Elected Push RTD on Rail: Debra Johnson, RTD’s new CEO is trying to manage expectations as she attempts to resuscitate the transit district, which was in trouble before COVID and has struggled more since the outbreak began. According to Colorado Public Radio, she questioned the viability of the B Line from Westminster to Longmont, which is now estimated to cost $1.5 billion. “While we’re fixated on rail because it’s sexy and everyone wants to ride the iron horse, we have to keep in mind what might be more viable,” she said.
Johnson explained the line’s ridership would not qualify it for federal money to complete the project. The most recent estimates put daily ridership at 5,400 and 1,400 for rush-hour only service. That option has been favored by some local officials (including Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley) who want RTD to keep its promise of bring rail to Boulder County municipalities.
RTD’s own elected Board of Directors in 2019 recommitted to completing the unfinished FasTracks lines, including the B Line. But the agency is facing long-term financial issues on its FasTracks lines that will hit in earnest in about five years.
After Johnson made the comments, Governor Polis wrote to her, stating that he was “extremely concerned” by reports that she had questioned whether extending the Northwest Rail Line is the best option for the region. Polis wrote of RTD’s “statutory and ethical duty” to voters to complete FasTracks. “I am committed to ensuring that during my tenure as Governor and beyond, that sacred promise with taxpayers is kept,” Polis said.
A few days later RTD’s board of directors announced they will hold a special study session on the topic on February 9 to which Governor Polis has been invited to attend. However, the question remains; if RTD doesn’t have the revenues to pay for the B Line, will pressure make any difference? Do elected officials really think their efforts will force RTD to build rail or is it a publicity stunt intended to placate the public?
Council Discusses Priorities at Retreat: The Boulder City Council discussed its priorities for 2021 at its recent retreat. Councilmember Mirabai Nagle proposed an update to the Gunbarrel Subcommunity Plan. Staff agreed there should be time to consider that project in the second half of the year.
Otherwise, the City Council agreed to stick to its original 12 priorities of racial equity, the Boulder and Xcel Energy partnership, climate mobilization, the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan, the financial strategy study committee, homelessness, housing, police oversight, South Boulder Creek flood mitigation and the CU South project, Vision Zero and phase two of the community benefits and use table and standards projects.
The Council did decide to delay work on one of its more controversial topics at the retreat — occupancy limits. Councilmembers Aaron Brockett and Rachel Friend wanted the topic to be added to the 2021 work plan. However, since the advocacy group, Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP), has already submitted its initiative petition to put the question on the November ballot, most of the Council argued against making occupancy limits a priority. If the measure passes in November, the City will have to implement it. If it doesn’t, the Council can consider post-election alternatives.
More Changes for Short-Term Rental Ordinance: The first warning came when the first reading for revisions to the Short-Term Rental (STR) ordinance was pulled off the Consent Agenda. Normally ordinances are approved on the Consent Agenda without discussion because the Council understands that the second reading and public hearing will offer plenty of opportunity for dialog.
Councilmembers Joan Peck and Polly Christensen began the discussion with a series of statements intended to curtail the property rights of those who own STRs. Peck argued that owners of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) shouldn’t be allowed to rent them as STRs, even though that has always been allowed in Longmont’s ordinance. A motion to revise the ordinance to eliminate the rental of ADUs passed 4-3, with Mayor Bagley, and Councilmembers Tim Waters and Marcia Martin opposed.
Polly Christensen complained about the ordinance’s silence on ownership of STRs by LLCs and other trusts, saying she thought “everyone” agreed that only natural persons should be allowed to rent their STRs. Mayor Bagley sarcastically noted, “I know there is a prevailing thought that ‘corporations are bad,’ but I don’t see a downside with an LLC owning one.” Marcia Martin tried to help by suggesting an owner could disclose the ownership by an LLC when applying for a license to rent an LLC but that wasn’t enough for the majority. A motion to prohibit LLCs from owning STR properties passed.
Because the changes supported by the Council will require more drafting by the City’s legal staff, Mayor Bagley suggested the ordinance be sent to the attorneys for revision. It is unknown whether those changes will be ready in time for second reading which was previously scheduled for February 9 or if that date will be pushed back. Initially, the only substantive changes to the ordinance add language to the Land Use Code’s property ownership verification requirements to place a higher burden on applicants to prove they are meeting Longmont’s residency requirements.
CSU Unveils Plan for Hughes Stadium Site: Colorado State University has released information on its vision for the former Hughes Stadium site even as a neighborhood advocacy group continues its push to convince voters to tell the City to buy the parcel for open space and parks.
The University now plans to oversee and develop the property itself instead of immediately selling to Lennar Colorado LLC. According to information shared with the community recently, CSU would like to see 242 single-family homes, 112 single-family attached dwellings, 108 townhomes and an apartment complex on the site, along with a childcare facility, a transit center, commercial space and 40-45 acres of natural areas and trail connectivity.
CSU’s information sheet says 100 percent of the rental units will qualify as affordable housing for people making 80 percent or less of the AMI*, while attainable housing for purchase will be available at or below market prices. CSU is working to garner support for its plan by asking citizens and community groups to sign a letter of support, which will be sent to the City Council.
* The City’s AMI is currently $59,600 for a single person or $85,100 for a family of four.
Housing Strategic Plan Update: City staff provided another update on the Draft Housing Strategy Plan. On January 26. The discussion focused on prioritizing the 26 strategies designed to address the greatest housing challenges, produce meaningful outcomes, and “expand housing choice in Fort Collins across the entire spectrum of housing preference and need.”
Staff has divided the strategies into short-term (one year or less), middle and long-term strategies (2+years to implement).
Examples of quick wins include:
- Assessment of displacement and gentrification
- Recalibration of existing incentives to reflect current market conditions
- Foreclosure and eviction prevention and legal representation (it took a ballot initiative in Boulder to implement this)
Examples of middle-term strategies include:
- Advocacy for housing-related legislation at the state and federal levels
- Removal of barriers to accessory dwelling units
- Exploration of revisions to occupancy limits and family definitions
Examples of long-term strategies include:
- Promotion of inclusivity, housing diversity and affordability as community goals
- Creation of a visitability (accessibility for the elderly and handicapped persons) policy
- Exploration of a mandated rental license/registry program
To-date, 130 residents have weighed in so far, and there have been many stories from residents struggling to afford housing, said the staff. The City Council did not offer a lot of specific feedback but was overwhelming positive about the plan. Review the draft Housing Strategic Plan here: https://www.fcgov.com/housing/ The Council will begin a formal review of the plan on February 16, 2021.
Council Reviews Progress on Goals: On January 26 City Manager Roy Otto provided a review of the staff’s progress on the 3-Year Strategic Work Plan (SWP. The SWP was approved by the Council in early 2020. The priority initiatives include Greeley Water, Leadership in Educational Excellence, Dynamic and Resilient Economy, Your Home is Here, Greeley on the Move, We are One and Operational Excellence.
Of these initiatives water, housing and transportation relate the most closely to our industry. Otto told the Council he was proud of the staff for making progress on all the initiatives in spite of the COVID pandemic and its impact on the community.
Otto said City staff did a great job acquiring water in 2020, purchasing the most water rights since 2010. This year the City will focus on getting approval for the Terry Ranch aquifer project, Landscape Code revisions, collaboration with other regional water providers and governments on wildfire recovery and impact mitigation.
The Your Home is Here (Housing) initiative has four priorities: evaluating the Strategic Housing Plan and implementing it, designing a program that supports the identification of neighborhoods and ensuring each has a unique identity, creating a plan to ensure future development is built around the village concept and exploring the expansion and marketing of the G-HOPE program and others that assist with home down payment assistance.
Staff is currently drafting regulations to implement the Strategic Housing Plan and updating the Development Code to include the Village Urban Design concept. Staff has identified over 70 sites that are under-utilized for residential development city-wide.
In terms of transportation (Greeley on the Move), the Council decided to postpone a ballot question to extend the Keep Greeley Moving tax until November 2021, so public outreach on that will occur this year. In 2020 Staff focused on a variety of transportation plans and continuing street upgrades. The Transportation Master Plan, including stakeholder engagement is an important 2021 priority.
Another Water Lawsuit: Three advocacy groups have sued Larimer County and Northern Water, asking a district court judge to reverse the Larimer Board of County Commissioners’ decision to grant a permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre filed a lawsuit in 8th Judicial District Court against the County Commissioners, naming former commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson specifically, as well as the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The lawsuit asks the judge to reverse the decision to grant a 1041 permit for the project, throw it out or send it back to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners for a new hearing. It targets Johnson and Donnelly, the two yes votes in a split decision, saying that both Republican commissioners, who have since left office, should not have voted on the permit because of a “decade-long” record of advocacy and support for the proposed reservoir project.
“We are suing Larimer County because Donnelly and Johnson should not have participated in, or voted on, the NISP permit, as well as their final illegal ruling to approve the NISP 1041 permit,” said Gary Wockner. Wockner, who is the driving force behind Save the Poudre and Save the Colorado, uses lawsuits as a tactic to delay water storage projects.
“We call on this new Larimer County Commission to reconsider the illegal actions and decisions of the previous commission,” Wockner said. “NISP would be the biggest and most environmentally damaging project in Larimer County history, and throughout the county permitting process over 90% of public comments opposed NISP.”
COLORADO ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
CAR Supports New Legislation in Support of 100-year Anniversary: Liz Peetz, CAR’s Vice-President for Public Policy described four bills CAR is hoping to get through the legislature once it resumes in February as part of CAR’s Century of Opportunity campaign. Here is a list of the proposed legislation:
- Financial literacy in the high school curriculum.
- Annual reporting by the Division of Housing on how housing dollars are spent in Colorado.
- Building credit for tenants that wish to enter homeownership.
- Incentivizing affordable housing dollars approved by voters (Prop EE) to give grants to local governments pursuing best practices in affordable housing development.
New State Housing Group Advocating for Legislation: The Colorado Housing Affordability Project (CHAP) is a new player on the state scene lobbying for legislative changes to promote housing affordability. Its founders include attorneys, land use consultants, planners, and architects.
During a recent presentation, CHAP outlined a series of proposals it would like to see the legislature consider, including the following, primarily in any city or county with more than 50,000 residents in most zoning districts.
- Allow accessory dwelling units by-right in
- Allow a minimum of 25 dwelling units per acre on all properties within one-eighth of a mile of any fixed transit station.
- Allow by right a minimum of 10 dwelling units per acre in at least 10 percent of the land area of the city or town.
- Prohibit local measures capping or limiting the issuance of building permits for the exclusive purpose of limiting population of housing unit growth.
- Reduce minimum parking requirements by 50 percent for any deed-restricted affordable housing units.
- Require counties and cities to assess housing affordability and affordable housing needs, set goals for a 20-year period for addressing those needs, and identify strategies for achieving those goals while mitigating displacement impacts.
- Limit criteria for approval to consistency with the local comprehensive plan.
- Empower local governments to adopt mandatory inclusionary requirements for rental and owned units, coupled with incentives and flexibility for developers.
Are all these concepts the real estate industry would support carte blanche? Perhaps not but they are interesting suggestions that should be discussed – before any housing in Colorado that is even close to affordable becomes a thing of the past.
Environmental Activists Pushing for Action: There’s frustration among impatient environmentalists with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ climate leadership, saying Polis needs to act faster and more aggressively. Polis recently touted the progress of his roadmap to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but the State’s projections show Colorado is on pace to get only about halfway to its stated goals for the years 2025 and 2030.
When the Legislature returns to the Capitol in February, Democrats plan to introduce a broad package of climate bills that are unprecedented in his tenure. Some proposed policies are meant to put the squeeze on him to force action on stronger regulations and emissions cuts.
Generally speaking, Polis has favored free-market solutions while environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers believe tighter regulation will promote swifter and more effective action. Two environmentalist groups have also sued Polis, alleging that the state missed a 2020 deadline.
In a statement provided to The Denver Post, Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said his office had not seen the bill — it’s still being drafted — but offered several reasons why Polis might oppose certain climate legislation to come. According to the Governor’s spokesperson, “The Governor strongly supports the legislative work described in the Greenhouse Gas Roadmap plan. Other legislation would have to meet the objectives of the roadmap without diverting efforts, hurting the economy, or reducing the ability of the state to reach our aggressive clean energy goals. He added that “racial equity and economic justice” are key to the governor’s climate priorities.
Interviews with about a dozen lawmakers indicate Winter’s bill will be one in a slew of proposals; others include reducing emissions in the transportation and building sectors; lowering tax rates to incentivize battery storage of solar and wind energy in a state where more than half of its electricity still comes from coal; plugging leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas methane at mines, landfills and agricultural facilities; and bolstering resources for the Public Utilities Commission.
Much of that legislation will likely pass, some with bipartisan support. It’s mandated change that gets much trickier, both with more moderate Democrats and with Polis. The final approved version of the Governor’s Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap is available now: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jzLvFcrDryhhs9ZkT_UXkQM_0LiiYZfq/view Expect new legislation to be closely tied to the strategies listed in the plan.
NAR and Coalition Advocate for Rental Assistance: Following his inauguration on January 20, President Job Biden signed a number of executive orders. One of the orders signed that day is an extension of the eviction moratorium through “at least” March 31.
NAR and a coalition of housing-related groups had sent a letter to Mr. Biden saying, “We are concerned that a continuation of federal eviction moratoriums through September 30 would cripple rental housing providers and worsen the nation’s housing affordability crisis: According to the Census Household Pulse Survey, 19 percent of renters are currently unable to pay rent and, if that number remains steady, rent owed could amount to an additional $87.4 billion by the end of September. Instead, we believe the federal government has an important role to play in supporting additional rental assistance.”
The letter stated the additional financial support is urgently needed to prevent displacement, stabilize millions of Americans who continue to struggle under the weight of COVID-19 financial impacts and ensure rental housing providers can continue operations and keep their residents housed. In addition, it was noted that “Moody’s Analytics estimates that by the end of 2020, more than 11 million renters owed close to $70 billion in rent arrears. Adding utility payments in arrears, the average household owes $6,000. Without additional robust, direct rental assistance – beyond the newly proposed $25 billion – housing providers may never fully recover outstanding debt – whether through the eviction process or otherwise – and the housing affordability crisis will be exacerbated in the long- and short-term.”