Over before it started? Colorado anti-growth campaigner says he’s giving up on Initiative 66.

The initiative would have asked the state’s voters to decide whether to implement strict new limits on residential construction in Denver and neighboring counties.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

For a moment, it looked like an intense ideological battle for Colorado’s future began today.

Or maybe it was over as soon as it started: The man behind the polarizing “Initiative 66” campaign tells Denverite that he’s giving up.

The conflict has been brewing for months, since Daniel Hayes unveiled his plan to slow down the growth of the Front Range. If he succeeded, the state’s voters would decide whether to implement strict new limits on residential construction in Denver and neighboring counties.

The real-estate industry took the idea seriously. This week, they unveiled a new campaign through Coloradans for Responsible Reform. The group has collected $477,000 since April, including significant donations from groups representing builders, construction trades and real-estate interests, according to finance reports.

And, on Wednesday, CFRR took its first public action of the campaign: The group released a poll that said only 36 percent of likely voters would support the proposed ballot language.

“He best give up now,” said Rick Reiter, a consultant on the anti-campaign, in a news release.

Well, apparently he has.

Reached for comment, Hayes said that he had no hope of getting his item on the ballot, which would take nearly 100,000 signatures.

“It’s not going to happen. It’s too late,” he said.

He was slowed down in part by the state approval process, which kept him waiting for several months before he could start gathering the 98,000 signatures he needs. But he also blamed himself.

“You just have to start sooner. You live and learn,” he said. It was particularly difficult to find a contractor to gather signatures, he said, blaming intense competition from the 25 other initiatives that are approved for circulation.

Initiative 66 would limit growth in Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Weld and Denver counties. Under the proposal, they could only grow their housing stock by 1 percent in 2019 and 2020, after which their voters could amend or repeal the limits.

For comparison, Denver’s housing stock grew by about 2.4 percent in 2015.

Hayes helped create a similar limit in Golden back in the ’90s.

Now, he claims that his Front Range-wide plan would create higher wages and keep housing prices stable by discouraging people from moving to Colorado. Earlier, he made particular note that it would drive away the unauthorized immigrants who work in the construction industry.

“A homebuilding economy is not a good economy,” he said.

Ted Leighty, chair of the anti-Initiative 66 campaign and CEO of the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, acknowledged that Colorado’s growth has stoked some frustrations.

“Colorado goes through growing pains. We saw this in 2000 with Amendment 24,” Leighty told Denverite. “Whether they’re sitting in traffic or they’re seeing neighborhoods change, there’s a growing sense that they don’t know what to do. It can manifest in, ‘We need to do something about growth.'”

But he argued that his group’s polling shows that the public doesn’t want growth limits.

“We think it will exacerbate the housing affordability problems that Denver and Colorado are undergoing already,” he said. A Brookings Institution report supports that argument, saying permit caps raise prices and encourage larger houses.

What’s next?

Hayes could try again in 2020, he said, but he hasn’t yet made up his mind. He also is thinking about campaigning for a 2 percent sales tax on new homes to fund education.

“We’re going to end up with three L.A.s here. It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be crime-ridden. It’s not going to be worth living here,” he said. “If I didn’t live on 15 acres in the country, I’d go somewhere else.”

He also thinks, though, that an impending recession could make growth limits unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the 71-year-old is busy lifting weights, managing 32 rental units and pursuing two separate graduate degrees, he said.

Leighty wasn’t ready to let down his guard yet.

“Happy to hear that,” he said of Hayes’ apparent forfeit. “When he withdraws his measure, we’ll be even more comforted.”

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