A statewide effort to manage growth along the Front Range

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 11/26/19

The idea of imposing growth constraints among counties and cities along the Front Range of Colorado has been bubbling up as far back to 2018. Golden resident Daniel Hayes has the idea that growth …

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A statewide effort to manage growth along the Front Range

Posted

The idea of imposing growth constraints among counties and cities along the Front Range of Colorado has been bubbling up as far back to 2018.

Golden resident Daniel Hayes has the idea that growth along the Front Range is ruining Colorado and should be reined in — especially in 11specific counties. And as you might guess, the counties and cities which would be affected are where the vast amount of new development is currently happening.

His proposal aims to slow growth in the eight-county Denver metro area along with Elbert, El Paso and Larimer Counties. The plan would borrow concepts from the City of Boulder’s growth management plan, which calls for an annual cap limiting new residential construction to 1% of existing homes in each affected jurisdiction.

But while Boulder’s plan allows exceptions for things like affordable apartment units and university housing, Hayes’ proposal would allow only a flat 0.15 of 1% additional expansion above the 1% cap for affordable and senior housing developments.

Next step would be circulate petitions

Hayes, who was instrumental in pushing through growth limits in the City of Golden in 1995, began working on his plan for the 2018 ballot, but then pulled back on it. Now, the process to get his growth limiting plan on the 2020 state ballot is to circulate petitions and to obtain signatures throughout the state. Currently, he is awaiting final approval from the Secretary of State’s Office to begin the petition circulation effort.

One size does not fit all

While I think the accelerated growth in the 11 counties and the affected cities make it ripe for citizen support of such a plan, I believe this plan is ill-advised for several reasons.

Most importantly, it would usurp the concept of local control. One size does not fit all in the case of controlling growth. The needs and desires of locals vary from town to town, from city to city and from county to county. Each town, city and unincorporated area should have the authority to decide its own fate regarding the number and type of residential construction - as well as the pacing of new development.

For example, some areas will need or want more affordable apartments or senior housing opportunities than others.

Others might want smaller single-family detached homes on smaller lots to seek affordable home ownership. Available water resources certainly play a key role in the volume and pace of new dwelling units and the ensuing water demand generated by new residents.

Another key factor is the community’s ability to keep up with the increased traffic created by new residents. Most towns, cities and counties do not have the financial capacity to build new arterial streets, add lanes to existing streets or construct needed overpasses and interchanges.

Such compelling factors need to be decided at the local level.

Opposition will come from various
interests

As expected, opposition has already been expressed to Mr. Hayes’ concept.

Drew Hamrick, with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, has been quick to point out that limiting the number of new affordable apartment units would further negatively impact availability and drive up rental pricing all the more.

Former Boulder City Council member Steve Pomerance, who favors slow-growth measures, expressed opposition to the whole concept of using a growth management system such as Boulder’s approach. He believes the simplest approach is through zoning/density restrictions decided by city councils which would reflect compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods. What Pomerance fails to address is the volume and pace of new development which could flow through such an approach.

If Hayes’ proposition makes the ballot, you can count on the targeted local governments to oppose his plan.

Beware of the message or impression generated

It will be interesting to track Mr. Hayes’ efforts and his ability to garner sufficient valid signatures to place his growth constraint proposition on the November 2020 ballot.

While at first blush the public may be seduced to support such a concept, it bears further thought. Not only is local determination a better approach, we need to be thoughtful in what message his plan would send to economic development prospects. We don’t want private business interests getting the impression that Colorado is not open for business.

Again, it is not a matter of growth or no growth — simply a matter of pacing residential development within a reasonable, prudent level.

Northglenn city officials initiate new facilities

City of Northglenn officials just broke ground on their new recreation center/senior center/performing arts center, a key part of the city’s overall civic center master plan which started with the new Justice Center that opened last year. Police Department personnel and the municipal court are housed at this new facility.

The new recreation/senior/performing arts center will be located along the eastern edge of the overall civic center site between the current City Hall and parking area on the east and I-25 on the west.

Strategic planning used to maximize land holdings

This component of the civic center master plan has been a long time in the making. The previous false starts included a failed election back in 2007 — but those are now “history.” The new facility is estimated to cost $53 million, which will be paid in part by city’s marijuana tax revenues.

The opening of the new center is targeted for 2021. The master plan envisions a new City Hall with the existing building to be torn down to make room for more parking and residential development. Retail development is contemplated there, as well.

Northglenn city officials are to be congratulated and commended for their forward thinking and patience. Given the prime location of their existing City facilities and land holdings south of 120th Avenue and east of Interstate 25, they have been quite strategic in how best to utilize this major asset. The re-configuration of new public facilities will free up valuable developable land for private development which in turn will benefit the city’s coffers. This is a true win-win for everyone.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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