Growth control meets 'official' opposition

Give people power on growth control

By Tom Castrigno

The Controlled Growth Initiative on the November 2000 ballot is being vigorously opposed based on arguments that are more emotional rather than factual.

Some say it is redundant and will put the building industry under. Claims that affordable housing will become even more scarce tug at the most vulnerable heartstrings next to, "Do it for our kids." And threats that takings lawsuits will be brought against nearly every town in the state are meant to strike fear into municipal leaders.

Do not be misled by the argument that any citizen with the urge to collect enough signatures can get an item on the ballot about any issue of concern, or that the Responsible Growth Initiative is just a mandatory redundancy to a process already in place.

State statute allows for referendums to be placed on the ballot by elected officials who must "refer" to a vote of the people; for example, if they wish to remove term limits. An initiative, on the other hand, is an item placed on the ballot by citizen(s) who wish to "initiate" a vote of the people to decide a particular issue; for example, to control growth.

Currently, the power of initiative is not available in Summit County. In fact, only three out of Colorado's 63 counties (less than 5 percent) enjoy this option. A Home Rule Charter must be adopted by a county to allow for citizens initiatives. Such a charter was presented in 1996 by a committee with wide representation that spent many hours on the document. A campaign against Home Rule, funded by Vail Resorts and Intrawest and promoted by county commissioners Tom Long and Gary Lindstrom, kept the initiative process away from Summit County citizens. Only at the state level, and in those three counties, do citizens have the power of initiative. The Responsible Growth Act would effectively give that power, with regard to land use issues, to 60 counties in the state.

Would affordable housing suffer as a result of the initiative? The passage would only affect areas that are not currently designated for heavy building.

For example, lands that become privately owned as the result of a Forest Service land trade, or that lie outside of areas already targeted for development, could become subject to a vote of the community. Don't forget, too, that much of the land already tagged to be built out (and therefore not open to a vote) carries zoning from the building-hungry days of the '70s, leaving plenty of opportunity for continued construction of the rural West.

The last time I checked, affordable housing projects were all planned for areas where growth was anticipated long ago. I just can't imagine places that are adjacent to, or inside of, population centers suddenly becoming in vogue with the trophy-home crowd. Affordable housing will happen. The service economy of tourism depends on it.

Others believe that taxpayers will end up suffering by paying landowners for their lost property values. But in order for something to be "taken," one must have that thing to begin with. Surely, land owners have the right to build on their land. They have the right to build as the land is currently zoned. Where does the law say that there is a right to be up-zoned? For example, the golf course village proposed at the north end of Silverthorne must first be annexed, and then up-zoned, in order to become possible. This request must be granted by the town. The property owner does not currently have the zoning needed to build the project, therefore it cannot be taken away.

Council member Fran Penner Ray understood this when she expressed grave and persistent concern about the request. She understood that it was the citizens of the town who were having something taken from them, not the property owner. If built as zoned - one house per 20 acres - the aesthetic and wildlife values of the land would remain. Pollution from cars and chemical runoff from the golf course, not to mention water usage and the strain on town resources, would be vastly reduced or eliminated. While the cultural ranch history of the area is not likely to be preserved in either case, it would surly be more closely represented by 26 ranchettes than by 600 condos and 18 holes. The town may feel that gaining jurisdiction over the planning process for the land is important, but it isn't as though the county doesn't have a well-trained staff to handle it.

An example of this type of community loss can be seen in Breckenridge on Shock Hill, site of the old nordic center. After a chamber-full of citizens urged the council not to annex, they now have increased traffic and parking problems, as well as a $4.75 million dollar tab to pick up for an open space purchase.

Those who support the Initiative base their case on one principal: give the people the power to decide. Those who oppose it operate from a fear-based position: afraid of losing the status quo.

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