Questionnaire: Metro Housing Coalition

Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in running (or running for another term) for elected office in the Town of Erie?

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa of Dutch parents, grew up near Edmonton, Alberta, and have been a Colorado resident for over 30 years. After an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from CU Boulder and graduate work in computational biology at CU Denver, I ran my own software development company for 5 years before moving to enterprise software development. I’m currently on a sabbatical to focus on the April 2022 municipal election in Erie.

My two teenage daughters and I have been in Erie since 2007, where we enjoy the mountain views, the small-town feeling, and easy access to all that Denver and Boulder have to offer. I have been a Trustee for the Town of Erie since 2018; public service has been an incredibly rewarding, yet challenging endeavor. I am running for re-election as Trustee to see a number of crucial in-progress initiatives to fruition, from the Town Center and Westerly projects to affordable housing, multi-modal transportation options, and doing our part to address the climate crisis.

Since I am the only official seeking re-election, the remainder of the Board will only have two years of municipal experience at best; I feel my 4 years of service bring a depth of experience and knowledge that will serve the Board, Town staff, the residents of Erie, and all those who interact with them well (this is especially important given both of the mayoral candidates have limited municipal experience). Complex topics such as housing policies, metro districts, and land use authority require years of understanding; I’m always learning more about these topics (and more!) to serve the residents of Erie and relish the opportunity to continue serving Erie in this role.

What do you identify as the top three issues facing the Town of Erie and how do you think they should they be addressed?

Infrastructure Needs: Erie is bursting at the seams due to its explosive growth over the last 20 years. There is no longer enough room at Town Hall for all its employees, and we will soon have the same problem at the police station and the public works buildings. Our recreation center is at capacity, as are most of the schools in Erie. Major arterial roadways in and around Erie are clogged with traffic. Addressing these infrastructure projects will require many millions of dollars of funding; the challenge is to establish a robust, diversified economy in Erie to support these needs. We’ve made significant advances on this front in the last 5 years, and inflight projects such as Erie Gateway, Nine Mile, Town Center, and Westerly are crucial to see these infrastructure projects to fruition.

Affordable Housing: Home ownership in Colorado has become unattainable for many due to skyrocketing property values, constraints on housing supplies, and stagnation in the State’s minimum wage. Given the current housing inventory in Erie, we would have to add over 1,000 affordable units to reach a 12% inclusionary housing goal. Even if we add 100 units per year for the next decade, it will be outpaced 4:1 by “normal” growth. Recognizing that we cannot completely solve this crisis, nor can we accomplish it via legislation alone, I look forward to collaborating with homebuilders to make transformational changes in future development practices to restore an equitable balance to housing inventory.

Home Rule: Erie is by far the largest statutory town in Colorado. With 93% of Colorado residents living in a home rule municipality, it makes sense for us to move to home eventually. I share others’ concerns about our ability to make the transition successfully. I worry about the influence of special interest groups, divisive identity politics, and the burden on Town staff to effectively communicate the benefits of home rule, to establish an equitable home rule charter commission, and to draft a home rule charter that expertly captures the vision and values of Erie residents, Town staff, and elected officials.

A successful transition to home rule begins with a concerted and persistent communications strategy to educate and engage with Erie residents about the process, benefits, and drawbacks. This will require a level of trust in government that we do not currently have; it will have to be earned and will take a year or more to accomplish. Only then will I have confidence that we can assemble the charter commission and craft a home rule charter. It is my hope that we can accomplish this transition in my second term as Trustee, and that the home building community can participate as a key stakeholder in securing Erie’s economic and environmental sustainability as a home rule municipality.

There are a number of ways local policies, codes, regulations and fees add to the overall cost of housing. Also, when development occurs, there are a number of economic and benefits regarding housing supply that result. What role does residential development play in your vision for the future of Erie and what do you believe is the appropriate way for the town to guide and/or manage growth?

Erie does not have a diverse housing inventory; we are overwhelmingly comprised of single family detached housing. I’d like to see more diverse housing products offered in future developments that expand the availability of affordable/attainable housing and live-work opportunities for those that aren’t ideally suited to a 3,000 sf single-family home. Rather than placing restrictions on growth, the Town should vigorously encourage the right kind of growth to bring more innovative projects to Erie via public-private partnerships as we’re doing at the Town Center.

Affordable or inclusionary housing has become a major policy discussion in many jurisdictions as builders try to keep up with housing demand. Please share your thoughts on affordable housing and any policy ideas you have on this subject.
As a Trustee for the Town, I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t seen more development proposals come before the Board that include true affordable housing options. At best, they’ve been described as “attainable.” Our current Unified Development Code has not allowed for the diversity of development that would include affordable housing as a financially-viable component, nor have we worked with home builders to incentivize this kind of development. I’ve been inspired by our engagement with the developers at the Town Center project; the new urbanism principles applied at these and other sites will allow for a thriving, diverse community that will support several affordable housing options, from a tiny home village to compound lots and live-work situations. We cannot, however, legislate our way out of the affordable housing crisis. I’ll be looking to engage actively with the development community to provide imaginative, unique solutions to this crisis.

We must also move swiftly to guard mobile home parks as an historically affordable housing option. By restricting the zoning for existing mobile home parks to their current use, we can protect this housing option from venture capital firms looking to extract maximum revenues at the expense of an historically vulnerable population.

Water rates and water connection fees, often referred to as tap fees, are the subject of ongoing analysis, review and connection fee increases. Of course, these tap fees factor into the overall cost to develop a home and the affordability of the home to the end purchaser. What are your thoughts on water connection fees and how do you factor in the end result of increasing the cost of housing? Feel free to include any additional thoughts you have on water and water supply as well.

I am very pleased that a 2020 rate study and resulting ordinance limited the increase in water tap fees to 4%, generally inline with inflation. In 2021, we also reduced the tap fees for the small home/townhome/condominium category by $3,000 to assist home builders with offering smaller units at a lower price. I am committed to ensuring these fees stay as low as possible to offer home ownership to the widest possible audience.

As our primary water source, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT) is insufficient to meet our future water demands, especially given the changes in intensity and frequency of rainfall as a result of climate change. Town staff understands this well and have been aggressively pursing opportunities such as the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) , which has Erie as the largest beneficiary. These multiple sources also ensure our water security in case of any single source contamination, as outlined in the Town’s source water protection plan .

Metropolitan Districts play a big role toward developing communities including, but not limited to: roads, water, sewer systems, parks and open spaces, landscaping, common area amenities, safety and traffic lights, intersections, pest control and more. They also enable the ability to offer considerably more attainable/affordable housing than if they are not used when developing a community. Given that Metro Districts can be the determining factor of whether a project can actually work or not, what are your thoughts or position on this subject?

I have yet to see a Metro district bring attainable/affording housing to Erie. From my experience in the last 4 years, they have mostly been used to finance what would otherwise be considered basic infrastructure. In the future, I expect developers that bring a Metro district proposal to include significant “above and beyond” features such as unique recreational, place making, and community-building opportunities that we’ve come to expect around Town Center, Sunset, Westerly, and other developments.

I find it disingenuous when developers purport that a Metro district makes an initial home purchase more affordable for the resident only for them to be surprised several years later by ballooning Metro district taxes. This is even more troubling in the resale market, where naive home purchasers fail to account for these taxes as they budget for their home purchase.

To clarify expectations and continue the dialog on this topic, we are working to establish a Metro district policy that clearly sets expectations for developers and is protective of residents. The draft policy has already yielded substantial dialog; I look forward to further engaging with the development community to reach a balance between the concerned parties.

Given the adoption of a limited residential growth initiative in Lakewood and a limited growth initiative for the 11 Front Range communities that may come back in the future, please explain your thoughts and position on limited residential growth policies.

Erie has consistently added 400 or more dwelling units each year since 2015, and will do so for the foreseeable future. While we have diversified our revenue base and are no longer primarily reliant on building permit fees for revenue, they remain a crucial revenue source for the Town. A limited residential growth policy in Erie just won’t work; I once again look to the home builders to work collaboratively with us to bring quality, diverse development to Erie.

New or infill development often creates controversy in surrounding neighborhoods and communities. How do you look at these types of situations and what do you think is a successful model for community and developer interaction?

The Town’s comprehensive plan and zoning map are the guiding documents for Town staff, developers, and current/future residents. Residents use these documents as they purchase a home to understand what kind of development they’ll see nearby, much as developers use them to plan their projects. I’ll support new developments that meet the current comprehensive plan and zoning map, but have struggled with several infill development proposals that have come before the Board in Old Town Erie.There is a gap in the expectation of Old Town residents to maintain the “feel of Old Town” and our UDC that permits development that is out of character with the surrounding community. I hope to rectify this in 2022 to reset expectations and allow developers to clearly understand our intent in maintaining the character of Old Town.

If elected, how would you involve and work with the home building industry?

I’m very much wanting to continue to work with home builders to bring innovative, place-making developments to our Town. I’m excited to work on unique opportunities such as truly affordable housing, fossil-free developments, solar communities, and other forward-thinking ideas. I appreciate every opportunity to meet with home builders and land owners to discuss their vison, values, and plans for Erie. I’m proud of the positive relationships I’ve fostered, and am eager to continue challenging the industry to bring their best to Erie.