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Growth caps on Colorado’s cities and towns could be a thing of the past

Upscale buildings are framed by a construction crane at an affordable housing project in Vail, Colo., on Oct. 25, 2022.
Thomas Peipert
Upscale buildings are framed by a construction crane at an affordable housing project in Vail, Colo., on Oct. 25, 2022.

Boulder, Lakewood and Golden are the largest Colorado cities to have laws restricting residential growth rates. Some smaller communities across the state also have growth restrictions.

In Boulder,growthislimitedto1% each year, which translates into about 400 new residential units. Boulder's city planning office claims the restriction is in place, “to control growth in a way that assures the preservation of Boulder’s unique environment, high quality of life and availability of public facilities and urban services.”

Lakewood and Golden also limit growth to 1% each year. That amounts to 193 new units in Lakewood and 88 units in Golden.

Those growth restrictions could soon be lifted, however, thanks to a new bill. House Bill 1255 would abolish all laws that impose growth restrictions in Colorado and would also prevent any efforts at the local level to enact new growth restrictions in the future. The bill applies to all forms of local government, including counties, cities, special districts and municipalities.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. William Lindstedt, said growth caps drive up housing prices by blocking new residential construction.

“We need to address (growth caps) if we want to make sure housing is attainable and affordable for everyone that, you know, wants to work, live or play in our communities,” Lindstedt said. “I care deeply about ensuring people can live in the communities they grew up in or where they work. There are folks who I grew up with in Broomfield who can't afford to come back.”

The bill includes an exception. Local governments would be able to impose temporary growth restrictions in disaster situations like the arrival of a large wildfire. The bill’s sponsors say the exception would give municipalities a way to pause applications for housing developments and construction of new housing in times when they don’t have the capacity to oversee them.

“After the Marshall fire, the town of Superior had only one planner in the entire town,” bill sponsor Rep. Ruby Dickson said. “They were receiving a ton of new applications to rebuild properties and they just didn't have the administrative capacity to carry that out at all.”

The measure is part of sweeping efforts announced last month by Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis to address Colorado’s housing crisis. A large part of those efforts is centered around historic landuse reforms that would increase residential density across the state.

Dickson said House Bill 1255 is designed to complement those land use reforms.

“Lifting growth limits is going to be an important part of making sure that we're actually able to act on whatever land use changes happen,” she said.

Critics say the state is overstepping local control with the bill and that it favors for-profit, large-scale developers. They also are concerned that growth could outpace local infrastructure . .

The Co lorado Mu nicipa l L eague , an a dvoc acy and lobbying group for the state's cities and towns, o pposes t he bill . Bu t in a recent statement from Municipal League Legislative and Policy Advocate Meghan MacKillop, she said the league w ould consi der ch anging its position if the bill is amend ed.

"The language in this bill does not need to be so broad to accomplish the goal of preventing new—and preempting existing—restrictions on population growth," MacKillop said in the written statement. "Additionally, we believe the way the bill is currently written will lead to sprawl of residential development that does not align with a local government’s housing plan goals. "

MacKillop added that terms in the bill l ike " l and use law " a nd " anti- growth law" are unspecific and would thus i nter fere with local government s' abil ity to man age housing . The league would also li ke to se e additional e xceptio ns in the bill to permit growth restri ctions in other situat ions , such as to prot ect existing infras truct ure and historica l buildi ngs from the impacts of new develo pment.

Those who want growth caps to stay say they help preserve the character of communities by limiting new construction and large-scale development as well as preventing major changes in population density. In places like Boulder, access to open spaces, parks and mountain views are a strong draw for residents—assets some fear could be threatened if housing development were left unrestricted.

House Bill 1255 was approved along party lines by the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee Wednesday, its first hurdle in the state legislature. It will now move to the House floor. A previous measure that would have cut growth caps failed in the legislature last year.

Another bill, House Bill 1253, was also approved by the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee Wednesday. If passed, it would launch a study to find out how much of Colorado’s housing is owned by corporations. It will undergo a fiscal review before moving on to the House floor.

Copyright 2023 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Lucas Brady Woods