen input and citizens’ rights to representation by taking away their right to be heard at public hearings on certain zoning matters, or to use their constitutional rights of initiative or referendum to address zoning and land use issues.”

Water concerns

In addition to that, however, Rietmann said “the biggest concern for this bill’s passage in Colorado may be water.”

During last week’s testimony, local Eagle County water providers spoke about some of the potential impacts of the bill on water availability and infrastructure. While the proposed amendments address some of these concerns, some remain, according to a letter drafted by Eagle River Water & Sanitation District General Manager Siri Roman on behalf of the district and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

The concerns expressed in the letter are three-fold. First, is the inconsistent use of defined terms around municipalities.

“Our understanding is that the intent of one of the major revisions was to remove mandatory upzoning of Rural Resort Job Center Municipalities. We very much appreciate that intent, however, we have remaining concerns regarding the language the bill drafters included in the amendments to implement that intent,” Roman wrote.

Further, the letter advocates for more consistent use of defined terms or, “Even better would be removal of the Rural Resort Job Center Municipality references and regulation from the bill altogether, as we believe the one size fits all approach does not work for both front range and western slope communities.”

The second concern is that the bill does not currently include language to honor water providers’ ability to serve.

In previous letters and testimony around the bill, the water district and authority representatives have stated that there is not enough water to serve the increased density the bill — in its original form — would have created. In order to serve that increased density, they estimated over $300 million in infrastructure improvements to serve those, which would likely result in an 80% increase in rates for residents.

The ability-to-serve process currently gives the water authority and district approval over new developments to ensure it has enough water.

“We continue to see it as essential that Ability to Serve provisions be included to ensure that water providers have sufficient legal and physical supplies to serve new growth,” Roman wrote. “Accordingly, we request that the planning provisions applicable to Rural Resorts be amended to require the Ability to Serve process be completed by water providers prior to approval of specific projects.”

The final concern addressed in the letter is about “increased transmountain diversions to serve new growth on the Front Range that will be driven by SB23-213.”

“As you know, existing transmountain diversions already result in approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water being exported from the western slope to the front range every year,” Roman wrote, adding that because this water never returns to the Western Slope, it is “100% depletive” to local water supplies.

Further, the letter advocates that the bill includes language to preclude any additional transmountain diversions to serve upzoning on the Front Range.

As the bill continues to head through the general assembly, Avon’s Town Manager Eric Heil said CAST is “optimistic that the bill will be further amended on Tuesday to respond to CAST’s concerns and suggestions.”

The Senate Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill and its proposed amendments during its Tuesday, April 18 session, which begins at 2 p.m.

Support Local Journalism