Four City Council seats up for grabs as issues of growth and regulation abound
Construction is pictured on E. Elm Street in Lafayette in July. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)
Brad Wiesley (File Photo)
Four seats on Lafayette’s seven-member City Council will be up for grabs this November in an election that could overhaul the city’s approach to an array of issues gripping local consciousness.
Lafayette Mayor Pro-Tem Gustavo Reyna, Councilman Brad Wiesley and Councilwomen Merrily Mazza and Chelsea Behanna — the latter was appointed by council to replace former Councilman Tom Dowling last summer — will see their current terms end in November.
A future City Council is likely to see issues already present in Lafayette — questions over oil and gas regulations and retooled growth management, among others — increase in scope and with perhaps greater urgency, rather than new issues wholly foreign to the Front Range.
Merrily Mazza (File Photo)
Over the last several years, city leaders have typically approached decisions innate to Lafayette life with the left-leaning, progressive sensibilities often associated with the county at large: an eye on historic preservation against a building boom, stricter industry regulation and an emphasis on citywide social programs.
The election may serve as a referendum on such issues; a growing opposition along eastern Boulder County’s fringes — one spotlighted amid recent oil and gas debate — could spur a change in the old guard.
However, a complete identity shift among Lafayette’s leadership is unlikely.
At least one seat is guaranteed to see a fresh face — Wiesley is nearing the end of a second, four-year term and is ineligible for another under city code. The other three are campaigning for re-election.
Debate over such topics has consumed discussion within council chambers over the last year, with little sign of slowing anytime soon.
Gustavo Reyna (Courtesy Photo)
"The biggest issue right now is managing our growth in an intelligent way," Reyna said Friday. "A little bit of balance between growth that is sustainable and ensuring that there is enough affordable housing so that we’re not changing the social fabric of the town, and making sure the working class doesn’t get squeezed out."
Between 2010 and 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in March, Lafayette’s population increased by 2,995, to a total of 27,548 — a 12 percent surge.
It’s a microcosm of the growth occurring at the county level, and with the increase in people has come the need for homes to live in.
Chelsea Behanna (Courtesy Photo)
Between 2009 and 2016, the city gained 1,362 dwellings within its borders — most by developers with an eye for maximizing profit through dense "urban sprawl," locals have argued. Almost 1,700 permits are expected to be issued through 2018.
With such growth comes the fear of affordability being tossed to the wayside, Reyna and other like-minded officials say, and the void threatens to water down the city’s diversity.
"We are losing affordable housing, and what we do have is not always very good quality," he said. "The whole idea in the effort to create affordable housing is precisely about (preserving diversity). Boulder County is such a wealthy county that people don’t realize that 12 to 15 percent are living below the poverty line."
Lafayette officials approved a string of development plans in recent months aimed at ushering in large-scale, affordable housing, including the SoLa Subdivision, slated to bring 260 units to the city’s southern edge, and a $3.5 million, 24-acre land deal with Flatirons Community Church with plans for up to 500 units.
The latter development will be shaped over the next few years under a potentially fresh-faced council.
A candidate who embraces abounding development in the name of tax revenue is unlikely to be welcomed by Lafayette voters anytime soon; though signs of dissension exist.
Opposition to efforts aimed at reshaping zoning codes in Old Town — and a 90-day development moratorium in the process — have signaled residents’ reluctance to such measures amid a countywide housing crisis.
"We want to make sure that the kids we have graduating from Centaurus (High School) can afford to come back and live here later in life," Behanna said, adding that outreach to the city’s Latino population is a necessary component.
Behanna said she hopes to examine preserving the city’s mobile home parks in pursuit of affordable housing, an approach similar to Louisville’s recent efforts.
Outside of development, perhaps no issue has drawn as much scrutiny as the call for stricter oil and gas regulations within Lafayette. The city spearheaded the issue earlier this year with its "Climate Bill of Rights and Protections," an ordinance that would have sanctioned direct-action protests in response to oil and gas operations.
The bill was essentially stripped of its teeth in the final hour, to the disappointment of Mazza, who championed the measure’s original iteration. Despite the bill’s failure, she said initiatives aimed at stymieing fracking will abound over the next four years.
How to run for Lafayette City Council
Must be a current Lafayette resident for at least one year
Must be a registered elector
Must be at least 18 years old
Must not be in default to the city or any other government unit of the state
Candidates must circulate and submit a nomination petition containing signatures of at least 25 registered electors who reside within the city limits of Lafayette. Candidate petition packets and must be picked up from the City Clerk’s Office.
Nomination petitions must be returned by Aug. 28
"Debate surrounding oil and gas is certainly not going to dissipate," she said. "If anything, it’s only going to get more heated because it’s going to start to involve unincorporated Boulder County and open space.
"I don’t subscribe to this golden dome theory, where people think that nothing will happen to us in Lafayette."
Lafayette may soon draft an ordinance requiring oil and gas operators to map their pipelines throughout Lafayette, according to Mazza, legislation that failed at the state level.
Attitudes toward oil and gas development among Lafayette constituents have remained relatively steadfast. However, the current council, a board almost entirely in favor of stricter regulation, was unable to pass a landmark measure earlier this year.
Any dissention among future council members — especially at a time when the county’s moratorium no longer exists, and companies are planning 200 oil wells near the outskirts of the city — could prove troublesome for any lasting regulation efforts.
A mixture of new, conflicting ideas could prove beneficial for a council facing modern issues, Reyna said of resident interest in running for a council seat — especially from younger demographics.
"Sometimes you need to bring new thinking into the council," he said. "Experience and knowledge of the whole history of how things become what they are now is important, but so is having new people who are asking, ‘Why not trying something different?’ I like that balance."
Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, email@example.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn