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 Amazon.com 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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