Special Election on July 2 on Slower Growth Initiative (200)
Question 200 Ballot Language -
Shall the City limit residential growth to no more than 1% per year by implementing a building permit system and requiring Council approval of projects larger than 40 units? - YES or NO
The City’s growth management rules (zoning) were modified in 2013 to make it easier for developers to build multi-family housing. The changes removed limits on residential density, allowing developers to build as many units as they can physically cram into a property.
The current practice has led to an explosion in apartment construction and population growth. So the question is whether this over-development is good for the community or not.
Supporters of slower growth argue the recent apartment boom has led to traffic crowding, loss of open space, environmental damage and increased taxes.
Economic growth advocates argue the switch to favoring apartments results in loss of economic capacity. Since large apartment projects are initially more profitable for the builders than commercial ventures, the new rules encourage developers to convert land use from commercial, retail, industrial or office use to apartments.
Some recent examples are the Ohio Ave. project behind Safeway (260 apts.) and Beacon 85 on Union Blvd. (355 apts.)
Upcoming conversions include replacing White Fence Farm with 260 apartments, the US Park Service offices at 66 Van Gordon with 344 apartments and the Point Athletic Club with 350 apartments.
Although the proposal still allows new developments, it limits the annual housing growth to 1%. Individual homeowners get preferential treatment over large developers and there are provisions to encourage affordable housing.
The issue boils down to a property rights debate between large developers who may not be able to build as many apartments as fast as they want and the individual homeowners who are finding this overdevelopment is not only hurting their quality of life but hurting their home values as well.
For more information go on-line to:
www.savelakewood.org - pro
www.ourlakewood.com - con
www.lakewoodstrategicgrowth.org - pro
In a surprise upset, the citizens' initiative (Question 200) passed by a large margin (over 5 points) in a surprising large turnout election. 53% of voters supported 200 versus 47% who opposed. Three of the five wards supported 200 ranging from 50% in Ward 1 to a whopping 60% in Ward 4. Even the two wards that did not pass the initiative had large support. In the establishment stronghold of Ward 5 the measure garnered 49% support and even Ward 2 saw 46% of their voters support 200.
The pundits were especially surprised because the special interests mounted a half-million-dollar PR opposition campaign that featured every politician and every special interest group opposing the measure. The special interests raised $708,654 to oppose the citizens' initiative. The proponents raised $12,598. This financing contest was a 56 to 1 ratio against the underdogs.
Another surprise was the large voter turnout for a special election conducted during the summer holiday season. 35,721 votes were cast which was nearly 4,000 more votes than were cast two years earlier during the regular November 2017 election. Ironically that was the year the initiative was originally scheduled to be on the ballot. The only city election with a larger turnout (40,877) was the 2015 mayoral election. However that year's voter turnout was inflated due to the controversial school board recall election sharing that ballot.
A developer-allied lawyer answered Mayor Paul’s June 6, 2017 plea for help in preventing growth management by filing a lawsuit to prevent a vote.
Years ago when Council was controlled by development interests, an ordinance was passed to thwart the citizens’ right to petition. The ordinance put ballot issues on hold if there was a legal challenge. Although this ordinance violated the City Charter, the previous Council followed those rules.
For a year and half, the developers’ lawyer kept filing lawsuits. Although the courts struck down every challenge, the issue was not allowed on the ballot.
After the final legal appeal was thrown out, the current Council fixed the ordinance language to make it consistent with the Charter. With the legal problems resolved, Council put it on the ballot for the long-delayed vote.
Since the election was postponed a year and half due to lawsuits, the law requires a special election now.
When the citizens originally started their petitions it was timed to make the November 2017 ballot. Had it stayed on schedule it would have been paid out of the regular election budget.
However, when the developers’ lawyer filed a challenge, he asked the election be put on hold. Due to a faulty City ordinance (see previous story), he was allowed to put the election on hold until all his appeals were rejected.
Once the legal challenges were satisfied the law requires an election MUST be held within 90 days of the day when the application is presented to Council (lawsuits were over).
Some observers questioned whether the developer lawyer who held things up could be held liable for the extra costs.
Analysis of 200 and Questions Answered
Question 200 - Slower Growth Initiative
Since the City allowed more “flexible” zoning rules in 2013, long time residents have noticed the resulting overdevelopment has reduced Lakewood’s quality of life. In the five years since residential density limits were removed, the city’s population has grown and multi-family apartment construction has boomed.
The most obvious symptoms of over-crowding are more traffic and major intersections nearing failure.
Since the City, under its pro-developer mayor, failed to rein in overdevelopment, citizens took matters into their own hands and devised a strategic growth management plan (SGI) based upon the program the citizens of Golden passed in 1995.
While not impacting commercial development these rules would slow down residential development by limiting the number of housing permits awarded to an amount equal to 1% of the housing stock. This amount compounds every year leading to more permits being granted each year.
While issuing fewer housing permits each year won’t prevent development, the 1% limit in the increase could slow apartment building. While the backers of the plan realize the proposal won’t stop growth they are hoping SGI will send a message that Lakewood will no longer be an “anything goes” environment.
In addition to limiting the number of housing permits, the SGI proposal would require projects of over 40 units be approved by City Council. This allows for community input into super apartment projects like Beacon 85 on Union, White Fence Farm development (see following story), the apartments replacing Westland Target and the apartments behind the Safeway at Alameda and Ohio.
When citizens collected 7600 petition signatures, the mayor emailed his special interest allies seeking their assistance in defeating this grassroots efforts. One respondent was an attorney who represents development interests who recruited someone to sue to stop the ballot initiative.
For a year and half this attorney filed multiple legal actions to stop the measure from going on the ballot. After all his challenges were rejected by the courts, the Council was finally able to act upon the initiative. The City has sent the ballot question (#200) to a “special” mail-in election on July 2.
Assessing Potential Impacts of Slower Apartment Growth
Both sides are making claims about the measure’s potential impact. While no one can predict the future most of the arguments revolve around an assumption that increasing housing supply will affect housing prices.
This case of “just enough information to be dangerous” refers to effects of supply and demand on price. Economists caution this Econ.101 premise ignores advanced economic factors that modify the basics.
One economist simplified the mind-numbing details with the cliche - if you build it, they will come. More housing attracts more newcomers to move here thus driving up demand and raising prices.
Rather than bogging down in an economic debate the most revealing fact is despite the thousands of new apartments built in the last couple years, area housing prices and rents have skyrocketed.
Ironically the only exception to the reality that increases in housing supply can led to higher prices, was Golden, which has had this growth limit program in effect since 1995.
Examining the assumption that increasing housing supply will lower property values yields mixed impacts.
Slower growth proponents argue decreasing housing prices could adversely impact families’ property values. Since homes are usually the most valuable property people own, lower property values could result in a decline in families’ long-term financial health.
Opponents argue in the short term there may be higher property taxes (after last year’s school tax increases).
200 supporters note new housing generally costs local governments money because the additional taxes are less than the new government services that newcomers require.
Slower growth proponents note over-development leads to overcrowding problems. In an interesting twist of logic, opponents claim over-development problems will occur IF growth slows down. Being at a lost to understand this reasoning, we can’t adequately evaluate their claims.
Opponents argue the City has “plans” to solve the over- development problems. While City plans do list lofty goals, they are not mandatory and do NOT actually limit growth. In fact the City plans call for 19,000 more people by 2035.
This discrepancy between flowery vision language and actual rules is described as “aspirational” - meaning it’s a nice idea but not required.
One difference between the growth initiative and the existing city plans is 200 puts teeth into the plans by creating mechanisms to actually implement plan objectives.
Since listing lofty goals is pointless in an evaluation of pros and cons we only analyzed the results of current growth versus the impacts of moderating future growth.
Over Half-Million-Dollar PR Campaign by the Special Interests
Comparison of Voter Turnout in Recent City Elections
Traffic/Transit Impacts ?
By slowing the growth of mega apartments, SGI encourages developers to make limited permits “count” by building quality products and focusing next to high traffic areas and light rail, thus discouraging sprawl.
Slowing the population increase will also slow down the increase in traffic on overloaded streets.
Who are the Plan Sponsors ?
The Strategic Growth Initiative was funded by Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships, a local citizens group formed in 2014 to assist neighborhoods coping with over development in their community.
Issues LNP have worked on include the Ward Lake Tree Farm and now the White Fence Farm conversion. The group’s leader is Cathy Kentner, a local Jeffco teacher.
The petition involved dozens of volunteers. A gofundme account was used for fundraising. All donations came from individuals.
What is the Plan's Basis?
Although opponents are using a "Boulder" argument to scare voters, technically the SGI plan is based a program Golden has been using for over a quarter century. Golden residents voted in 1995 to balance new growth with protecting open areas. After 25 years of growth management Golden has retained a small town feel while maintaining economic vitality.
In addition to growth limit discussions in Denver and at the state level, other metro area towns (including Lafayette, Boulder and Littleton) currently have growth management plans.
Details, Sunset, Modifications
In order to deal with all potential questions 200 goes into some detail. But like all laws, whether passed by Council or by the voters, it can be modified later by Council, if needed.
Impact on Taxes ?
While more apartments will result in added tax revenues the newcomers will need government services. Overall the new demands outweigh the additional revenue resulting in a net loss to local governments.
This shortfall has to be made up by current residents paying more in taxes. We have already seen this with Lakewood “keeping” their citizens’ TABOR refunds. Now Jeffco is looking at “keeping” their TABOR refunds to pay for the added demands on county services from newcomers.