Colorado Chooses Sprawl For Earth Day
By Joe Guzzardi
From coast-to-coast, concerned citizens have formed “Save our Neighborhood” organizations to protect their communities against relentless, all-consuming development. Politicians at the federal, state and local level demand more growth, residents’ wishes be damned.
Consider Colorado. Because of the Centennial State’s environmental bounty, thousands of disgruntled Americans left home to make Colorado their new residence. But Colorado’s appeal is on the wane. Gov. Jared Polis’ bill, SB 23–213, also known as the “More Housing Now” proposal, will keep Colorado sprawling, especially in already overcrowded metropolises like Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder. More Housing Now designated these, and other major cities, as “Tier One,” targeted areas where single-family-only zoning would end, allowing permitting of duplexes, triplexes and add-on housing units. The land-use bill would block established limits on how many unrelated people can live in the same home.
The Polis administration’s dream plan would, over the objections of residents and elected officials, allow more dense housing across Colorado’s increasingly expensive metropolitan and resort areas. Traditionally, local governments in Colorado have had the authority to make their own growth decisions; under SB 23–213, that authority would shift to the governor’s office.
Polis’ power grab will put the governor and state legislature on a collision course with cities and counties. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who attended Polis’ State of the State announcement, declared the bill “a pretty scary prospect” for local officials who would lose local land use control, as it’s transferred to the state capitol.
The Colorado Municipal League is also critical. In its statement, the League said that the bill would alter more than 100 years of municipal authority over Colorado’s land use and zoning: “It’s a vote of no confidence in local government and in citizens in having a say in how they would like their own neighborhoods and communities to develop.” Although the few Republicans in the legislature will push back, the stark reality is they’re the minority party and have little influence over which measures pass.
In Colorado, and in other states, building can never catch up to population growth. Developers attempting to match ever-higher population levels to housing starts are on fools’ missions. Colorado has experienced a population boom that has recast the state’s image as a final destination to get away from it all. Since 2010, Colorado’s population grew 15.1 percent to 5.8 million, more than twice the 7.3 percent national average. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that Colorado, over the last four decades, has turned more than 1,250 square miles of open space, natural habitat and agricultural land into housing, shopping malls and streets.
Demographers project that the state’s 5.8 million population will, by 2050, increase by another 1.8 million. Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, all Tier One cities, will become a single mega-city. When polled about growth, Coloradans are opposed. They want a future that has fewer arriving people. Nearly three of every five voters, 59 percent, prefer either a complete stop or a decline in the state’s population growth. Population stability is a key issue that few elected, corporate or civic leaders will discuss. To help Colorado reach sustainable population, the state needs manageable immigration, the federal policy that, along with births to immigrants, drives more than 75 percent of all growth.
Coloradans should brace for more housing. Polis is pro-growth, but opposed to immigration limits. During his five terms as a U.S. Representative where his districtincluded the Tier One cities of Boulder and Fort Collins, Polis consistently voted in favor of expanded immigration and less enforcement at the border, as well as in the interior.
Under Polis, Earth Day celebrations will be de rigueur, but meaningless charades. Other Coloradans, now deceased, like former Gov. Richard Lamm and Professor Al Bartlett, who spoke about protecting the Centennial State’s environment, would be disappointed and dismayed about what lays ahead.
As Professor Bartlett said: “The first law of sustainability is that you cannot sustain population growth; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. That’s just arithmetic — it is not debatable.”
Joe Guzzardi writes about immigration issues and impacts.