Gov. Polis visits Summit County to sign bills related to housing, water, conservation and transportation into law
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct the name of the river where a restoration project occurred.
Gov. Jared Polis chose several remarkable Colorado backdrops Monday, June 5, during a bill signing tour in Summit County. But the former Days Inn in Silverthorne was not necessarily one of them.
Before rushing off to an overlook along Interstate 70 and down a dirt road to a recently restored stretch of the Swan River, Polis’s stop at the former hotel was more symbolic than scenic. There, he signed two housing bills into law after a legislative session that focused intently on the state’s housing crisis.
“We are standing next to the third hotel in Summit County that is now becoming workforce housing,” remarked Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon. “And, somehow, the world is flipped upside on its head that we have people, locals, who are living in hotels and tourists who are living in our homes.”
The former Days Inn is emblematic of the larger housing crisis facing Colorado mountain towns, as short-term rentals occupy a greater percentage of the housing inventory, pushing out long-term renters. A crisis that Polis, despite seeing his signature land-use bill defeated at the end of the last legislative session, said he believes House Bill 23-1287 and H.B. 23-1304 will help address.
The first bill gives more tools to local and county governments to regulate short-term rentals, which Polis said “are part of the economy but … separate and distinct from meeting the housing needs of a community.”
The short-term rental market directly impacts the residential market for long-term rentals, especially in Summit, Eagle and Routt counties, but to a lesser extent in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver, Polis said.
Surrounded by Summit County’s state legislators, McCluskie and Democratic Sen. Dylan Roberts of Avon, who sponsored both housing bills, Polis said new housing needs to be built but “safeguards” are necessary to keep it all from becoming short-term rentals.
McCluskie and Roberts both spoke to the need of finding a balance with short-term rentals where the tourism industry can still flourish but where the local workers who need housing can find it.
“Short-term rentals are an important part of the tourism economy and experience, and we know that,” McCluskie said. “We are not trying to make the lives of short-term rental owners harder. We’re simply trying to make sure we keep our communities livable and we maximize workforce housing.”
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The second bill is “enabling legislation” for Proposition 123, which Colorado voters enacted in 2022. Proposition 123 contains many provisions aimed at creating more affordable housing through additional funding and planning, but it had some issues around funding that required additional legislation to fix, Polis said.
“There will be hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years that flow into housing managed by the state,” Polis said. “And that’s exciting. That alone obviously won’t fix the housing crisis, but it will help.”
Between the governor’s stops, Summit Daily asked Polis how he plans to reintroduce concepts from the defeated land-use bill that he had pushed last legislative session while working collaboratively with mountain towns that opposed parts of the bill.
“Any way we can remove barriers to housing being built, especially workforce housing, the better,” Polis said. “… What the High Country needs more than anything is more housing that people can afford. People that work and live in these communities.”
The governor said he looks forward to continuing to work with towns and counties across western Colorado “to help meet the needs of the future because the first step is recognizing what we have been doing hasn’t worked and will only get worse until we take action.”
After the photo-op at the Days Inn, Polis stopped at the scenic overlook along Interstate 70. Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles whizzed over his shoulder while the Dillon Reservoir stretched into the distance as he signed a bill related to highway safety.
H.B. 23-1267, again sponsored by McCluskie and Roberts, doubles fines for trucks speeding on steep grades.
“That will improve safety and make sure our commercial drivers who might not frequent our state as often or those who come regularly really pay attention to those high risk areas,” Polis said. “This will help save lives, but it will also help reduce traffic jams that inevitably accidents cause, even if nobody is injured.”
To cap off the bill signings, Polis continued down I-70, turned onto Colorado Highway 9, made a left onto Tiger Road and continued driving until the road turned to dirt and the Swan River snaked its way through the valley.
At the site of a recent river restoration project that transformed the dredge-mined Swan River back into a natural flowing stream, Polis signed into law three environment- and water-related bills: Senate Bill 23-270, H.B. 23-1274 and S.B. 23-177 — all of which were sponsored by Roberts.
S.B. 23-270 is a bill funding water projects throughout the state, such as the recent project at the Swan River. H.B. 23-1274, meanwhile, is a bill funding species conservation projects, and S.B. 23-177 is the appropriations for the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Projects.
After the bill signings, Polis wandered down to the riverside, asking questions about the county’s mining history and how it has affected the waterways.
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