Recently the Denver Post ran an article on how citizen activists are campaigning to put controversial land use decisions on the ballot. While I realize ballot initiatives about zoning matters aren’t new, I found the article fascinating at a few levels.
First, the previous jurisdictions where I practiced – Washington, D.C. and Georgia – don’t have ballot box zoning. I’ve never loved the idea of popular votes on individual development projects – I’m a big fan of comprehensive planning, and piecemeal decisions about particular projects can run roughshod over coordinated decision-making – but land use ballot initiatives are a common fact of life here in Colorado.
Second, I had heard about one of the controversies – a proposed Promenade mall in Castle Rock, CO – through the national grapevine of environmental lawyers. A large prairie dog colony had to be removed for the proposed development to go forward. Apparently now the prairie dogs have been moved, but their fate is still in flux. According to a Denver TV station, the prairie dogs were to be relocated to New Mexico, but when that fell through a Castle Rock woman kept them in her garage until they were taken by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to a temporary but undisclosed location. (For some reasons the prairie dogs have received death threats, so they’re in a sort of wildlife protective custody.)
Third, I think it’s surprising to people outside Colorado just how strong the growth pressures are here. At a recent conference of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts I was startled to hear Governor John Hickenlooper say that the population of Colorado – currently 5 million – is expected to grow by 2 million in the next 20 years. (This statistic is repeated in this article on Colorado’s water issues in the Denver-based magazine 5280.) Contrast this with other Rocky Mountain states – the population of my family’s home state of Montana just recently edged over 1 million – and it’s easy to see that Colorado is in the grip of some powerful and difficult forces. These pressures aren’t unique to Colorado, of course, but the state seems to be a case study for some of the more difficult land use issues in the US today.
Originally published as “Of malls and prairie dogs and ballot box zoning” (April 26, 2015) on www.jamieroskie.com