Public Eye 

Of more than 40 bills that will deal in some way with growth and sprawl in this year's legislative session, the developers are supporting one that their lawyer wrote. Gee. Surprise, surprise.

The lawmaker who is introducing House Bill 1225 touts it as a "compromise anti-sprawl bill," but apparently the only ones who count in the Big "Compromise" are the state's big business, developer and real estate interests -- because they are the only ones who like it.

As for the citizen and environmental groups who are appalled beyond the pale by House Bill 1225, including the sponsors of last fall's doomed Amendment 24, well, that's just tough.

"Imagine what a developer would put in a bill to protect his interests, and this is what you've got," said Susan LeFever, director of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter. "It reads like a developers' wish list."

The Sierra Club united in despair last week with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), the Western Colorado Congress, Audubon of Colorado, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Coloradans for Responsible Growth to denounce the bill.

"The top concern of the citizens of Colorado is finding a solution to the sprawl that is ruining our state, yet this developers' bill of rights makes it easier for developers to build and harder for local elected officials and citizens to fight sprawl in their communities," said nature photographer John Fielder, the sponsor of last year's Amendment 24.

Specifically the groups are concerned because they believe the legislation:

1) fails to protect agricultural lands and open space; 2) promotes continued urban sprawl; 3) undermines the authority of local governments; and 4) fails to adequately protect the environment.

"It's disappointing that, after so many promises made by the developers, they have introduced a bill that fails to stop the sprawling development that is eating up Colorado's open space," said CoPIRG Director Rich McClintock.

Meanwhile the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Stengel, sent out a press release last week listing conservative agriculture groups, business associations, realtors and developers who really, really, really like his bill.

Denver lawyer Tom Ragonetti (whose past corporate clients have included Vail Resorts Inc.) drafted the bill for his latest client, the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, and Stengel, a Republican from Littleton, characterized the approach as "think regionally, act locally."

"You could call this a 'Homebuyers Bill of Rights' in that it will help keep down the price of housing, particularly in the metro Denver area," Stengel said. If adopted, Stengel says his bill would: 1) require the fastest growing cities and counties in the state to enact master plans; 2) apply only to 25 of 63 counties, exempting rural areas of the state; 3) require sufficient infrastructure to support new growth; 4) respect property rights; and 5) ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing.

Stengel listed several supporters, including former House Speaker Chuck Berry, now the CEO of the Colorado Association for Commerce and Industry, the largest business chamber in the state.

But the most self-serving voice of support came from Merlin Widick, president of the Colorado Association of Homebuilders -- whose hired mouthpiece, Ragonetti, drafted the bill in the first place. "This bill provides developers an expedited review process, saving us time and money so we can build in urban area where services already exist," Widick said.

It's no mystery that wealthy developer interests wield extraordinary lobbying power in the statehouse. After all, the Legislature has refused for years now to enact any programs to tackle the citizens' No. 1 concern -- sprawl. And, after spending more than $6 million last year to defeat Amendment 24, there's no reason to think that developers wouldn't pull out all the stops to pass their handcrafted boutique bill.

The House Local Government Committee is scheduled to hear the bill on Feb. 12 at the state Capitol in Denver, where the homebuilders will be officially represented by Steve Durham, a former legislator himself who is now one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state.

Most citizens don't have that kind of access, or money. But, if you have access to the Internet, you can read a copy of HB 1225 at the Colorado Legislative Web site at www.state.co.us/gov_dir/stateleg.htm

weigh in on the developers' bill by letting the lawmakers know that you're onto their efforts to manipulate the discussion, and that other opinions -- including those of the less wealthy and powerful -- are just as important.

The committee members' telephone numbers are: Rep. Glenn Scott, 303/866-2916; Rep. Richard Decker 303/866-2946; Rep. Dianne Hoppe, 303/866-3706; Rep. Ken Kester, 303/866-2948; Rep. Frana Mace, 303/866-2954; Rep. Tom Plant, 303/866-2938; Rep. Ann Ragsdale, 303/866-2843; Rep. Bill Swenson, 303/866-2920; Rep. Jennifer Veiga, 303/866-2921; Rep. Bill Webster, 303/866-2943; and Rep. Frank Weddig, 303/866-2942. All of their e-mail addresses are available online at the Web site above.

-- degette@csindy.com


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