Colorado Town Rejects No-Growth
Erie, CO - 5/5/04 - After a decade of restricting growth and industry in cities and small towns in Colorado, residents have realized they need growth if their communities are to survive.
In Erie, voters replaced their no-growth mayor with one who promised to attract more commercial development.
And in Windsor, voters turned down a proposal to place a moratorium on large retail stores like Wal-Mart.
Attorney Tom Ragonetti, a land-use expert who represents developers, said the current situation stems from growth controls enacted by local officials whose knowledge of development was incomplete, at best. "Sometimes, the knee-jerk, let's stop-it-all is a bad idea," he said.
A bad plan can hamper community's needs to maintain a good tax base.
Indeed, a study commissioned by opponents of the City of Berthoud's cap on building permits showed the town's revenue decreased 7.8 percent from 2000 to 2001 and residential construction permit revenue fell 68 percent during that period.
But the folks who would deny the American dream to their fellow Coloradans continue to argue against growth and development.
"Now is the time to get a handle on growth before we lose the things we love about our state," said Elise Jones of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
Erie's new mayor, Andrew Moore said, "What's happening now is that communities...have realized that when you put in restrictions...it really hinders the town's ability to bring in...the good growth that can sustain us for the long haul with tax revenue."
Towns revisit growth curbs - Lagging tax base forces second
look at rules born amid '90s sprawl
ERIE, COLO - A decade ago, Colorado politicians alarmed by what was shaping up to be a 31 percent increase in the state's population began throwing up roadblocks to unchecked growth.
But since the state's economic slowdown, communities small and large have chipped away at those restrictions, a retreat largely prompted by concerns about a stagnant or shrinking tax base.
This month, voters in Erie tossed out a mayor who had championed growth controls. Voters there also endorsed a plan to make it easier for officials to approve certain types of growth. And farther north in Windsor, a recent effort to place a moratorium on the development of large retail stores such as Kmart and Wal-Mart failed.
This marks the third year in which some Colorado communities have either beaten back growth plans or reworked the ones they have on the books that discouraged growth.
"I think everybody really wanted to put the halts on growth in the '90s, when it was getting out of control," said Jennifer Engelbrecht, an Erie resident who closely followed the election. "Right now people are stepping back and trying to manage the growth, and asking how you do it in a reasonable way."
Environmentalists and some smartgrowth advocates are sounding an alarm, saying that the same communities unshackling growth controls are right in the path of future growth. Many are along Interstate 25, Colorado's main north-south corridor and home to the lion's share of the state's development.
When the population spike hits again - federal and state estimates suggest a new boom will begin next year - the lack of growth controls will mean sprawl, clogged roads and pollution, they say.
"Now is the time to get a handle on growth before we lose the things we love about our state," said Elise Jones of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, who also notes that growth, and how to best deal with it, remains a top issue throughout the state.
Communities, including Lafayette, Brighton, Thornton and Golden, embraced growth controls as the Front Range was flooded with newcomers in the 1990s.
Many of the plans were instituted at the ballot box. Voters in municipal elections have approved at least 40 growth-management measures since 1994. In Berthoud, for example, voters in 2000 capped the number of building permits that the town can issue each year at no more than 5 percent of the number of homes in town.
But last year, Berthoud repealed those rules. And Lafayette exempted certain parts of town from its growth plan to make way for affordable housing.
"The swing is definitely on," said Andrew Moore, Erie's new mayor, who was elected on a platform to draw more commercial development to the rapidly growing town.
To be sure, voters in many parts of Colorado, particularly mountain towns, still support open space purchases and advocate growth restrictions. In Boulder, for example, voters endorsed recent growth- management plans.
But the move back from tight growth restrictions is undeniable in other parts of the state, where voters have also rejected plans to control growth in Woodland Park, Firestone and Gypsum.
Attorney Tom Ragonetti, who represents developers and who is a land-use expert, said some of the growth controls that were put in place years ago were poorly created by local officials who knew little of the nuances of development.
"Sometimes, the knee-jerk, let's- stop-it-all is a bad idea," he said.
A bad growth management plan, he said, can "retard and restrict" a town's ability to create a good tax base, since commercial developers, who fill a community's coffers with sales tax revenue, look for the best possible demographic base.
A study last year conducted by MBA students at the University of Colorado showed Berthoud's growth cap did, indeed, slow the population increase there.
The study, paid for by community leaders in Berthoud opposed to the cap, also showed the town's revenue decreased 7.8 percent from 2000 to 2001, with residential construction-permit revenue decreasing 68 percent over that same period.
The moves to reduce restrictions come as more people are moving to Colorado. Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that many spots in the state do continue to grow. Six Colorado counties made the bureau's 100 fastest-growing counties in America list unveiled this month.
Weld, the county in which Firestone and much of Erie are located, ranks as the 32nd fastest-growing county in the nation, ballooning to 211,272 people from 180,862 people over a three-year period ending in April 2003.
And, starting next year, according to estimates from the state Department of Local Affairs, above-average population growth will be spread across the state.
By 2025, the state's population may be 6.652 million, according to the projection. Today, the population stands at about 4.4 million.
Erie's Moore predicts that communities will continue the trend of trying to attract growth, rather than capping it.
"What's happening now is that communities, especially Erie, have realized that when you put in restrictions like that, it really hinders the town's ability to bring in what I'll consider the good growth that can sustain us for the long haul with tax revenue," Moore said.
Staff writer Trent Seibert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303-820-1310.
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