Land use bill would undermine local control- even Polis knows its bad

With all due respect to Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, we recently examined with great interest some wisdom that he provided before he took office. We take note of some apparent contradictions that relate to a current bill under debate in the Colorado Legislature.

In 2015, then-Congressman Jared Polis said, “Local planning involves widespread citizen input and broad stakeholder involvement. When addressing contentious issues, local governments have more opportunities for public participation than a state or federal government. As such, land use tools allow local governments to act consistently with their constituents’ expectations.”

We could not say it better ourselves. Ironically, it is the same Jared Polis who is the impetus of Senate Bill 213, a contentious land use bill that would greatly reduce local control. In some cases, the “reduction” would in fact lead to the elimination of that control.

The heart of any community is the people who live there, who robustly engage their elected leaders in matters of huge consequence. Local elected leaders then have the responsibility to weigh that citizen input with a long-term vision for the community that includes identifying challenges and opportunities for growth, both locally and in partnership with their neighbors.

Senate Bill 213 would essentially eliminate that grassroots vibrancy. Decisions impacting a community’s future, especially around increasing density allowed on land close to transit, would be made by an unelected commission of 13 people in Denver, appointed by the governor and the legislature, with the ultimate decision coming from a single individual — the director of the Department of Local Affairs.

Here’s more perspective from Polis, back when he was in Congress: “A local government is elected to represent its community members and is ultimately responsible for preserving the character of the community.”

Precisely! His robust defense of local planning could not have been more on target.

Every Coloradan deserves to be heard, not just those with the greatest volume making the most noise. Any issue affecting a town, city, county, or region should be subject to local debate and control; and that’s especially applicable in the case of land use. The character of your community should not be decided by 13 hand-appointed bureaucrats in Denver.

There is a path forward for SB 213, if the proponents choose it. The bill should be amended to eliminate state control of local land use planning and instead leverage the power of the state’s fiscal resources to help local governments achieve long-term planning goals.

We are running out of time. If there is no willingness to align SB 213 with the “Colorado Way,” then we are better off without it.

Rachel Zenzinger, of Arvada, represents District 19 in the Colorado Senate and is a former Arvada city council member. Barbara Kirkmeyer, of Brighton, represents District 23 in the Colorado Senate and is a former Weld County commissioner.

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