Arapahoe County leaders said they will seek public input in the coming weeks on changes to the county’s Land Development Code for unincorporated areas in a bid to shore up its housing supply.
“There is not enough housing, so that kind of begs the question of what are we missing,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully. “You can’t just have a single type of housing that’s going to satisfy the needs of everybody in our community.”
A flurry of funding for local governments approved by state lawmakers last year — including a $6.8 million grant program — could help counties like Arapahoe make their land use codes more supportive of new developments, especially affordable homes.
But those funds will be competitive, Warren-Gully said, and currently, Arapahoe County only meets a minimum of three of 16 strategies laid out by the state to be eligible for the money. Warren-Gully said she is hopeful that with new code updates, the county will be even better positioned to win some of the funds.
Proposed code changes so far are what Warren-Gully called “low-hanging fruit.” It includes adding more language about supporting and defining affordable housing and accessory dwelling units — small residencies that share lots with larger homes.
The changes are far from some of the more sweeping measures that cities in the county have taken over the past year, such as the City of Littleton, which rezoned its entire boundary to allow for denser developments and is currently drafting language on a policy that would both mandate and incentivize building affordable housing in the city.
Neighboring cities of Englewood and Centennial are also currently evaluating their housing needs with studies that could influence future housing and zoning policy, such as Englewood’s CodeNext project which seeks to update its zoning code.
But county officials hope that by securing grant funding they can bring even more incentives to the table for developers to build affordable housing. One way would be reducing the planning fees developers pay before building a project, said Arapahoe County Senior Planner Kathleen Hammer.
“That’s something that is breaking down a barrier and expanding affordable housing," Hammer said.
And future policy changes could go further, said Senior Planner Katleen Hammer. Beginning in 2023, the county could take steps to identify underused commercial space for new housing as well as increase bonuses for denser projects and allow duplexes and triplexes in single family-zoned areas.
About 94% of the county's unincorporated area — which accounts for just over 405,000 acres — is zoned for detached single-family housing, according to Hammer.
The process of changing policy will take time, Hammer said, as the county will have to engage in thorough public outreach before drafting and voting on any changes.
Any new policies would only affect unincorporated areas, as cities like Littleton and Englewood "have their own rules and regulations," Hammer said.
As the metro area faces a continued shortage of homes with high costs, Warren-Gully said leaders have to “join into that conversation as a county or we are going to be left out.”
Addressing the housing shortage, Warren-Gully said, will be crucial for retaining residents who are essential workers — such as nurses, teachers and firefighters — and for bringing rent costs down.
To do that, counties like Arapahoe will have to ensure their land use code provides opportunities for a mix of housing — such as apartments, townhomes and duplexes — not just single family homes.
“We want a diverse group of people living in our community, and the only way to do that is to provide diverse housing options,” Warren-Gully said.
The county’s planning commission is set to hold a public hearing on the changes Oct. 18 in the Arapahoe Room at 6954 S. Lima St., Centennial. A final decision on the changes will be made by commissioners Nov. 22.
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