Local officials react to growth debate | SteamboatToday.com

Local officials react to growth debate

— Elected officials in Steamboat Springs were watching closely Tuesday as a bipartisan conference committee of the state Legislature struggled to reach a compromise on growth legislation.

The effort to find middle ground that the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House could accept, was taking place on the eve of the last day of the legislative session. Late Tuesday, with a compromise still in doubt, the Legislature appeared headed for a special session to deal with the issue.

State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Steamboat Springs City Councilman Ken Brenner was discouraged by the fact that hasty negotiations on critical provisions of the bill were still taking place at such a late hour. The Legislature was worked over the weekend under the threat of an emergency session from Gov. Bill Owens.

“It’s sad that two years of work has gone into growth legislation and it comes down to conference committee three days before the end of the session,” Brenner said.

Brenner is a member of the executive board of the Colorado Municipal League, which lobbies the state Legislature on positions it deems critical to the state’s cities. CML Executive Director Ken Bueche sent a memo to board members Tuesday advising them that his staff is urging key members of the Legislature to kill growth-management measure House Bill 1225 because it appears the conference committee will alter it to the extent that CML can no longer support it.

Bueche’s memo explains that the CML staff is concerned about the provisions of the altered bill and their implications for both rural and urban areas of Colorado.

“There are major deficiencies in conference committee decisions and deliberations to date,” Bueche wrote. “CML staff is advising our allies in the General Assembly that defeat of HB 1225 is much preferable to its passage in any form expected to come out of the conference committee,”

Brenner said he was becoming concerned that the bill was evolving from a tool to manage growth into a tool that would enable growth.

A community survey conducted by the city of Steamboat Springs in 1999, the results of which were released in April 2000, made it evident that Steamboat Springs voters were in favor of some growth control.

Eighty percent of the people responding to the city survey indicated Steamboat should control its rate of growth, and 56 percent of those polled said they would support a moratorium on new development.

More than 1,500 people completed the survey. That number represents about 12 percent of the 13,000 surveys distributed.

The deliberations at the state Legislature come in the wake of the defeat last November of an amendment to the state constitution that would have many new requirements on local governments around the state before they could approve new development.

The amendment was soundly defeated statewide and lost by a margin of 38 percentage points. The statewide measure was defeated by roughly a 70/30 percent margin. The Senate and House, which tried, but failed to pass a growth measure in 1999, went back to work this legislative session on parallel measure.

The conference committee was formed quickly after the House, on Friday, rejected a Senate version of its bill.

County Commissioner Dan Ellison was an outspoken opponent of Amendment 24, but he said he felt it was important for the Legislature to return to the issues brought out in last fall’s debate over Amendment 24, to address both growth on the Western Slope and urban sprawl on the Front Range.

Ellison is active in Colorado Counties Inc., a corollary to the Colorado Municipal League, and said he felt the original version of HB 1225 was a pretty good piece of legislation.

He added that the original House and Senate versions weren’t really all that far apart in substance.

However, he was careful about evaluating the current permutations of HB 1225, which is being altered by the conference committee.

Ellison said he believes Routt County would be included in the Colorado counties required to create plans under HB 1225, even though the conference committee agreed on Monday to reduce the number of counties that would have to do master plans under the bill.

Yet he said he thinks work already done by the county, Hayden and towns and cities within the county, put it ahead of the game.

“We’d still be in it because of our population and growth,” Ellison predicted. “It’s going to be one of those two that’s going to catch us. I don’t think we’re that far out of compliance with what would be anticipated by the bill.”

Whatever growth measure comes out of the Legislature, Ellison said, it needs to manage growth without driving housing prices sky high, and it must allow local governments to go back and modify their comprehensive plans in the case that unanticipated pitfalls are uncovered.

“Recognize that either of these plans is not going to shut the faucet off and say, ‘You can’t do any development,'” Ellison said.

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