Colorado Springs officials push for flexible legislation to handle state growth

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While the Legislature wrestles over how to handle the state’s growth issues, local developers and city planning officials said they will root for the proposal allowing the most flexibility and local control to come out on top.

The city of Colorado Springs has yet to take an official position supporting any of the proposed bills thought most likely to gain passage once the sweat is mopped up from the Capitol dome floor. But officials seem to be leaning toward the least restrictive option.

“The big issue for cities is local control,” said Ira Joseph, the city’s comprehensive planning manager. “We want to preserve as much local discretion as possible.”

Lawmakers this week grappled with that question as House Bill 1225, known as the Colorado Growth Management Act, went before the House Local Government Committee Monday. The CGMA and its counterpart, Senate Bill 148 — also called the Colorado Growth Management Act — have similarities regarding such issues as increasing authority for counties to assess impact fees on new development within urban service areas and ensuring available housing to accommodate the state’s influx of new residents.

The bills are being cross-cosponsored by Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, and Sen. Ed Perlmutter, D-Jefferson County.

However, any appearance of equanimity between the two proposals quickly falls away when focusing on the question of regional planning.

SB148 would require the formation of regional planning commissions for metro areas having more than 1 million residents. Cities and counties at that population level would still forge their own growth plans but would be required to coordinate land use with a regional authority overseeing master plans. Colorado Springs’ population in 2000 was approximately 518,000 people, according to the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. The city’s annual growth rate between 1990 and 2000 averaged 2.5 percent. If that trend persists, the Springs could reach a population of 1 million in the year 2027.

With HB1225, no regional plan is required. Stengel said regional control is not necessary, and that he believes his bill presents a “bottom up” approach to growth management.

“The polls show people want local control,” he said. “My view is that we need to think regionally and act locally.”

That’s just the kind of grip on growth Pikes Peak Association of Realtors president Michael Labout said he supports.

“HB1225 supports growth-management decisions at the local level of government because each municipality knows its land-use issues best,” he said. “SB148 has the stipulation of regional planning, which is another layer of government. We think it’s too bureaucratic and too much government.”

Joseph, while declining to commit to either bill, echoed Labout’s sentiments.

“I’m not saying a regional approach is good or bad. It would depend on the effects,” he said. “One of the key questions is whether (the Legislature) is going to create another level of governmental jurisdiction.”

Whether based on municipal or regional planning, environmental lobbyists are pushing for any proposed growth bills to at least make caps, or limits, on building permits an option.

Stengel’s bill prohibits such growth caps. Cities and counties could not restrict building to rates less than the current rate of growth. Perlmutter’s bill would allow communities to enact growth caps.

“Stengel’s bill forces government to overplan,” said Ann Livingston, a land-use attorney with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Citizen Lobby. “It’s too easy to amend, and it’s not really enforceable.” The bill would require a 60 percent vote of the controlling authority to change boundaries. She added that CoPIRG may back some version of SB148 if it were amended to establish sufficient boundaries, allow minimum lot sizes outside of urban growth areas, and if it made more specific the definition of environmentally “critical and sensitive areas.”

Pinning down the details while allowing compromise will likely be part of any growth-management legislation to make it out of the General Assembly.

“Nearly everybody understands that we’ve got to manage growth, and we can do a better job,” said Jeff Crank, vice president for governmental affairs at the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We have our growing pains, like issues with transportation and crowded schools. But growth has been very good to this community. We have good paying jobs and housing prices.

“Municipalities should have the ability to manage growth,” he added. “But there’s a delicate balance between managing growth and respecting private property rights.”