Council Extends Affordable Housing Designation for Two Projects

The City Council agreed to extend the affordable housing designation for Aspen Knolls (McWhinney) and Wilson Commons (Giuliano) allowing the builders to retain incentives and related development fee reductions that were set to expire. The Wilson Commons project, dormant since 2000 when it was approved, will get an extension through 2022, locking in development fee rates that were applicable in 2000. Aspen Knolls received its affordable housing designation in 2001; the extension will remain in effect until 2018. Wilson Commons developer John Giuliano, said the extension was essential if the City was to hit affordable housing targets. “Affordable housing, when this housing market corrects itself, will get very, very scarce,” he said.  He added that when the housing market recovers, the cost of building materials could drive new housing costs as much as 20 percent higher.

Home Size Restrictions Scheduled for First Reading

A proposal to limit home sizes has enough support from the City Council to move forward. On Nov. 23 the City Council discussed a variety of options to ensure neighborhood compatibility in the Eastside and Westside areas.  On the positive side, mandatory design standards did not have enough Council support to be added to the final proposal. However, opinion was split three to three between support for less egregious voluntary measures (design review & assistance) and the block face average plus 50 percent option to limit the size of new or renovated single-family homes. Predictably, Council members Kelly Ohlson, David Roy and Ben Manvel favored the block face plus concept while Mayor Doug Hutchinson and members Wade Troxell and Aislinn Kottwitz opposed it.  A variety of additional information was requested prior to the scheduled Jan. 4th first reading of the ordinance, included an economic analysis of the impact of the block face proposal on property values.  However, staff was uncertain if the economic analysis could be prepared by Jan. 4th and it is unknown if this could delay the hearing.

Council Sets Topics for Retreat

The City Council finalized its list of topics for its Jan. 21-22 retreat.  After much discussion, the topics are: water (Windy Gap and Button Rock), economic development, transportation and a proposed St. Vrain River Walk redevelopment project. Council member Sarah Levison argued that teamwork and conflict resolution should be one of the priority topics but was ultimately over-ruled by Mayor Baum and Council members Sammoury and Santos, who said that residents expect their elected officials to talk about important City issues at the retreat. However, Levison was insistent and ultimately the Council agreed to meet on a separate occasion for teamwork training.

Commissioners Tweak TDR Program

Boulder County implemented a 6,000 SF home size limit in August 2008 as part of the Comprehensive Plan’s Sustainability Element. Anyone wishing to construct a home greater than 6,000 SF is required to purchase additional development credits with a sliding scale depending on the size of the home proposed. According to staff, the market rate of a development credit is $7,300.

The first amendment would decrease the number of development credits necessary to build homes over 8,000 SF by adjusting the scale so that each additional 500 SF increment of floor area over 7,000 SF would require two rather than three development credits. The Planning Commission did not support this change, saying there was no need to make the requirement more lenient.

The second amendment provides a one-time allowance to add 200 SF of residential floor area. This exemption allows a property owner to allow owners to add a closet or bathroom without burdening them with the additional expense of purchasing a development credit.

Open Space Measure Passes, Barely

The measure that will impose a new 0.15 percent sales and use tax for Boulder County open space purchases passed, according to unofficial final election results posted Nov. 16. Of the 120,317 votes cast on Boulder County’s Ballot Issue 1B, 50.4 percent voted for the measure and 49.6 percent voted no.

The 1,029-vote margin of passage of 1B also authorizes the sale of $40 million in bonds backed by the additional sales and use tax revenues. Its passage means Boulder County can complete two multi-year open space purchases: the $13.3 million purchase of the 577-acre Hall Ranch II property west of Lyons and the $17 million-plus purchase of about 690 acres from the Loukonen family east of Lyons.

Don’t Believe the Media

The New York Times published a misleading story on Nov. 10 suggesting that the Deficit Reduction Commission – a bipartisan commission on reducing the federal debt – will recommend a plan that would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks, including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments. Immediately national media picked up the story and it showed up on the front page of many newspapers. This plan will not be released until Dec. 1 and is still in a draft form. The recommendations must be approved by a majority of the committee members.

NAR, as part of its new proactive media relations program, spoke out against the Times article the same day it was published, saying the article is reporting on possibilities, not realities. NAR continues to lobby on behalf of REALTORS® and the nation’s home owners to ensure that the current MID is not changed – the tax deductibility of interest paid on mortgages is both a powerful incentive for home ownership and one of the simplest provisions in the tax code.



Federal Judge Rules Campaign Regulations Don’t Apply to Small Groups

A group of Douglas County homeowners who fought annexation didn’t need to disclose how they financed their campaign, according to a Federal Court judge, raising new questions about when and whether backers of ballot initiatives must make their finances public. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Colorado’s complicated process for registering as a so-called issue committee and disclosing fundraising and expense information was so burdensome that it stifled the First Amendment rights of the six neighbors.

They banded together in 2005 and 2006 to fight the annexation of their unincorporated community into the City of Parker, spending less than $1,000 on yard signs and to mail fliers to about 300 homes in the process. The State Constitution says any group of two or more people that spends $200 or more to support or oppose a ballot initiative must register as an issue committee with the state and make its finances public.

“Colorado law, as applied to the plaintiffs, has violated their constitutional freedom of association,” the Court ruled. “There is virtually no proper governmental interest in imposing disclosure requirements on ballot-initiative committees that raise and expend so little money.”  In its decision, the court focused on the small scale of the homeowners’ campaign and the difference between disclosing the finances of a political candidate — who may be corrupted by campaign contributions — and the finances of an issue committee.

An issue is not corruptible, and so limits on giving to ballot initiative groups are unconstitutional, the Court said, pointing out that “nondisclosure could require the debate to actually be about the merits of the proposition on the ballot.”  The decision offered no guidance on how small an advocacy group must be to escape state disclosure requirements, potentially leaving it up to Colorado lawmakers and voters to decide through a ballot initiative.



District Well Represented in General Assembly Leadership

The General Assembly has selected its leadership, waiting only a few days post-election to decide who will lead the two major parties during the upcoming legislative session. Frank McNulty (Highlands Ranch), the Republican who is widely credited with the GOP’s takeover of the majority in the House of Representatives, was elected Speaker. B.J. Nikkel, who represents rural Larimer County, will be the Majority Whip for the Republicans. Claire Levy (Boulder County) will be the Minority Whip.  Brian DelGrosso (Loveland) is the new Chairman of the House Finance Committee and Glenn Vaad (Weld County) is the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. On the Senate side, Brandon Shaffer (Longmont) retains his position as President and Scott Renfroe (Greeley) will be the Minority Whip for the GOP. Note: A whip manages his or her party’s legislative program on the chamber floor. The Whip keeps track of all legislation and ensures that all party members are present when important measures are to be voted upon.

E. 8th Street Corridor Renewal Plan Set for Public Hearing

A 295-acre corridor north of the Leprino plant may be designated as an urban renewal area. City planning staff have studied the area between U.S. 85 and the airport to see if it meets State statutory requirements for designation as blighted, which would make it eligible for tax-increment financing. Planners have a variety of suggestions for the area, including a large-scale redevelopment scenario that would include a potential clean-energy park, an agri-tech business incubator, and a mix of other industrial, commercial and recreational uses. A public hearing on the issue has been scheduled for Nov. 16.

Voters Say No to Streets Tax

Greeley voters rejected a dedicated sales tax to pay for street infrastructure and maintenance with 41 percent voting yes and 59 percent voting no. This is interesting because Fort Collins voters approved a tax that is far less specific (see above). Although the City Council did all the right things: holding public meetings and surveying residents, evidently Greely residents, seeing the streets seemingly in relatively good repair and lots of street work occurring around election time, didn’t buy the argument that the City needs additional revenues. At the same time, voters in the more liberal city next door approved a tax without even knowing how all the money would be spent.