Colorado mountain officials applaud concessions on land-use bill from state lawmakers as legislation’s passage remains uncertain

Even after exempting mountain communities from housing density requirements, lawmakers may not have the votes to advance SB23-213 unless further changes are made

New development is seen in downtown Silverthorne on Dec. 14, 2022. After facing opposition from mountain town officials, state lawmakers exempted those areas from housing density requirements under a sweeping land-use bill that faces an unclear path.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

Officials in Colorado’s High Country scored major concessions from state lawmakers last week on their sweeping land-use bill that seeks to overhaul housing policies in cities and towns across the state. 

But even with the slew of amendments that have dramatically reduced Senate Bill 23-213’s housing density requirements, its passage remains uncertain after swing-vote lawmakers signaled they may kill the bill before it reaches the Colorado Senate floor unless major changes are made. 

When S.B. 23-213 will receive its next committee vote, which will determine if it can advance to a full Senate vote or not, is unclear. But lawmakers’ efforts to scale back the bill illustrate the success of pressure campaigns from areas like Summit and Eagle counties, where some officials have been largely opposed

“When this legislation was first adopted, it was very obvious to me that it was just based on the Front Range, not what we’ve been doing, not what any of the rural resort communities have been doing,” said Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula.

Mamula, who earlier this month testified alongside other mountain town officials during a roughly 12-hour-long hearing on the bill at the Colorado State Capitol, said he’s supportive of the changes made at the behest of rural resort areas. 

The bill now completely exempts what it deems to be “rural resort job centers” from having any density requirements for the housing those areas build. Previously, it mandated that rural mountain communities work together to identify land where multi-unit housing — such as duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes — should be constructed. 

The effort represented a larger push by lawmakers to add density to single-family neighborhoods. While the bill still requires larger cities along the Front Range to allow multi-unit development for those areas, lawmakers dropped those density requirements by 70%

The approved amendments also add flexibility for how mountain towns tackle issues around affordable housing by choosing at least five options from a list of 10 to 15 strategies. Those include expanding accessory dwelling units, restricting short-term rentals, promoting deed restrictions and expediting building permit review processes, according to reporting by The Colorado Sun

Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland called the density requirements a “draconian imposition on state control over local zoning,” adding that the exemption for mountain communities makes the bill “much closer to palatable.”

The amendments were championed by Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat representing Eagle, Summit and other High-Country counties, who said he’s been “having a lot of conversations with officials and a lot of constituents” about concerns with the bill. 

Roberts voted last week to advance the legislation out of the Senate Local Government and Housing Committee, adding that the amendments will “give rural resort job centers, the towns that I represent, credit for the outstanding work they’ve been doing on affordable housing over the past years.”

That includes work in places like Breckenridge where, according to Mamula, the town has created 1,500 deed restrictions with another 950 planned. Deed restrictions cap the amount a home can sell for and place criteria on buyers to help ensure sales are made to members of the workforce.

Development of income-based housing has also been spearheaded by local officials in Breckenridge and across the county. Those include the two-phase Alta Verde apartment project in Breckenridge, the Smith Ranch apartments in Silverthorne and the Village at Wintergreen apartments in Keystone among others. 

Mamula said those efforts show that mountain towns have been able to make progress on housing issues at the local level. He said that to criticize local governments for not doing enough on housing would be a “blanket statement.”

Gov. Jared Polis, in a previous interview with the Summit Daily News, defended S.B. 23-213’s approach to density and said building more housing will ultimately drive down costs. With supply low and demand high, home prices in areas like Summit County have skyrocketed over the past decade — reaching into the multimillions

“The community will die on the vine if we can’t make housing more affordable, and that’s really what this effort is about,” Polis said. 

Mamula said he’s skeptical that just focusing on adding supply will lead to affordability in the High Country, where new developments tend to be market rate and, therefore, unattainable for many working residents.

Mamula said he still wants to see more definitions in the bill around affordability. He also wants mountain communities to have a seat at the table if the state enforces the legislation, should it pass. 

Roberts said that if S.B. 23-213 makes it to the Senate floor, he won’t support it unless two more amendments — one around defining affordable housing and the other to account for water usage — are made to the legislation. 

“If we’re going to increase supply, there has to be a mechanism to make sure that that supply is for the right kind of people who need housing,” Roberts said, adding that S.B. 23-213 has been “very challenging for me personally.”

While Roberts said the current amendments “are moving the bill in a good direction,” he acknowledged it is facing “a lot of close votes right now.”

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