What Does Governor Polis' "More Housing Now" Legislation Mean for Boulder? Frequently Asked Questions

On Wednesday, March 22, 2023, Governor Polis laid out a bold plan - titled “More Housing Now” - to encourage more housing development across Colorado. According to Senate Democrats, “by legalizing more housing options, we can increase housing stock and bring down costs, helping make sure more Colorado families have a place to call home.”
 
The legislation would shift much of the zoning and land use control that cities and towns have historically held to the state. Some argue that this is an overreach (and possibly even illegal), while others point out that municipalities have had their chance, but have failed, to provide the housing Coloradans need.
 
I have studied the 105-page bill (SB23-213) and discussed it with more than 50 Boulder residents. Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions that I have encountered. I hope this post will help Boulder residents understand how SB23-213 will impact their neighborhood if passed.
 

What does this legislation mean for Boulder? Frequently Asked Questions

Very briefly, what will happen if the “More Housing Now” plan moves forward?

  • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) will be allowed in all residential zones.
  • “Middle Housing” will be allowed in all residential zones. Single-family homes will still be permitted throughout the city, but they will no longer be required in certain zones, as they are now.
    • “Middle Housing” means a type of housing that includes (a) a building designed as a single structure containing between two and six separate dwelling units; (b) a Townhome; (c) a Cottage Cluster.
  • Additional housing will be allowed in transit corridors.
    • In Boulder, this will mean that a minimum of 40 dwelling units will be permitted along Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes and high-frequency (15-minute or less) bus routes.
I live in one of Boulder’s residential medium-density, mixed-use, or high-density zones. How will this legislation affect me? (Not sure which zone you live in? Find out here)

  • Combined, mixed, medium, and high-density zones comprise only 26% of the land zoned residential and contain most of Boulder’s housing units.
  • If you live in one of these zones, you likely live in an apartment, condo, or townhome, and there is a good chance you will not feel the impact of this legislation.
I currently live in one of Boulder’s residential low-density zones. How will this legislation affect me? (Not sure which zone you live in? Find out here)

  • Combined, low-density zones comprise 74% of the land zoned residential in Boulder but contain fewer homes than mixed, medium, and high-density zones.
  • If you live in one of these zones, you most likely live in a single-family home. Many of the zoning and land use changes proposed in SB23-213 expand the types of housing allowed on your lot and the lots next to you. This means:
    • You or your neighbor could build an ADU on your lot, in addition to any form of “Middle Housing” (see above)
      • This is a dramatic regulatory change, but studies of cities and states that have made these changes before Colorado find that implementation is slow.
      • If Boulder tracks with other cities and states, you can expect more ADU construction around you but do not expect a dramatic addition of middle housing anytime soon.
Are any areas exempt from allowing ADUs and middle housing?

I have heard that this bill will encourage population growth. Is that true?

  • The states of Oregon and California and the cities of Minneapolis, Seattle, and Vancouver passed similar legislation years ago and have not seen a notable change in population growth. Colorado will be an outlier if the state experiences a significant bump in population growth if SB23-213 passes.
Traffic is already terrible in Boulder. Won’t SB23-213 increase traffic?

  • Studies show that compact development reduces traffic by encouraging people to walk, bike, and use transit.
What about parked cars on neighborhood streets? I have heard the new housing permitted by this legislation does not require parking.

  • That is true. This bill does not require parking for ADUs or middle housing.
  • Homeowners and developers may choose to provide parking, and many banks will only finance new housing if parking is provided.
  • If a significant number of ADUs and middle housing without parking are built near you, the number of parked cars on your street will likely increase.
Colorado is running out of water. Won’t more homes mean more water use and make the problem worse?

  • Sprawl has become a significant drain on Colorado’s water. SB23-213 encourages more compact/dense development in the state’s largest cities. Studies show that compact/dense development uses far less water than single-family homes.
There are no provisions for affordability in this legislation. We can’t build our way out of the housing crisis.

  • It is true that new housing will be useless (and only exacerbate problems) if used as second homes or short-term rentals. The city of Boulder must ensure that all new housing is owner-occupied or a long-term rental. SB23-213 allows that flexibility.
  • SB23-213 does not contain any affordability mandates, but it allows cities to make or keep their own affordability requirements.

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