Regional Government Affairs Update February 15, 2021 🏡

LOCAL
Boulder County
Polis Continues Push For Rail: According to the Denver Business Journal, Governor Polis’ support for Line-B, the long-awaited rail line to Boulder and Longmont, has put new life into the plan. Some RTD Board members have criticized the Governor, saying he is using his influence to move the focus from providing service to lower-income, transit-dependent Denver communities to advocate for rail to Polis’ hometown. 

At the end of a study session on February 9, RTD General Manager/CEO Debra Johnson said she’ll offer a proposal within 60 days on how to proceed with an environmental assessment and study on how to provide peak-hour rail service to Boulder County. Past directors and boards have stated that the rail line could not be completed until 2042, if at all, so any move to accelerate that would represent a major step forward.

Polis had previously created a special commission to look at RTD operations and has called for the B-Line to be completed by 2025. At the study session, Polis spoke about the need to restore the voters’ trust since they have paid roughly $250 million in taxes since backing the FasTracks initiative in 2004 but have gotten nothing for it. “As a progressive who feels we need to deliver on the initiatives we pursue, it creates a gap in public trust that doesn’t just involve transit. It’s a matter of how we restore that public trust,” he said.

Note: In giving the Longmont Council a status report on the study session later that evening, Councilmember Joan Peck said no one has a current estimate on the cost for the B-line. “I still have hope we will get this done,” she said.

Longmont
Council Approves Water Purchase: On February 9 the City Council approved an agreement with the Longs Peak Water District to acquire capacity in a raw water delivery pipeline. The pipeline is owned and operated by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Southern Water Supply Water Activity Enterprise (NCWCD). The agreement covers the sale and transfer of one cubic foot per second (CFS) of capacity in the SWSP II project that Longs Peak water will not need for build-out of their service area. 
 
The City currently owns 24.3 CFS of capacity in the Southern Water Supply Project. The additional water, when added to the City’s existing capacity, will provide Longmont with sufficient capacity to meet the winter water demands of the City at buildout of the Longmont Planning Area. Winter capacity is critical, as several of the City’s raw water delivery systems are not available throughout the year. 
 
Larimer County
Take the Housing Survey: In early January the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) saw a big change, with two experienced commissioners (Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson) going off the Board and two new commissioners  (Kristin Stephens and Jody Shadduck-McNally) joining John Kefalas. One of the first steps was to familiarize the commissioners with the existing strategic plan.
 
Heather O’Hare, the County’s Director of Human Services led a discussion of Strategic Goal Number 2 at a study session: “Everyone in Larimer County has access to economic opportunities and a vibrant quality of life. We work together to remove barriers.” https://www.larimer.org/strategicplan/goal-2
 
One of the objectives under Goal Number 2 pertains to housing: “By 2023, Larimer County will reduce the housing overburdened ratio by at least 5% for both owned and rented units. Strategies may include partnerships with municipalities and other agencies to develop and revise applicable requirements and policies; and/or champion projects that provide access to affordable housing.” Staff told the new commissioners two upcoming study sessions will focus on housing. 
 
To kick off the county’s work on this issue, residents are asked to fill out a housing survey, which may be accessed here: www.larimer.housingimpactlab.com. Note: This survey is available until Feb. 28.

Fort Collins
City Council Approves New Mortgage Down Payment Option: Without discussion, the City Council approved a resolution that will allow Fort Collins residents to participate in a down payment assistance program administered by the City and County of Denver known as the Metro Mortgage Assistance Plus Program (MMAPP). Without cost to the City, the program expands the range of assistance available to households earning up to $150,000.

Fort Collins has offered its own program for years but rising prices have created difficulties for residents, including those with incomes above the City’s 80 percent AMI income limit. MMAPP isn’t limited to first-time buyers, either. There is no maximum purchase price and serves residents with a minimum credit score of 640.

The program has been so successful that it now includes over 35 Colorado cities and eight counties, including Larimer. 

Council Discusses Montava Water Request: The 4,000 home Montava project planned for northeast Fort Collins hinges on finding a solution to water. Developer Max Moss has filed an application in Colorado Water Court to allow him to use an underground aquifer to provide drinking water to the proposed community. He expects that it will at least 18 months to 2 years to get a decision, and thus the project will likely be put on hold until mid-2022.
 
In the meantime, the City has been wrestling with Moss’s innovative water plan, which is different from the traditional approach. He told the City ELCO’s water is too expensive for his project, which as City Councilmember Ken Summers said, is “the single largest development … that will ever happen in Northern Colorado.”

On February 9 the City Council has asked to consider three concepts related to the Montava project:

  • Water Adequacy – A need to develop a new process and policy to address the adequacy of any water supply proposals that are different than the standard, existing water providers. 
  • Additional Water Providers -Potential addition of new water provider(s) in the Fort Collins Growth Management Area (GMA). Could authorize Montava to be a water provider and operate a treatment and distribution system.
  • Water Augmentation Agreements – enter into a perpetual augmentation water agreement with the developer to support groundwater pumping. 

Councilmember Ross Cunniff started off the discussion, saying “I am sorry staff had to go to so much work. I am even more convinced it is a bad idea after hearing this presentation. Fort Collins water is cheaper so it is attractive to ‘this type of scheme.’” 

Susan Gutowsky and Julie Pignataro agreed with Cunniff, with Gutowsky saying, “I can’t believe the developer didn’t ask where he’d get the water a long time ago. I don’t understand why now it’s an emergency and we’re going to ask Fort Collins to use its utilities… I am hesitant to support it.”

After some clarifying information, in which staff explained the developer would pay for a consultant to help develop a non-standard water adequacy determination process and policy the tone of the Council discussion changed.

Emily Gorgol, Melanie Potyondy, Ken Summers, and Mayor Troxell had questions but supported the need for a consultant to help the City staff. Then Ross Cunniff and Susan Gutowsky dropped their objections. Theresa Conner, the City’s Interim Utilities Executive Director agreed to put together more information on the project’s augmentation plan and said staff would work jointly with the developer and ELCO to put together a non-standard water plan.

Weld County
Greeley

Council Split on Changes to Occupancy Limits: Planner Caleb Jackson briefed the City Council on a concept that arose from the City’s Strategic Housing Plan, loosening the City’s occupancy limits in low-density zones. Currently, the City allows any number of family members to occupy a home however, no more than two unrelated adults can share a single-family dwelling (U+1).

Jackson cited rising housing costs, stagnating, wages, changing demographics, and low housing supply as some of the reasons why other cities in Colorado are relaxing occupancy standards. He said the Housing Task Force, Planning Commission, and Code Advisory Committee had general consensus to increase allowance in an incremental way. A public survey showed 62 percent of respondents supported a change. 

Community Developer Director Brad Mueller noted any decision would require multiple conversations, saying, “This is not a one and done discussion.” Several options to relax occupancy standards were presented to the Council: Increase to U+2 3 or 4, tie occupancy to the number of bedrooms or tie it to house size.

Councilmember Ed Clark said the City can’t enforce how many people live in a dwelling “that is a frustrating piece. I am not in favor of going higher than U+1… I am a no.”

Councilmember Dale Hall said he was concerned about the disparity between related and unrelated residents living in a home. He noted, “There could have a bunch of people in a family that are causing noise and parking problem but there is no solution. Unrelated people get the backlash.” Hall said he likes occupancy tied to bedrooms as an option.  Councilmember Tommy Butler agreed with Hall on the ‘bedroom option’ and added, “U+1 is a joke.” 

Kristin Zasada voiced strong disagreement. She said, “my mission is to protect RL zoning.” She added, “I will never be convinced that we should change just because neighboring communities are doing it.” Brett Payton said enforcement is complaint-based. “The way it is currently written isn’t doing anyone any good. I am in favor of some change.” 

Michael Fitzsimmons admitted to struggling with the issue. He said he wanted to know why other cities have increased their zoning. He agreed that the City needed more enforcement tools, especially if the City were to relax occupancy standards a little saying, “if we are doing these changes they need some bite.” 

Mayor Gates was the last Councilmember to speak. He said we might be “spending time on something we can’t or won’t enforce. Part of me says we should leave it alone.” 

After asking for a show of hands for each option presented by staff, Mayor Gates said there was “weak consensus” for further consideration for relaxing occupancy based on bedroom size. Brad Mueller concluded the conversation, saying cost and housing are connected and that the occupancy standard issue would be back in front of Council as part of the bigger package of proposed housing-related code changes in September. 

Note: The City Council in Denver voted to relax Denver’soccupancy standards last week. 

STATE
Lawmakers say New Transportation Plan Has Support: Rep. Matt Gray and Senator Faith Winter have a plan to infuse funding into Colorado’s transportation infrastructure.  They’re lining up support before their proposal has even been drafted to make sure their proposal is approved by the General Assembly.

“We’re confident,” Gray said in an interview with Colorado Politics. “We think this is the best shot we’ve had in a long time because we have both the leadership of our chambers and the governor’s office in alignment with us.

The plan would boost transportation revenues through fee increases on individuals and businesses (for example, Uber, DoorDash, FedEx, and Amazon)  as well as contributions from lawmakers via the state’s general fund. Business interests and advocates appear to be on board too, but in interviews with Colorado Politics, they stressed the need for a significant general fund commitment.

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, who Gray and Winter say are signed on as sponsors, will provide the political muscle. Gray says they’re looking to move quickly. “It’s not going to drop on the first day, but all four sponsors want to introduce it as soon as possible.”

NATION
Hick’s Committee Assignments: New Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper has been named to serve on four committees, including Senate committees on Energy and Natural Resources; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. For transportation advocates, this is welcome news. 

The federal transportation spending bill, also known as the FAST Act, expires soon. Having a Colorado Senator sit on the Senate Transportation Committee will be helpful moving forward as we lobby for infrastructure funding that would benefit our state.

Rental Relief: NAR reports that as part of December’s COVID-19 stimulus package, $25 billion in federal assistance funds are expected to be disbursed to states. There could be a rush for funds with an estimated 14 million Americans are behind on their rent. Further, rental arrears in the country may be near $70 billion, CNBC reports.

To qualify for rental assistance, at least one member of a household must have experienced income loss, significant expenses due to the pandemic, or are eligible for unemployment benefits. They will need to show they are or could be at risk of homelessness. The person’s current income level also can’t be higher than 80 percent of the area’s median income. 

Renters could be eligible for up to a total of 12 months of back rent and utility bills. They may also be eligible to get payments to cover future rental payments. The funds are paid directly to the landlord or utility company.

Landlords may also be able to apply on behalf of their tenants, as long as they get approval from the tenant. Some states are already offering existing rental assistance programs under monies previously provided through the CARES Act. They may add the new funds to their existing rental assistance programs or start a new program.

NAR joined its coalition partners to urge the Departments of Treasury and HUD to provide clear guidance to state and local governments when distributing federal rental assistance funds. In the letter, NAR urged them to ensure that the funds would be used to pay rental arrears, to ensure rental housing properties remain financially viable. 

NAR also urged flexibility for landlords to obtain resident consent, especially when delinquent tenants may be avoiding landlord communications. The letter requests that the existing Treasury FAQs be updated to reflect that. This letter is a follow-up to a call that NAR had with staff of the White House, Treasury, and HUD in late January. NAR continues to urge that successful programs will ensure property owners are made whole, and renters aren’t saddled with outstanding debt.

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