Some home builders back local control compromise; Senate still locked down

Politics
An image of a fracking well being drilled just a few hundred feet from a row of homes in northern Colorado, as depicted in the first TV ad from Coloradans for Local Control, the group pushing a ballot measure to allow cities to ban fracking.

An image of a fracking well being drilled just a few hundred feet from a row of homes in northern Colorado.

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DENVER — Roughly half of Colorado’s home builders and developers have signaled their support for the revamped draft bill that attempts to reach a compromise on the local control of oil and gas drilling in order to avoid a nasty fight over local control ballot initiatives this fall.

Although the Colorado Homebuilders Association itself isn’t taking a position on the proposal, 17 companies have indicated that they support the draft legislation from Gov. John Hickenlooper and encourage a special session this summer to pass it.

“The legislative solution balances the many interests of local government, industry and surface owners,” writes Douglas M. Stimple, the CEO of Classic Companies in a letter to Hickenlooper. “While not perfect, it is workable, preserves a critically important industry to our State and we urge our State’s elected leaders to pass the measure quickly.”

All told, 11 home builders that have indicated their support for the proposal: Cardel Homes, Classic Homes, Green Built Homes, Lennar Corporation, MDC – Richmond American Homes, Meritage Homes Corporation, Newtown Builders, Oakwood Homes, Saint Aubyn Homes, Shea Homes and TRI Point Homes.

On top of that, six developers also support the draft bill: Babcock Land, Canyons, Center Communities, La Plata, Landhuis and Lorson North Development.

Support for the proposal has broadened since Hickenlooper tweaked the original proposal, which allows local governments to enact additional regulations of drilling but not to ban it outright, to better protect the interests of home builders.

Colorado Concern, an organization of more than 100 area CEOs, threw its support behind the revamped compromise late last month, as did seven local oil and gas companies, including the two largest operators in the state, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum.

A week ago, industry stakeholders were preparing for a special session, which seemed likely.

But there’s still one major obstacle: the state senate.

Until Hickenlooper can find the 18 votes needed to pass a bill out of that chamber, there will be no special session.

While three moderate Democrats who are supportive of oil and gas drilling may be resistant to the compromise, as are a couple Boulder County Democrats who support local control, efforts to win a couple of Republican votes have been met stiff resistance.

Many Capitol observers say the chances of a special session went down last week when Bob Beauprez won the GOP gubernatorial primary.

Although Beauprez said during an April debate that he believes Colorado cities and counties “can certainly establish some of their own zoning and setback requirements”, something that’s part of Hickenlooper’s draft bill, he has adamantly opposed the legislation itself, which might offer the governor he’s trying to unseat an opportunity for a “political win” should the bill be signed into law and the ballot initiatives pulled.

If no compromise is reached this summer, voters could decide a couple of ballot measures that would establish a 1,500-foot setback (three times the current statewide setback) and allow local governments to ban oil and gas drilling altogether.

Studies have shown the measures, if passed, could seriously hurt what has become a $29 billion annual industry in the state, not to mention public schools, which benefit from millions of dollars in severance tax revenues from oil and gas drilling.

But given the national precedent that could be set and the short-term political implications in a state playing host to high-profile gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races this fall, many within the industry would rather spend $50 million to try and defeat the measures this fall — and risk that they might still pass — than give ground now.

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