Citizens' initiative a growing concern

Amendment 24 has local governments worried

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— Towns and counties across Colorado are in a bit of panic as they try to figure out how the so-called Citizens' Growth Initiative on this November's ballot will affect them.

"If it's passed, this will create a climate of uncertainty and chaos," attorney Bob Weiss told the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Weiss represents people who have plans to develop their land sometime in the future.

The ballot initiative known as Amendment 24 will change the Colorado Constitution. Supporters say the amendment will give state residents a direct vote on what new developments go into their communities. Land that has already been approved for development would not have to be approved by voters.

"I think what you'll see is smarter development," said Amendment 24 supporter Robb Wolfson. He's a land-use advocate for the non-profit Colorado Public Interest Research Group. CoPIRG is an environmental and consumer watchdog group.

Amendment 24 grew out of the dissatisfaction many residents have with the urban sprawl seen across the state.

"If you're living along the Front Range and see subdivision after subdivision If I were one of those folks I'd probably vote for it too," said Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall.

"People are just damned tired all they see is the roads are crowded, houses are springing up everywhere," said City Councilman Ken Brenner.

But both Beall and Brenner believe that Amendment 24 is not the answer.

"There are all sorts of neighborhood groups that don't see the big picture," Beall said. "We think as elected officials we're responsible to handle the land-use portion of our statutory mandates. If you don't like your elected officials, get rid of them."

While Beall believes voters are "smart enough" to vote against Amendment 24, the city of Steamboat Springs, which has a comprehensive master plan in place, is hedging its bets.

"We've gone through extensive plans for community development and to turn our back on those is bad public policy," said Tony Connell, a member of the city Planning Commission.

Connell and others on the commission are talking about the work that the city, county and private landowners have already done to plan for growth in and around Steamboat.

An example is the West of Steamboat Plan that encourages landowners just outside the city limits to develop neighborhoods, including a good portion of affordable housing. In exchange, the city has promised to annex the development.

If Amendment 24 was passed now, the West of Steamboat Plan would not meet the criteria of a "committed area" which is ready for development. That would mean the city would have to develop a "growth area map" and present it to the voters to approve the West of Steamboat Plan.

A growth area map would include an impact study on parks, new infrastructure, costs, schools, police and numerous other elements. Growth area maps can only be approved in a November general election. So, in essence, if developers don't already have approved plans, they have to wait until the next November to get residents to approve it for them.

Most city and county officials agree that this unfunded mandate will cost an already overburdened taxpayer. Sam Mamet with the Colorado Municipal League estimates an $11 million bill for counties.

"How is all this going to be implemented? It's not clear," Mamet said.

The vagueness of the amendment will cause all sort of legal problems, he said.

"We'll all screw up and make a lot of mistakes," Mamet said. "This will cost us money, not to mention the lawsuits."

In the meantime, the Planning Commission is urging the City Council to meet as soon as possible to pass an emergency ordinance. The commissioners are urging the council to adopt a short-form "valid development application" that can be filed quickly by landowners. Time is of the essence since all development plans that come after Sept. 13 will be subjected to Amendment 24 rules.

A short-form valid development application will allow the landowner's property to be considered a "committed area" for development and thereby avoid the Amendment 24 requirement that voters approve a growth area map.

"They still have to go through the normal planning and zoning process," said city attorney Tony Lettunich."

It all may be moot for Routt County since any counties with populations less than 25,000 have the option of opting out of the Amendment 24 issue.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners have agreed to place on the November ballot a measure that would exempt Routt County from Amendment 24 for four years.

After four years, the county would have the option of voting again on the issue, unless its population exceeds 25,000.

Leaders of the Amendment 24 initiative believe Routt County's peremptory strike is disappointing, but believe it may be legal. Their attorneys said they are still evaluating the ballot initiative.

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