Land use decisions, elections and metro districts. This update addresses those topics — and more.
Regional Government Director
Council Struggles With Sugar Mill Plan: On March 30 the City Council officially accepted a report from a panel of volunteer experts from the Urban Land Institute concerning recommendations on how to revitalize and reuse the historic Sugar Mill and surrounding properties. The panel concluded the Sugar Mill offers unique opportunities, with “many assets that could be leveraged for successful redevelopment and revitalization,” calling the site “unique and iconic.” At the same time, the panel listed issues that would need to be resolved, including environmental hazards but said federal and state grants could probably fund the testing needed to evaluate environmental conditions on the 125-acre parcel.
Mayor Pro Tem Aren Rodriguez suggested the Council should discuss the idea of “brownfield development” of sites like the Sugar Mill at its upcoming retreat. He argued the topic merited further discussion, saying Council did not have “true consensus for the vision on this item.” Mayor Bagley said he didn’t see a reason to spend more time discussing the Sugar Mill since the property owner hasn’t shown any inclination to sell it for a reasonable cost. Councilmember Tim Waters agreed, saying the retreat agenda had already been finalized to focus on the Housing Authority and housing in general, topics which he described as “urgent.” Ultimately, the Council voted 5-2 to support Rodriguez’s suggestion.
Note: The City Council may not agree on how much time and money the City should spend on the Sugar Mill, but Planning Director Erin Fosdick reminded them a request for proposals has already been published to hire a consultant to do a subarea land use plan for the Sugar Mill as part of the City’s STEAM project.
Election Results: A majority — 67 percent –of the voters in the Fort Collins municipal election approved a ballot question that directs the City to acquire the Hughes Stadium property for open space. The question is, now what?
Colorado State University says it respects the will of the voters but insists it has the authority to develop the property. City Manager Darin Atteberry said the City Council will consider rezoning the property as soon as May 4, after its newly elected members are sworn in. It remains to be seen if the impasse can be resolved out of court.
In the City Council election, Jeni Arndt won a decisive victory in the mayor’s race, easily beating Gerry Horak and Molly Skold. In District 3, Tricia Canonico defeated Gavin Kaszynski. Kelly Ohlson will return for another term representing District 5 after beating Jeff Hansen.
However, the District 1 and District 4 races were much closer. In District 1, Susan Gutowsky beat Nick Armstrong by 34 votes. In the District 4 race which featured five candidates, Shirley Peel edged Melanie Potyondy by 43 votes.
Note: FCBR had supported Molly Skold for mayor, Nick Armstrong (District 1), Gavin Kaszynski (District 3) and Melanie Potyondy (District 4). Nonetheless, FCBR is committed to establishing good working relationships with all the new Council members.
Vacancy Committee to Appoint Arndt Successor: Jeni Arndt’s election as mayor creates a vacancy in Colorado House District 53. By law, a replacement will be appointed to fill the seat for the remainder of the two-year term.
Registered Democrats who live in District 53 and are interested in being appointed to the seat will file letters of intent. The Vacancy Committee will vote to appoint the new representative on April 23.
According to Colorado Politics, three candidates have announced their intentions to succeed Arndt: attorney Dan Sapienza; Andrew Boesenecker, Director of Annual Giving and stewardship for Colorado State University’s Semester at Sea program; and Ethnie Groves Treick, a Fort Collins businesswoman and community volunteer who has served on the board of the BlueFlower Fund, which helps elect Democratic women.
Overcash Recall Effort: Troy Krenning announced the creation of a committee to recall City Council member Don Overcash on April 9. Krenning’s recall committee includes the Chair of the Larimer County Democrats, Gil Barela, who is always happy to unseat a Republican. Interestingly, Krenning is a Republican but he has allied himself with (Democrat) Mayor Jacki Marsh and been a vocal critic of the Council for several years. Krenning claims Mr. Overcash, who just happens to be the only announced candidate for mayor in the November election, is guilty of being “the main instigator of problems on Council.”
To mount a successful recall effort, Krenning’s committee will have to get the language for a special election approved by the City Clerk and then gather roughly 1,254 signatures from registered voters in Ward IV. The signatures would require verification, after which the City Council would finalize the date for the special election.
Note: LBAR supported Don Overcash in his previous elections. Recalls are divisive, costly and more often than not, unsuccessful political ploys.
Council Asks Experts to Discuss Metro Districts: On April 13 the City Council met with a panel of experts to discuss recommendations on how the City could improve its metropolitan district model service plan. The panel included attorneys, financial advisors, a CPA and David Powell, a Realtor® representing the Loveland-Berthoud Association of REALTORS®.
Powell was asked to explain how potential homebuyers currently learn about metro districts as well as recommend additional disclosures to ensure people know a home is listed in a metro district prior to closing. He explained that IRES now requires a property listing to indicate if it is located in a metro district and noted the Colorado Contract to Buy and Sell Real Estate requires buyers to acknowledge that a property could be located in a special district.
Powell suggested requiring a separate disclosure document for buyers at the time the contract is signed. Later, City Manager Steve Adams and Councilmember John Fogle supported this concept, saying a sales contract addendum would add an additional disclosure for buyers.
Most of the six-hour study session focused on more technical details related to the formation of metro districts and how municipalities can regulate them. The experts said Loveland already puts a cap on the number of mills a metro district can assess homeowners as well as a cap on the amount of debt it can issue. These two requirements are of utmost importance in ensuring the district doesn’t overburden its residents with debt in the form of additional property taxes.
At the end of the long meeting, Mayor Marsh reiterated her opposition to metro districts, saying “there is little or no oversight. They increase the cost of housing.” Answering a question posed by Councilmember Dave Clark, she said she wants the City to pursue other forms of financing for developments such as short-term bonds. There was no clear consensus among the Council as to how it should move forward with additional metro district regulations, so it will be up to staff to recommend the next steps.
Terry Ranch Opponents Fail: The City of Greeley will move forward with the acquisition of the Terry Ranch aquifer for water storage and raw water. Save Greeley’s Water, failed in its attempt to collect 2,192 signatures to require the City Council to reconsider an ordinance change that was required to legalize the project, or turn it over to a Citywide referendum.
“This is one the most monumental decisions we’ve made in Greeley,” Mayor John Gates said in a city news release. “Terry Ranch will go down as a historic purchase and decision as Colorado communities are confronted with how they service growth that is expected to come their way. With the Terry Ranch water, Greeley leaders, like our early pioneers, have leapt into the future to ensure our community will prosper and grow for generations.”
Save Greeley’s Water has also filed for petitions seeking to hold referenda on changes to Greeley’s home rule charter. One would require the attainment of all groundwater or recycled wastewater to be passed by a citywide vote. The other petition seeks to require the sale or disposal of any water rights to go to a citywide vote. Each petition requires 6,153 valid signatures submitted by April 29 to be added to the agenda for a special election.
Note: GARA opposed the initiative proposed by Save Greeley’s Water.
Council Reviews Changes to Development Code: The Greeley City Council continued its review of proposed changes to the City’s Develop Code on April 13, focusing this session on the general provisions and procedures by which applicants could receive approval for projects. Staff said the hope is to receive final approval for the revised Development Code on November 1, 2021.
The Council had little to say about the presentation. Mayor Gates said he didn’t think any of the changes, including those discussed that night, were controversial except occupancy standards. He finished by suggesting as much outreach as possible to publicize the dates for hearings related to the occupancy standards.
Front Range Rail Bill Introduced: On April 9 a bill was introduced to create a new transportation tax district along I-25 from the Wyoming border to New Mexico with a goal of funding and operating a Front Range passenger trail system. If approved by the legislature, SB-238 would create a district governed by a 14-person board that would have the authority to ask voters to raise sales taxes by a maximum of 8 cents on a $10 purchase.
“Right now is the right time,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill. Boulder, Broomfield and Westminster legislators are also sponsoring the bill, including Rep. Matt Gray (Broomfield), Sonia Jaquez Lewis (Boulder County), and Senators Steve Fenberg (Boulder) and Faith Winter (Westminster).
The introduction of the bill also comes after Amtrak identified a Front Range rail system as a funding priority should it get the $80 billion proposed under President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. RTD won’t have a vote in how the district is run, SB- 238 sweetens the pot by directing the new board to collaborate with the other tax-collecting transit agency and “ensure interconnectivity with any passenger rail system” operated by RTD. RTD has been under pressure from the Governor and local lawmakers in Boulder County to fund the completion of the B-line from Longmont to Westminster.
If Front Range Rail reaches fruition, it won’t be cheap, even if the federal government helps pay for it. The project is estimated to cost roughly $14 billion. Finalizing federal and state contributions will require more intensive talks. And of course, voters in the tax district along I-25 would have to approve additional sales tax as “skin in the game.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Transportation and Energy Committee, but no hearings have been scheduled to-date.
CDC Extends Eviction Moratorium: To no one’s surprise, on March 31 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced it is extending its nationwide eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. The order was put into place Sept. 4, 2020, but has been challenged in court across numerous states and localities in the months since. In addition to the court challenges, the National Association of REALTORS® has fought successfully for federal rental assistance—and will continue to advocate to ensure the moratorium doesn’t lead to a spiraling crisis for housing providers and tenants.
“NAR helped secured $25 billion in 2020 and another $21.55 billion earlier this month in federal rental assistance funding, which can be paid directly to property owners,” says Shannon McGahn, chief advocacy officer of NAR. “This was critical to averting a multifamily real estate crisis, as many of our nation’s housing providers are mom-and-pop operations. Our focus now turns to ensuring there is not just enough funding but also a smooth implementation of rental assistance while the various challenges to eviction bans work their way through the courts.”
Under the terms of the CDC order, residents must declare that they have pursued all appropriate government assistance; met certain income and employment requirements; and are using best efforts to make timely partial payments, among other qualifications. Today’s announcement expands the order to include people “who are confirmed to have, who have been exposed to, or who might have been exposed to COVID-19 and take reasonable precautions to spread the disease.”
Covered persons must now provide their housing provider with a copy of a signed declaration form stating that they meet the requirements to be a “covered person.”
As with previous CDC orders, property owners may still evict tenants due to criminal activity, damaging property, or for violating other contractual obligations.
NAR Opposes DOL Independent Contractor Action: NAR submitted a comment opposing the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed withdraw of the final rule on independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This regulation, introduced by the previous Administration, never took effect and had no direct impact on real estate professionals’ classification under the Internal Revenue Code for federal tax purposes. However, the final rule provided helpful clarity and certainty for how an employer may classify a worker. It is anticipated DOL will rescind the rule based on this proposal, but has not yet released any replacement suggestions.
Many individuals are attracted to the real estate sales industry because of the ability to classify as an independent contractor, where one enjoys maximized workplace flexibility and autonomy within a dynamic and flourishing field. In light of the ongoing challenges posed to businesses across the country because of the pandemic, NAR encouraged the Department not to withdraw the final rule and also not erode any of the existing classification clarifications already in place at the federal and state levels for real estate professionals in any replacement proposals.
NAR will continue to resist any efforts by federal regulators or legislators that threatens real estate professionals’ ability to classify as an independent contractor, including by incorporating the ABC test. Preserving existing worker classification authority at the federal and state levels to allow real estate professionals to continue to provide excellent service to consumers is key to supporting the American Dream of homeownership and maintaining stability in the housing market.