Growing Like a Weed

Governor Owens is getting pressure from fellow Republicans to stop the sprawl.

White says this attitude not only creates sprawl, but it's elitist. "The political reality today is that people go to the city council and say, 'Don't build affordable housing. We don't want those kinds of people in our community.'"

One of the most surprising aspects of the coalition working on the anti-sprawl measure is the involvement of the homebuilders. Many people cast them as villains in the growth debate, but they say they're tired of constant battles with citizens' groups and city councils over housing projects.

"Our view is that business as usual is not acceptable," says Steve Wilson, spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver. "That's one thing the homebuilders and environmentalists agree on."

The sprawl guy: Senator Bryan Sullivant plans to introduce new legislation that would control growth.
Brett Amole
The sprawl guy: Senator Bryan Sullivant plans to introduce new legislation that would control growth.

Wilson says homebuilders have become frustrated as cities frequently delay their projects and hold endless hearings over the size of proposed developments. "If it's an area designated for development, it shouldn't take two years to decide if it will be 100 or 150 houses," he says.

Oregon mandates that all growth be contained within urban boundaries, but the state also makes it more difficult for cities to delay or prevent development inside those boundaries. The result is denser housing patterns. Portland's downtown and central neighborhoods are more heavily populated, yards in the suburbs are smaller, and townhomes and other types of multifamily housing are more common.

For such a scheme to work in Colorado, says Wilson, homebuilders must be able to break ground promptly in those areas that are earmarked for development. "If we're going to have urban service boundaries, we damn well better be able to build within them," he says.

Sullivant says the interest of the business community in his proposal isn't as surprising as one might think. Corporate executives have seen how cities like Atlanta that once beckoned new businesses with an enviable lifestyle have been overwhelmed with traffic congestion and pollution. "There are numerous examples nationwide of growth gone bad," he says. "I just don't want Colorado to grow out of business."

So far, Governor Owens has been skeptical of Sullivant's proposal. His spokesman says that while the governor hasn't taken a position on the bill, he does not want to impose statewide mandates on cities. "The governor's plan is based on incentives, not mandates," says Dick Wadhams. "He thinks the best approach is to provide incentives to local governments. Local officials would rise up in arms if the state usurped their power."

But Sullivant and his allies say local control simply isn't working, and Colorado will have to change its ways or lose the very things that make this place special.

In a recent column, the Denver Post's Chuck Green wrote that it was too late to do anything to prevent sprawl in Colorado, since zoning had already been approved for massive new development. White says this simply isn't true.

"When I read that, I thought, what a naive, stupid thing to say. It's like saying, 'Let's throw away our state.' We have to think about our future. If we don't change what's going on, we're going to lose the quality of life we have."

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