In 1976, Boulder Colorado city councilor Paul Danish persuaded the rest of the council to pass a slow-growth ordinance that limited the growth of Boulder to 2 percent per year. Ever since then, it’s been called the Danish Plan. In 1995, the ordinance was modified to reduce growth to just 1 percent per year, and the city of Golden Colorado also passed a similar limit in 1995.
Now Denis Hayes, the Golden resident who persuaded the city pass that limit, wants to extend the benefits of slow growth to the entire Colorado Front Range. His ballot initiative 66, if approved, would limit growth in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld counties to 1 percent per year. After each city or county in the region has issued its quota of building permits in a given year, it would not be allowed to issue any more that year.
“Rapid growth raises the price of land and makes it hard for industry to move in,” says Hayes. “Amazon would be a lot more likely to settle here if we are controlling growth.”
Hayes either doesn’t understand economics or he has never looked at Colorado land supply. Except for Broomfield and Denver counties (which are basically coterminous with the cities of the same names), all of the counties on Hayes’ list are more than 80 percent rural open space. That means land prices aren’t going to up unless some government agency tries to artificially restrict the amount of land available.
According to Zillow, the median home price in Boulder is $691,700, while Golden is relatively affordable at $506,600. Meanwhile, Denver, Lakewood, and other cities in the immediate Denver area are mostly under $400,000, and they are only that expensive because of Denver’s regional urban-growth boundary. Colorado Springs and Greeley are both outside the urban-growth boundary but in one of the counties on Hayes’ list; median home prices there are around $260,000.
So growth boundaries add more than $100,000 to the price of homes and growth limitations add another $100,000 to $200,000. Think Amazon is going to want to locate in a place where it will have to pay people a huge premium just so they can afford to live there?
“Golden is much better for” having passed the growth limitation, claims Hayes. Similarly, Paul Danish told the Boulder Daily Camera in 2006 that Boulder is “a really desirable place to live,” while any place that hasn’t limited growth must be “a really awful place to live.”
Certainly the homeowners who have seen their home values rapidly increase are better for it. But people who want to move in face severe problems. Growth limits like these represent a transfer of wealth from the young to the old and from lower-income families to higher-income families. Is that really desirable?
Naturally, home builders will strongly oppose this initiative. “This will bring our industry to a halt,” says the chief operating officer of Oakwood Homes, Scott Thorson. Thorson hopes realtors will join in opposing the measure, though when realtors realize they can earn bigger commissions on $600,000 homes than on $300,000 homes they may be tempted to support it. If Hayes manages to get this measure on the ballot, Thorson and his associates will have to work hard to keep it from passing.