This post follows up on a post from August about a citizen initiative to limit residential growth in Lakewood, Colorado.
In Lakewood, Colorado’s fifth largest city, citizens associated with Lakewood Neighborhood Partnership submitted a petition for a “strategic growth” initiative last July. The initiative aims to limit the growth of residential housing units to 1% annually, and would require that the Lakewood City Council approve all projects with forty or more housing units. The unelected planning commission currently has final decision authority over multifamily site plans and subdivisions in Lakewood.
The proposed ordinance is very similar to ordinances that have been in effect in Boulder since 1978 and in Golden since 1995. The initiative contains a system of “allocation pools” to distribute housing unit permits to individual projects, and “banking plans” to accommodate projects with multi‑year build outs. At the beginning of every year, the city will estimate the number of dwelling units which exist on December 31 of the prior calendar year by dividing Lakewood’s population by average household size. Finally, divide that figure by 100 (1% growth), and that’s the “allocation” of permittable housing units for the year.
For example, the U.S. Census estimates Lakewood’s population (as of July 2015) to be 152,381 with average household size of 2.30 persons. If the initiative were in effect in 2016, the allocation would have been 663 housing units (152,381 ÷ 2.30 ÷ 100). Looking at Census figures for population growth, Lakewood gained 2,012 people in 2016, which would have required approximately 875 housing units. That’s a shortage of almost 25%. In 2017, the city actually issued building permits for a total of 924 residential units.
The Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a business‑sponsored think tank, released a report in October 2017 that warned the Lakewood initiative would result in the “displacement” of as many as 4,100 households over the next ten years.
Under the proposed ordinance, developers of projects with multi-year build outs would need to submit a “banking plan” that outlines how many units their project will contain, and over how many years those units will be rolled out. The planning commission must approve banking plans for projects of more than 40 units. However, the planning commission’s approval does not bind city council, which retains authority to approve any commitment of future allocations, and the approval of a banking plan does not create a vested property right to develop banked units.
Proponents submitted their petition to the City Clerk in July expecting that voters would decide on their initiative in the 2017 election. The clerk verified the signatures, but Steve Dorman, a conservative activist in Lakewood, challenged the signatures on the basis that the proponents did not adequately advise signatories about the contents of the initiative. Following two days of administrative hearing in August and September, the City Clerk found in favor of the petitioners, clearing the initiative for the November ballot. Then in October, Dorman challenged the clerk’s findings in Jefferson County District Court under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106(a)(4). Based on the most recent filings in Dorman v. Lakewood, the trial court is probably a few months away from reaching the merits of case, but a Rule 106 review gives the government—in this case City Clerk—the benefit of a deferential standard of review. Even if Dorman prevails, the proponents of the Lakewood strategic growth initiative could re‑circulate petitions before the deadline in August.