DENVER — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday to make it easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats,” on their property.
The bill, House Bill 24-1152, is part of a broader strategy to increase affordable housing options in Colorado.
“What we're doing down here at the Capitol is we're trying to find solutions to make our state more affordable and allow people to afford to live where they work,” said State Sen. Kyle Mullica, D-Adams County, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The bill would give homeowners in certain parts of the state the right to build one accessory dwelling unit on their property.
It also creates a new grant program to help communities implement ADU-friendly policies and prohibits cities from restricting the construction or conversion of an ADU on single-family home lots.
The bill also creates a grant program to help municipalities implement ADU-friendly policies. The bill would also provide grants to help low and moderate-income homeowners build ADUs.
“We know the value that they bring to our state not only in putting more units onto the market, but that these units are often more affordable because they're smaller,” said Mullica, who added that seniors looking to downsize would also benefit.
Determining where and how ADUs can be built has been up to local governments, and some say it should remain that way.
“Let's maintain the proper lane for the state and local governments to be in,” said Kevin Bommer, the executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, which represents 270 municipalities across the state.
Local governments helped defeat an effort to reshape zoning last year and stand ready to resist any attempt to weaken local control this year.
Bommer called the state grant program that’s included in the bill "wonderful," but he said communities like Grand Junction, Winter Park, Eagle, Dillon, and Boulder were able to create their ADU ordinances without the assistance of grants.
“When you slip in there ‘Here's some grant dollars to do what we're telling you to do and the way that we're telling you to do it,’ that doesn't quite meet the standard where we can say we're okay with this preemption,” said Bommer.
Bommer said local land-use planning for Home Rule communities is a matter of settled law.
"It is a road that is fraught with danger if the legislature wants to try to do something in this space or any other where it involves local land use planning and local land use authority," said Bommer.
The ADU bill was part of a sweeping “land-use” bill introduced last year. That bill was defeated after pushback from different groups, including local governments.
“I think what happened last year was that most people liked some parts of that bill, but they didn't like everything about the bill,” said State Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder County, who is sponsoring HB24-1152 in the House, along with State Rep. Ron Weinberg, R-Larimer County.
The proposals in last year’s massive “land-use” bill were broken into different pieces this year.
The ADU bill is just one part.
“I feel like it's a better approach and I feel like we're gonna get more done,” said Amabile.
The bill’s sponsors pledge to continue working with local leaders to try to iron out concerns they may have.
"We want local government involved and we want to partner with them,” said State Sen. Tony Exum, who is sponsoring the bill with Mullica in the Senate. “We're not working against them because we're hearing the same thing in our communities that they're hearing, that affordable housing is in a crisis and this is just another option.”
While the lawmakers said they welcome continued conversations with municipalities about ways to improve the bill, they have their limits.
“We believe in partnership, but doing nothing also is not an option,” said Mullica.
The bill gives homeowners the right to build an ADU on their property if they live in a city with a population of at least 1,000 that’s located in five metro areas (Denver metro, northern Colorado, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, or Grand Junction).
Homeowners could also build an ADU if they live in an urban area of an unincorporated county with a population of 10,000 or more. They’d also be able to build an ADU on their property if their local government decided to participate in the grant program.
The sponsors of the bill said local governments would still be able to regulate short-term rentals.