Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, facing opposition from mountain towns, defends sweeping land-use bill that could overhaul local housing policy

SB23-213 would expand the state’s role in zoning and land-use policies in a bid to increase housing supply. Summit County officials say changes must be made to better accommodate mountain communities.

High-density housing, currently under construction, lines Silverthorne's main thoroughfare — Blue River Parkway, on Dec. 14, 2022. A new bill proposed by Gov. Jared Polis and state Democrats would incentivize this type of development across Colorado in a bid to increase housing supply.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News

After the unveiling of a landmark housing bill by Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic state lawmakers that would overhaul housing policy in cities and towns across Colorado, officials in mountain communities are voicing opposition.

Senate Bill 23-213 is still in its infancy and will likely face a slew of amendments before it has a chance of becoming law. But in its current iteration, it would effectively ban municipalities from limiting development of higher-density housing and hold local governments to a statewide land-use standard. 

Colorado legislators have called the measure a crucial tool to increase housing supply and drive down costs. But in mountain resort areas, some say the bill may not be the best solution to the affordability crisis

“The housing problem in Colorado is a big deal, however, it is different all over the state,” said Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula, who called the bill a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Polis, in an interview with the Summit Daily News, said the bill is “data-driven” and comes at a critical point for municipalities across the state. 

“Those who got their homes and are able to stay there, that’s great. But there’s not room for a next generation,” Polis said. “So the community will die on the vine if we can’t make housing more affordable, and that’s really what this effort is about for Summit County, Eagle County and the Denver-metro area.”

‘Trying to find a balance’

While the bill does treat mountain towns like Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne and others differently than larger, more urban cities — it still holds those municipalities to a statewide standard.

According to the bill, certain mountain towns — dubbed “resort job centers” — would have to submit land-use codes to the state by December 2026. If a code is deemed insufficient, the state would impose its own land-use model beginning in June 2027, according to reporting by The Colorado Sun.

Resort job centers would also be required to allow accessory dwelling units or ADUs — smaller living spaces, such as a shed or guest house, that are built on a main property. And these municipalities would have to collaborate regionally to zone land for duplexes, triplexes and other multi-unit housing.

While building more units may be a solution for Front Range and metro-area communities, Mamula said it won’t guarantee affordability in resort destinations. 

“In places like Breckenridge … that really won’t work. We’ve already seen that a lot of our housing stock goes to second-home owners,” Mamula said. 

Instead, he wants to see language in the bill that gives local governments more teeth to mandate work and income requirements for occupants of new developments. Without those, Mamula is afraid new construction will remain market-rate units which, in Summit County, can be millions of dollars.

“There needs to be some really expressive guidance as to who needs to be in these units that the state wants to create,” Mamula said. 

Mamula said there are other solutions to securing affordability outside of building more units such as placing deed restrictions on homes — which caps the price the property can sell for and can mandate work and income requirements for buyers. 

Breckenridge has created about 1,500 of these units — either through the conversion of existing homes or building new ones — with another 950 planned, according to Mamula. It’s strategies like those that he wants to see in the statewide bill.

“Some of the language in the legislation does not honor that,” Mamula said. “I think this bill was written with the Front Range in mind, for the most part.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said fixing the state’s housing crisis will take both local and statewide solutions, adding, “It only gets worse if we don’t change our course.”
Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News archive

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue, who sits on the state’s Middle Income Housing Authority, has felt similarly about past statewide housing policies. This bill, however, represents one of the first she’s seen “that really does begin to differentiate between urban and rural-resort dynamic,” Pogue said. 

“I believe local control is really important, and I believe housing is a matter of statewide concern,” Pogue said. “I believe this bill is trying to find a balance, the right balance between those two philosophies.”

Pogue said increasing housing stock should be a top priority and estimated the county could be in a deficit of around 4,000 units. The imbalance of housing supply and demand has been a leading factor for unaffordability, Pogue said. It’s why she sees potential in the state bill.

“If we want to solve the affordable housing crisis, we have to make sure more units get built,” Pogue said. “I think this starts to provide a pathway to communities to think thoughtfully about these challenges. I hope that our municipalities will really engage in this conversation.”

Still, Pogue wants to see more clarity from lawmakers about how local governments can ensure those units go to members of the workforce such as teachers, nurses and mental health providers. For example, the county and towns, including Breckenridge, have mandated that any accessory dwelling units that are built must be deed restricted and sold to a resident working at least 30 hours per week in the county. Outside of promoting more accessory dwelling unit construction, the state bill currently does not include such a model.

“I still have some concerns around how we make sure we’re protecting affordability in some of those strategies,” Pogue said. “How do we make sure that what developers are building — what local governments are building — remains affordable.”

Polis said, “We trust our mayors, our commissioners to figure out the right balance for Summit County. The right balance for Summit County might not be the right balance for Garfield and Eagle.”

‘Top-down, heavy-handed’

In Silverthorne, where condos and townhomes — some still under construction — line the town’s main thoroughfare, high-density development has been embraced. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to affordability, said Assistant Town Manager Mark Leidal.

Much of the new development will be market-rate units which, for a condo or townhome, was about $924,937, according to a February report from Land Title. Where Silverthorne has been able to provide affordable housing is in deed-restricted areas, such as the Smith Ranch neighborhood. 

“It’s how those units are being utilized in the county. That’s the concern,” Leidal said, adding he feels the state bill “doesn’t point toward truly affordable housing.” He said it points to additional units.

Leidal and other officials in the county said they have not shied away from dense developments, some of which have been income-based properties. Those include the 135-unit Smith Ranch apartments in Silverthorne, set to begin construction in May; the 172-unit Alta Verde development in Breckenridge, which began accepting leases in December; and the completion of the Village at Wintergreen apartments in Keystone, which will secure more than 240 units for the area.

But building units cannot be the only solution to Summit County’s housing needs, officials said, and many feel they’ve already begun the work that the state bill is trying to achieve. This includes expanding accessory dwelling unit permits, creating home-buying programs and regulating short-term rental properties — which account for one-third of the county’s overall housing stock, according to one study.

For Liedal, the bill is a “top-down, heavy-handed” approach to how local governments operate. 

The Village at Wintergreen apartments in Keystone pictured in July, 2022. With a final phase of units set to be built, the Summit County government-led project will bring more than 240 income-based homes to the area.
Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News archive

In Dillon, town staff and elected officials have also taken up strong opposition to the measure.

“This is probably one of the biggest bills and attempts in Colorado history to remove local control,” said Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson. “My gut feeling right now is there’s potential there could be lawsuits around this.”

Johnson said the town of Dillon and others have “been at the forefront of trying to tackle this affordable housing and workforce housing area for quite some time.” He said he is concerned about the burden the bill may place on towns already scrambling to secure essential utilities for high-density builds.

“That’s going to impact any other new development because that’s going to take our water and sewer to these new areas that under this law we are mandated to do,” Johnson said.

The town’s council, during an April 4 meeting, unanimously passed a resolution opposing the bill that also calls on its state representatives to vote against an “unprecedented and irresponsible preemption.”

Polis said the bill provides local officials “the flexibility to do what works, but not the flexibility to do nothing.” 

“All the normal things people associate with local decisions — height limits, what’s commercial, what’s residential — those remain entirely local,” the governor said.

State Sen. Dylan Roberts, in a written statement to the Summit Daily News, called S.B. 23-213 a “major bill that seeks to address our state’s housing crisis” whilst acknowledging “concerns about some of the provisions.”

“Right now, the bill incentivizes higher density, development by right, and transit-oriented development, but it does not guarantee that new development will be specifically targeted for low and middle-income individuals and families and meet our urgent workforce housing needs,” stated Roberts, whose senate district includes Summit County. 

He continued: “We need more housing, but we need to do it the right way for every community’s needs, and I am hopeful we can get this bill to a place where both goals are accomplished.”

While Polis said now is a “great time for input on how to make the bill stronger,” he is eager to see its passage amid a housing crisis that he said is only growing worse.

“We need to change the way we do things,” Polis said. “It only gets worse if we don’t change our course.”

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