Colorado House committee advances a partially restored land use bill

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Statehouse Capitol’s Gold Dome in Denver, March 23, 2023.

A Colorado House committee partially restored the most controversial part of a land use reform bill before it advanced the measure late Tuesday night.

The bill, SB23-213, was initially a sweeping measure that would’ve forced many local governments to allow varying degrees of denser homes in all residential neighborhoods. The state Senate gradually trimmed those mandatory upzoning requirements before eliminating them entirely last week.

But the House Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee has brought back some of those provisions, as previewed Monday by CPR News

“Inaction is not an option,” prime sponsor Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Democrat representing part of southeast Denver, said at a press conference before the committee hearing. “The future prosperity of Colorado is at stake. This is the legislation our communities need.”

The amendments restored provisions of the bill that would force local governments to allow accessory dwelling units across most urban cities, approve more dense residential development in some areas near rail transit stations and along frequent bus lines, and would reduce minimum parking requirements in certain areas. Another amendment requires infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians to be considered in upzoned areas. 

The vote came after another marathon hearing over the bill. Dozens of local elected officials, advocates for business, environmental and other interests, and members of the public testified for and against the bill for about six hours until about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Many local officials were upset the House sponsors pushed to restore mandatory upzoning provisions, saying they’d grown more comfortable with the bill after the Senate stripped those out last week. But that goodwill was gone by the time testimony ended.

“I would normally try to take this opportunity to make suggestions on how to improve this bill,” Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko told the committee. “However, by the governor’s words and the proposed amendments, you’ve stripped away any good faith efforts to work together now and in the future. Your actions have made your words worthless.”

Leaders of the Colorado Municipal League, the organization that’s led opposition to the bill, said it will likely be challenged in court if it passes. 

“The governor and proponents are interested … in usurping the rights of property owners to protect the character and meet the land-use needs of their communities,” CML Executive Director Kevin Bommer told the committee.

Rep. Iman Jodeh, an Aurora Democrat and another prime sponsor of the bill, said the “loudest voices in the room” have dominated the debate so far – and she sought to change that by recounting personal stories from constituents who’ve struggled with housing. 

“These folks that are on the front lines, that are affected by this every single day, don't have the time or the resources to lobby because they're working,” Jodeh said at the press conference. “They don't have adequate or reliable transportation. They can't find childcare, they can't afford to take the time off from work.”

Another amendment waters down the bill’s abolishment of occupancy restrictions. Now, the bill would give cities with a college student population of at least 25 percent the ability to limit the number of unrelated adults that live together at five.

That amendment appears to address overcrowding concerns voiced by non-student residents from college towns like Boulder. The carveout was criticized by local advocates who’ve tried to overturn that city’s occupancy limit.

“[T]his is a devastating outcome for all of us who have worked so hard to overturn these laws,” Eric Budd with Bedrooms Are For People tweeted.

The committee’s approval keeps the bill on a collision course with the state Senate as the session hurtles toward its close next Monday, May 8.

"The House is going to do what they think they have to do,” Senate President Steve Fenberg said Tuesday. “I think it'll be challenging. But we're on a time crunch and I think that's a big part of the challenge. The Senate will have to decide, do we concur?”

The bill now moves on to the House Appropriations Committee. If it clears that committee and the full chamber, the House’s version will have to be reconciled with the Senate version. That would likely be through a conference committee made up of representatives from both chambers. The full Senate and full House would ultimately have to sign off on a final version of the bill. 

CPR reporter Bente Birkeland contributed to this report.