Colorado growth-control measure is a non-starter with candidates for governor – Denver Business Journal

If veteran activist Daniel Hayes can get a growth-limitation initiative on the November ballot, he’ll not only have to contend with Colorado business and municipal groups that are expected to oppose it, but also with gubernatorial candidates from both major parties.

Every significant candidate for Colorado governor has come out against the proposal already.

Last month, at a Colorado Association of Realtors forum, gubernatorial candidates were asked if they support or oppose Initiative 66, which seeks to cap new housing permits in each of the 10 largest Front Range counties to a 1 percent annual increase — a pace that would slow the current growth rate in each of those counties since 2011.

All eight of the candidates who attended or submitted answers for the event came out against the measure, and the communications director for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who missed the forum, said Friday that the Boulder Democrat also is against it.

This rare show of unanimity among both Republican and Democratic candidates doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the measure, as Coloradans have passed constitutional amendments in the past that garnered little or no support from state political leaders.

But the opinions offered by the candidates seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper in the November election show that, despite a groundswell of anti-growth sentiment among some Colorado voters, potential state leaders favor ways of managing growth or addressing issues that lead to the slow-growth sentiment, such as increasing traffic congestion.

“It’s certainly a wake-up call, I think, to all of us about how people feel about what we’re dealing with as a city and a state,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. “We want to have serious conversations, … but limiting growth in such an arbitrary manner is not the solution.”

Initiative 66 is being steered by Hayes, a a Golden landlord and graduate-school student who has backed local slow-growth initiatives for a quarter-century. The Colorado Supreme Court recently cleared the way for Hayes to begin collecting the signatures he will need to get the measure on the statewide ballot.

In addition to capping the growth of housing units in 10 Front Range counties — Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld — the measure would allow other cities and counties to put such a growth-capping initiative onto their local ballots and would not allow for petitions to remove the cap until 2021 at the earliest.

Hayes, who led the successful fight for a similar cap in his home city in 1995, said he believes that limiting the proliferation of housing will ease the congestion on area roadways and will aid school systems struggling with a crush of students.

A November study from the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Colorado Association of Realtors, Colorado Concern and the Denver South Economic Development Partnership argued, however, that capping new housing units would drive up already escalating housing costs. It also said such a cap would reduce employment in the construction industry in Colorado and could spread growth into rural counties that are not required to abide by the 1 percent cap.

Several candidates referred to that study in citing their opposition to the proposal, and many of the gubernatorial contenders referred to the measure’s caps as “arbitrary.”

Several also offered alternate plans to deal with growth issues.

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a Democrat, said she would create a Cabinet-level Department of Housing that works with the private sector on issues like affordability.

Democratic businessman Noel Ginsburg said he would put together a commission to look at issues like water, transportation and land use and how they play into growth.

Both Coffman and former Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy, a Democrat, said they would work more closely with local government officials and private-sector leaders to address citizen concerns.

Former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, a Republican, said he would not look to limit growth but instead would look to roll back regulations in order to create more affordable housing. One particular change he would make, he said, would be to allow any builder to receive a building permit by going to an accredited architect rather than by having to go to local-government offices.

Several other officials gave less defined plans but expressed a common theme that Coloradans’ concerns about growth can be addressed through better comprehensive planning.

“Yes, we want to grow. We want to grow in a way that is planned,” said former Democratic state Sen. Michael Johnston.

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Denver-area growth-control measure gets go-ahead from Colorado Supreme Court – Denver Business Journal

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled against an effort to keep an initiative limiting Front Range housing growth off the November ballot.

The ruling sets the stage for a historic electoral battle over whether the rapid growth of areas from Colorado Springs to Greeley can be allowed to continue unabated.

Justices affirmed a ruling of the state’s Ballot Title Board that petitioner Daniel Hayes of Golden, a veteran backer of local slow-growth initiatives for a quarter-century, can begin collecting signatures on Initiative 66.

The measure would:

Limit the growth of new housing units in 10 Front Range counties — Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld — to no more than 1 percent a year.Allow other cities and counties to ask voters to approve similar regulations.Establish statutory requirements on the number of voters required to launch such local elections.

The Colorado Association of Home Builders had petitioned the court to rule that the initiative violates the single-subject rule on statewide ballot questions. But the court declined to do so.

As a result, Hayes said he expects to get the petition form as soon as Friday.

He is negotiating with a Colorado Springs signature-collection firm to handle the petitions for Initiative 66. He believes that if the company can come to an agreement with him on cost, he will find plenty of support among potential voters to put the question before them.

“Once we get started, you can pretty much be assured that it’ll be on the ballot,” Hayes said Thursday. “The people are sick and tired of this.”

Leaders of the Colorado Association of Home Builders (CAHB), meanwhile, will pivot to organizing a coalition of groups to oppose the measure — a coalition that is likely to include builders, business interests, municipal leaders and even educators concerned with what effect such a curtailing of housing growth could have on generating property tax revenue for the state’s school systems.

The message will be multifaceted: That Initiative 66 would limit new housing, driving up already escalating home and apartment prices, and that it would sour potential employers who are looking to expand or relocate to Colorado, bringing the state’s rapid economic development to a grinding halt, CAHB chief executive Ted Leighty said.

“You’re going to artificially truncate supply,” Leighty said of the potential effect of Initiative 66. “It’s going to exacerbate the affordability issue because they’ll no longer have the market set demand. It’s going to have it defined for them.”

Cumulative household growth in the 10 largest Front Range counties has averaged between 2 and 2.2 percent each year since 2011, with none of the counties experiencing an annual growth of less than 1.3 percent in any year during that time.

That growth is expected to continue at rates between 1.7 percent and 2 percent over the next 10 years — including growth of more than 3 percent annually in Broomfield and Weld counties for several years to come.

So the initiative could force significant cutbacks in the housing units allowed in each place going forward.

Limiting a housing market that already has historically few properties for sale will drive up costs because of a lack of supply, Leighty said, and it will drive down employment opportunities in the construction industry.

A study done in November by a collaboration called REMI Partnership estimated that Initiative 66 could drive down the amount of building by 26,050 units in the 10 counties over the next two years, cutting construction employment 10 percent and costing the state $353 million in tax revenue.

REMI Partnership is a collaboration of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Colorado Association of Realtors, Colorado Concern and the Denver South Economic Development Partnership.

An analysis by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Council also suggested that the measure could lead growth to sprawl into counties where there is not a limit on new housing units.

“The value and price of existing housing units may increase in communities where there are binding growth limits, impacting potential home buyers and existing homeowners, landlords and tenants. Limits on housing permits will also impact the geographic distribution of construction employment, retail trade and population between different areas within Colorado,” the analysis said.

“Assuming the measure’s 1 percent growth limits are binding for some counties, the measure will shift construction employment and activity from counties that meet the 1 percent limit to jurisdictions where the 1 percent limit is not binding," it said. "Accordingly, some construction employment and activity will shift from the 10 named counties to neighboring counties without a growth limit.”

Under Hayes’ proposal, those 10 counties would be allowed to increase housing units by just 1 percent a year in 2019 and 2020, with each stand-alone home or apartment unit, rather than apartment building, counting as one unit toward that cap.

Local residents could petition to remove the cap beginning in 2021. And other cities and counties could seek elections to impose it beginning next year.

Hayes, who owns about 20 rental units and is a graduate-school student in psychology at the University of Denver, has experience in this area, having led the effort to impose a cap on annual new housing units in Golden in 1995.

And his petition comes during a time of rising anti-growth sentiment in the Denver area. Several suburbs voted slow-growth majorities onto their city councils in November, and polls show significant pushback against the state’s efforts to recruit Inc.’s second headquarters and the 50,000 workers it would employ.

He said Thursday that his efforts are driven by his belief that unfettered growth has led not to increasing traffic congestion in the Denver area and to the decreasing quality of schools in places like Jefferson County. This measure would cure some of the ills that gall residents, he said.

“If you let developers get their way, you’re going to have solid growth from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and it would be a mess,” he said.

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