CO Task Force: Homeowners should pay to live in burn zones; developers/real estate industry oppose parts of plan

The Denver Post’s Bruce Finley had this article in the paper a few days ago.  Below are some highlights from the article:

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s wildfire team unveiled an overhaul of how Colorado deals with the growing problem of people building houses in forests prone to burn, shifting more of the responsibility to homeowners.

The overhaul recommends that lawmakers charge fees on homes built in woods, rate the wildfire risk of the 556,000 houses already built in burn zones on a 1-10 scale and inform insurers, and establish a state building code for use of fire-resistant materials and defensible space.

Sellers of homes would have to disclose wildfire risks, just as they must disclose flood risks. And state health officials would adjust air-quality permit rules to give greater flexibility for conducting controlled burns in overly dense forests to reduce the risk of ruinous superfires….

Protecting homes from wildfires is increasingly costly, with the state’s share going up from around $10 million a year to $48 million in 2012 and $54 million this year – some of which may be reimbursed by the federal government.

Yet construction in the mountains and foothills is accelerating. A Colorado State University study found development will cover 2.1 million acres in wildfire-prone areas by 2030, up from about 1 million today.

But parts of the plan face opposition from developers and the real estate industry.

“When you put a number 10 on a house, it can change the game. In a lot of cases, it could make property un-sellable,” said Colorado Association of Home Builders chief Amie Mayhew, a task force member.

Under the risk ratings recommendation, a home classified as high-risk would go through a “mitigation audit” to specify how to protect it against wildfire. Homeowners who do so could have their risk ratings reduced, said Barbara Kelley, director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, who ran the task force.”Homeowners in the wildland-urban interface should take on more of the responsibility” for protecting against wildfire, Kelley said.

Developers and the real estate industry also oppose a state building code unless implementation and enforcement is left up to local authorities.

And the Colorado Association of Realtors – not represented on the task force – rejects requiring disclosure of wildfire risks before home sales, vice president Rachel Nance said. House contracts could simply include a website address where buyers could conduct their own research into risks, she said.

22 Comments

  1. Matthew, as a person observing construction when I drive around Colorado, I’m not sure that it’s accurate to say that building is “accelerating”.. building went through a definite bust because of the economy and it is picking up . And of course acceleration is a change in the rate.. which is a function of the time you pick as a starting point; and I don’t know what the CSU study’s assumption was about economics, which seems pretty critical.

    I do think all this is good stuff, and Colorado is handling it in its traditional way.. getting a bunch of people together and figuring things out.

    It will be interesting to see if the conversation is the same or different about building/ rebuilding in flood prone areas.

    • Sharon, do you doubt this CSU study finding?

      “A Colorado State University study found development will cover 2.1 million acres in wildfire-prone areas by 2030, up from about 1 million today.”

      Seems like they are talking about today (ie 2013) as the starting point and about 2030.

      • Hi Matt: Those “findings” sound like pure, pure conjecture, maybe/probably based on some historical trend data. I’d be interested in how they defined “wildfire-prone” before getting too excited about what their computer told them. I’ll bet a cold beer they’re wrong, and probably by a long ways. Of course I’ll be in my 80s by then and may have to drink it through a straw.

    • Um, Dave, I understand you are trying to make a point…..But the input from the forestry sector in Colorado is clearly listed on Page 6 and 7 of the Task Force Plan, which lists the participants. Seems like far more “forestry sector” input than environmental input. Just saying….

        • Yes, you did miss something. Dave asked about the “forestry sector,” not the “timber industry.”

          I assume that the Society of American Foresters is part of the “forestry sector,” right? So too, the US Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service were part of the task force and they could be considered part of the “forestry sector” too.

          Anyway, do we want to continue spending more time spinning out on ticky tacky stuff like this (and the “acceleration” of building in the WUI in CO), or focus on the specific task force recommendations?

          • When Dave said “sector” I assumed he meant “industry”..
            Here’s the definition:

            An area of the economy in which businesses share the same or a related product or service. Economies are comprised of four sectors. The primary sector involves the extraction and harvesting of natural products from the earth (e.g., agriculture, mining and forestry).

            http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sector.asp

            Also because he said “there isn’t one.” And there are plenty of SAF members, FS employees and State Forest Service folks in Colorado.

            Some of the people are professional foresters, but they don’t work in the “forestry sector.” They work in the government sector. Except Lyle .. and he does not have a position in a forestry sector business as far as I can tell.

            So, no, there aren’t any folks from the “forestry sector” as commonly defined.

            Still if you read the article, it sounds like he’s one of those pushing them to go farther now.. so I think Lyle’s in agreement with you, Matthew.

            But other members bristled at what Kelley said could be a milquetoast report to Hickenlooper that fails to confront difficult issues.

            “We know what needs to be done. Our problem in America and Colorado is that we don’t have the corporate will to get it done,” Lyle Laverty of the Society of American Foresters said, citing increasing costs of protecting homes. “We’re all paying for that.”

            Lyle is not a shrinking violet, so I think we all should be glad he’s on the TaskForce representing the “act now” perspective.

            Anyway, as you said, let’s go back to the things the Task Force is discussing: I like what they have and the direction they’re going.

            This is one of those things where “the devils in the details.” I don’t think any of us want poor people to lose their homes due to higher insurance payments, so I would like Gil’s threshold idea. Yet I don’t want to pay extra insurance for people who choose to live there in the WUI, nor should struggling farmers on the Eastern Plains. On the other hand, most people seem more sympathetic to the many other Coloradans who are the victims of floods, which are also fairly regular and we don’t have a taskforce dealing with that yet, but perhaps we will. When something is that complicated, it just seems like the best way to deal with it is for people of good will to get together and hash out the details, and that seems to be what’s happening.

  2. Pretty good concept in my opinion. I might grandfather existing sole residences below some threshold value.

    As to the objections:

    Re: “Developers and the real estate industry also oppose a state building code unless implementation and enforcement is left up to local authorities.”
    –> This should be reworded to conclude with: ‘… left up to local authorities who the realtors are in bed with.’

    Re: “And the Colorado Association of Realtors – not represented on the task force – rejects requiring disclosure of wildfire risks before home sales, vice president Rachel Nance said. House contracts could simply include a website address where buyers could conduct their own research into risks, she said.”
    –> Translation: ‘We don’t want anyone messing with our commissions. So we are ok with burying a website deep inside a contract. Especially since buyers have already committed to sign by paying earnest money subject to forfeiture. That won’t mess with our pocket books, especially since we, the lawyers and the mortgage brokers put plenty of pressure on them to rush through the contract signing paper overload.’

    Re: ““When you put a number 10 on a house, it can change the game. In a lot of cases, it could make property un-sellable,” said Colorado Association of Home Builders chief Amie Mayhew, a task force member.”
    –> Translation: ‘A wildfire risk factor would hamper our ability to make money and that is far more important than the safety of people.’

    In case you can’t tell, I strongly believe that using the two words “Realtor” and “Integrity” together is oxymoronic.

  3. I have no problem with this. I could never figure out why someone wouldn’t spend $5,000 for thinning to save a $500,000 home. Frankly…I think the insurance industry will take care of it. And I’m sure that after all the fires in Colorado….and there will be many more…any “prospective” home shopper will be looking at the dense overhanging forest when the realtor takes him on a tour. And I’m also sure developers will react to the Market forces that have been created by the fires to manage the raw land before subdividing. I smell a market niche for foresters.

  4. Pingback: How likely is a home to burn in wildfire? New scale rates the risk | A New Century of Forest Planning

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