A first-in-decades effort to rewrite the state land use code died Monday in the final hours of the legislative session, ending a weeks-long saga that split the Capitols’ Democratic lawmakers.
The proposal had gone through a series of rewrites since it was introduced by Gov. Jared Polis in March. By the end, it had essentially been split into two different versions that the Democrat-controlled Senate and House of Representatives couldn’t reconcile by the constitutionally mandated end of the session.
The Senate had stripped the bill — which initially legalized accessory-dwelling units and reshaped single-family zoning across the state — to a series of housing studies statewide. The House then rewrote large portions of the bill, reinserting some upzoning and the limited legalization of ADUs. That set the bill on a collision course with the Senate; several key Senate Democrats had concerns the original proposal pre-empted local control and had indicated those provisions were nonstarters.
“Democratic senators are supposed to know better,” said Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Denver Democrat and the bill’s co-sponsor. “Today, they fell unfortunately short.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, who sponsored the bill in the Senate and led it through its first chamber, confirmed to the Denver Post that the bill was dead but declined to comment further. In a late Monday statement, Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said that the governor was “deeply disappointed that politics and special interests continue to delay delivering real results” for Coloradans in need of more housing choices.
State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, made her position on land use clear early and often: No taking away local control.
She said she would have supported some form of reconciliation, but an agreement couldn’t be reached.
“I’m not celebrating, because I think it was a missed opportunity to try and address some real issues around affordable housing at the same time,” Zenzinger said.
State Sen. Joann Ginal, a Fort Collins Democrat, was the lone member of her caucus to vote against the bill on the Senate floor. She had called it a process foul from the start. Her own city has been going through a contentious land use planning process that included a recent repeal of its own updated code in the face of local opposition.
“It needs to come back a better bill next session, with lots of input from stakeholders,” Ginal said. Between this bill and her own community’s fight, “this sends another message to slow down and let’s vet this with the proper people.”
It was the latest in a winding and contentious saga for Polis’s marquee legislation this session, which some lawmakers had described as the “year of housing.” The upzoning pre-emptions in the bill had drawn bitter opposition from local governments, who’d pledged to sue.
But the proposals had been welcomed by a broad coalition of environmental, housing and business groups, who’d heralded the measure as vital to boost the state’s housing supply, improve affordability and cut down on urban sprawl and pollution. Advocates said they were disappointed by Monday night’s news.
“Unfortunately, legislators favored the status quo which prolongs the suffering of everyday Coloradans who are wondering if they will have a roof over their head next week,” Ray Rivera, the spokesman for the pro-zoning reform group Colorado Builds Better, said in a statement. “This means another year where progress is stalled and real solutions are pushed aside.”
The original bill was introduced in March with Polis and advocates arguing it would cut “red tape” to let property owners build more densely among a slate of other changes. With Polis’s support behind it, the bill represented the Democrats’ primary housing push in 2023. Legislators repeatedly said housing was the number one issue for voters ahead of last year’s election, and zoning reform represented the sort of supply-side solution favored by Polis.
Opponents and local control advocates, including several Democratic senators, saw it as state overreach of local government power. Some affordable housing advocates worried the bill wouldn’t do enough to help affordability concerns now, and those fears were raised as other, more progressive measures died as the session ground on.
A month after the bill was introduced, it was a shadow of its original form as Moreno agreed to a slew of amendments to ensure the bill passed the Senate. Lawmakers there swapped out a requirement that local governments adopt pro-density zoning standards with a requirement that they perform an assessment of local housing needs. The most contentious pieces of the bill had been stripped, prompting the frustration of supporters and some House Democrats.
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In turn, those House members soon restored some of the changes, though with region-specific carveouts. The bill that died Monday would’ve legalized accessory-dwelling units statewide, required housing studies across Colorado and codified various affordability and anti-displacement strategies into state law.
Still, the carveouts for some communities — like resort areas leery of ADUs — undercut the argument the bill was necessary to provide a uniform approach to a statewide crisis.
In particular, Woodrow and state Rep. Iman Jodeh, an Aurora Democrat, said Monday the Senate wouldn’t agree to by-right denser developments.
“We gave our Senate colleagues the chance to do the right thing and make good on a campaign promise on affordable housing and sustainable growth, and combating our climate crisis,” Jodeh said. “Unfortunately, the senate didn’t think the bill we sent back was good enough.”
Supporters pledged to return to the issue next year.
“Folks, especially in the House, understand this policy now deeply and care about it in a very thoughtful way,” Woodrow said. “So we’re excited about what the future holds on this fight.”
Peter LiFari, who runs the Adams County-based Maiker Housing Partners, called the bill’s defeat disappointing but said its introduction had “ignited a vital debate around housing and land use policy in Colorado.”
“Although today’s news stings, this moment will be remembered as the first chapter in a larger Colorado housing renaissance.”
Still, other supporters expressed dismay that the centerpiece of the Democrats’ housing package died after other, more progressive measures — like bills to allow for rent control and to extend just-cause eviction protections — had already failed.
“There is a lot of good that died in (the land-use bill),” said Kinsey Hasstedt, the state and local policy program director for Enterprise Community Partners. “And there were a number of other bills that died before it that would have made a big difference in keeping particularly low-income Coloradans from being driven out of their homes.”
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