If you live or work near Colorado’s Interstate 25 corridor, then you see substantial growth evident in new housing developments south of Denver in Castle Rock and congested commuter traffic north of Denver near Fort Collins. Over the years, many city leaders have sought the advice of Greg Lopez on this growth and development because of his success as a former city manager and mayor of Parker. Lopez was mayor of Parker in 1992-1996, when it was the 7th fastest growing city in the nation. In 1992, Parker had a population of 5,000 residents, with 11,000 people in the surrounding unincorporated communities. In 2022, Parker has 65,000 residents, with 35,000 people in the surrounding communities. Parker is an exemplary model of local managed growth that created a thriving community of vibrant residential areas, quality schools, and thriving businesses. I interviewed Lopez, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and asked him to share his subject matter expertise gained from 30 years in various state-level executive positions on growing Colorado, the 8th fastest growing state in the nation. Colorado’s newly added 8th congressional district was apportioned after the 2020 US Census, indicating growth of 761,179 people since 2010. From 2010-2020, the largest growing counties are reported as the following: Broomfield (32% growth), Weld County (30% growth), and Douglas County (25% growth).
Lopez was elected Mayor of the Town of Parker in 1992 with 5,000 people that was already zoned in its Comprehensive Master Plan to grow to 100,000 people. His challenge was to implement a smart growth approach, controlling for the rate of residential development to not exceed the infrastructure and services needed to support the residents. Lopez implemented an 8-month moratorium of residential development to take time to re-evaluate rules and regulations. Ultimately, he decided to reduce the building density from 7 units per acre to 4 units per acre in order to mitigate impact on roads, schools, fire stations, and police. Smart growth also requires community and stakeholder collaboration. Lopez evoked his veto power over the city council and blocked annexation of surrounding unincorporated communities. It was a controversial veto decision, but a subsequent failed ballot initiative validated that the communities did not support annexation while city council members held conflicts of interests with developers.
Smart growth also includes a range of housing choices for all life stages and incomes, with a diversity in housing options within neighborhoods. Lopez points out that the shortage of affordable housing in Colorado is a problem. He recommends that city planners incentivize building smaller homes within communities by reducing tap fees on water and sewer lines for developers who include starter homes in neighborhoods among larger homes. This is equitable because smaller homes with two adults have less water and sewer impact than larger homes with families. Affordable housing is necessary because communities cannot thrive without service sector personnel. Lopez emphasizes that with a lack of affordable housing “the workforce can’t live where they are working.”
Labor and Training
As the former President and CEO of the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the former President/CEO of the Rocky Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council, Lopez has assessed that Colorado has the labor force needed to meet the needs of growth, but we need more skilled workers. He recommends making vocational training in schools a higher priority by bringing in the trades on career day with plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and drywall installers among other disciplines required for house construction. He also advocates for vocational training in prison so that inmates can earn an income and reintegrate into communities.
Lopez affirms that educational programs must value trades along with higher education degrees. He declares, “There is nothing wrong in working with your hands. There is nothing wrong in working a hard day. If that provides for your family, if that pays your bills, if that gives you the ability to go skiing and camping, and do all these things, there is nothing wrong with that. You don’t need to be wearing a suit. You don’t need to be working in an office for people to say you are successful.”
Development & Public Engagement
Lopez discussed the 2015 expansion of the Outlets of Castle Rock with the Promenade to illustrate typical development projects. The developer mailed residents a beautiful “vision book” of a shopping area that featured small, locally owned businesses with a farmer’s market feel and rustic buildings connected by walkable paths, fountains, and natural playscapes. Residents were promised “Lanterns and geode inspired markers will help move visitors throughout the center. Landscape elements will include soft prairie grasses with accents of lavender and rows of red bud trees, all flanking the main vehicular promenade, giving it the feel of travelling a mountain meadow road.” In stark contrast, the final project built big box stores, chain restaurants, and large parking lots.
Lopez explained this bait-and-switch is a common developer strategy, “99% of the time first vision of a developer is not what gets built.” The pretty proposal is designed to distract residents from showing up at community engagement meetings to complain to local officials about the plan that was actually submitted for approval. Lopez recommends that residents become familiar with the Comprehensive Master Plan of their communities to ensure that residents guide development according to their long-term vision, and are not co-opted by out-of-control developers. Lopez also recommends that all Planning Commission members should take a visual bus tour of their communities, to understand the symbiotic needs of both rural and urban areas in totality.
This totality view can be applied at the state level too. According to Lopez, Colorado has five major economies: energy, ranching and agriculture, technology and financial services, skiing, and tourism. Gov. Polis’ administration has prioritized legislation that benefits the Denver Tech Center, while approving legislation to restrict the oil and gas industry, and appointing commissioners who are hostile to the meat industry. Lopez points to the necessity for Colorado to promote diversity in economic vitality across the entire state. He asks, “Did you know that Pueblo has an airport, heavy rail, two major highways going right through it, a university? It has everything that a major city needs, and yet nobody knows that Pueblo can be more than what it is today.” He sees ignored opportunities in rural areas of the state.
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy according to Lopez, as a small business owner himself and former Director of the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) from 2008-2014. During his tenure at SBA, he traveled the entire state and approved funding of millions of dollars for Colorado small businesses. “According to a report issued by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2019, small businesses account for 44 percent of economic activity in the United States. Small businesses create two-thirds of new jobs and deliver 43.5 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP).”
Lopez describes small businesses as “the heart and soul of every community.” He criticizes Gov. Polis for making “essential business” classifications during the pandemic based on modeling numbers that failed to factor in quality of life. Lopez prioritizes small group interactions and gatherings with friends and neighbors as essential for restoring communities who are divided by fear. Lopez asserts that Polis panicked when he closed small businesses and subsequently “ripped the social fabric apart.” Lopez, as a conservative candidate for Colorado governor, advocates for supporting small businesses and community connections to bind people together and to begin addressing the current mental health crisis. Lopez, who is also an Air Force veteran, projects that he has the steady hand required to govern a prosperous Colorado as a “bold and courageous” leader. Lopez plans to give people the freedom to live their lives, to keep their businesses open, and to make their own health choices.
As the former Secretary and Treasurer of the E470 Highway Authority, Lopez has a depth of knowledge on traffic patterns that includes average number of vehicles per household and maximum time people are willing to commute to work and drive to a grocery store. His knowledge of road network challenges is an obvious strength. From his perspective, funneling growth on the same roads – which requires 3 to 4 years of narrowing for construction, with 3 to 4 years of concurrent population growth, resulting in wider roads – is a break-even solution without relief in congestion around the Denver metro area. He advocates for alternative corridors. If elected Governor, he will boldly pursue E470 for the state to buy it from the counties and cities who funded it, and to remove the tolls for the public, as E470 tolls paid off the debt about eight years ago. This purchase would cost $690 million, with a reallocation CDOT funds within the $40 billion state budget, and the relief would be immediate. Otherwise, a 3-hour Colorado commute will soon become more like the 5-hour commute in California.
In Colorado, smart growth must address water shortages. Non-natives of Colorado might not be aware of the unpublicized water wars between metro districts (quasi-governmental entities that tax homeowners for the cost incurred by developers for roads, water, and sewer debts) and local governments. Lopez asserts that water shortages are the most serious threat to Colorado, and that the state must build more reservoirs to store water. These are large-scale state projects which will face EPA pushback and environmental studies for disrupting wildlife and natural landscapes. This is an area of negotiation that Lopez is familiar with from the Rueter-Hess Reservoir that serves Parker and other parts of Douglas County. He declares that growth patterns and the impact on water must collaborate with land uses.
Preserving the Natural Beauty and Wildlife of Colorado
Smart growth balances residential and commercial development with the preservation of open spaces, farmland, and parks and trails. Lopez describes the context for over-development as profit driven. Developers buy agricultural land for $5,000 an acre, rezone it for residential use, and then sell lots starting at $80,000 an acre.
Lopez has concerns about the impact of increased outdoor recreation and dispersed campsites without restrooms and parking in areas such as Buena Vista. The pandemic lockdown getaway trips and increased camper sales further burdened the ecosystems with trash and ATV tracks. He shares, “There’s a new flower that Parks and Wildlife joke about. It’s called the Charmin flower.” He is alluding to the clean-up problem of toilet paper and human waste which are putting stress on wildlife. Finding the balance of access and conservation is a priority for him to preserve the spirit of Colorado.
Lopez views his candidacy for Colorado Governor as applying for the job as CEO of Colorado. He holds 30 years of experience with extensive qualifications in government with one elected position and numerous hired positions. His experiences grew from the street level as Mayor riding along with a Parker snowplow driver at 3am to see the impediments to road clearing operations, to a federal level confrontation blocking a US Congressman from unduly influencing him in his SBA role with a contract pushed by a campaign donor. His leadership has grown with Colorado over time. He humbly summarized his learning curve from age 27 to age 57 and his message to voters regarding the other candidates is “This is not a time for us to elect someone who wants to go to on-the-job training.”
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