Gratitude, grit, hope, and opportunities: five years after the flood

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Published in the Sept 13, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Gratitude, grit, hope, and opportunities

by Amy Reinholds

At Monday’s five-year commemoration of the flood event with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, several speakers honored the people of the Lyons community for resilience and finding opportunity despite the tragedy we experienced.

Hailey Odell, read a poem, “What If” that she wrote when she was in elementary school trying to make sense of the flood in September 2013. Her poem was part of a book “Through Our Eyes: Lyons elementary School Children Remember the September 2013 Flood.”

Odell’s poem included the lines “…what if this is more than just a disaster, what if this the greatest opportunity of my life, the opportunity to link arms with someone else, someone you never thought of before…”

Governor Hickenlooper recognized Lyons for “your sense of resilience and indomitable will” and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said “your vision to find opportunity in tragedy” to build back stronger and better “speak to the best of Colorado.”5year-flood-anniversary-hickenlooper

Hickenlooper talked about the “most destructive flood in the history of the state” with $4 billion in damages, 1,800 homes damaged, and 18,000 people displaced during the flood. He said that a former governor told him right after the flood, “For people who lost so much, you can’t build back the way it was before, you’ve got to build it better.” He expressed that we are doing that in Lyons. “Everything about this community is inspiring.”

Lyons Mayor Connie Sullivan referenced the “Lyons: We got grit” bumper stickers and listed many ways that grit was represented, including “every elected official since the flood not giving up on replacing affordable housing that was lost in the flood.”

At the event Monday morning, Sept. 10, in Bohn Park, a total of nine speakers offered their memories and thanked all those who helped in Lyons recovery over the past five years. A tree was planted in Bohn Park in honor of Gerry Boland, who died in the flood.

Mindy Tallent, who owns the Stone Cup cafe with her husband, Sam Tallent, illustrated the continuing need for affordable housing with her words.

“All of our lives have changed,” she said. “The lack of affordable housing has changed the feel of this town.”

Tallent highlighted challenges as a business trying to find employees. As the housing market continues to rise, and there are fewer homes than there were before the flood, she said, “The demographic changes have made it nearly impossible to work at local businesses and afford to live here.”

“Life is different in Lyons,” Tallent said. “Many are still displaced and unable to return home.”

Yet she ended, “We are hopeful and grateful.”

By the time this column is published, the community will be coming together to commemorate the impromptu barbecue and picnic five years ago outside the Stone Cup cafe. After almost two days of immediate work as the community helped neighbors escape from the flood waters, and many neighbors temporarily moved in with friends up the hill or across town, the town utilities were shut off, and we knew we were going to have to leave town in the aftermath of the flood. People brought meat from freezers to grill outside our local neighborhood cafe on Sept. 13, 2013. Sam and Mindy Tallent hosted people bringing whatever food they had. There was plenty to share. Five years to the day, the community is holding a Flood Reflection and Community Picnic Sept. 13, 2018 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the newly rebuilt Bohn Park. Town officials will give updates on recovery progress, and all are invited to commemorate and share stories of the five-year journey.

If we follow the poem that Hailey Odell wrote as an elementary school student, we can continue our recovery with the greatest opportunity of our lives. We can link arms with people we might not have thought of before and create affordable housing to replace the flood-destroyed homes that were lost.

Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes. To get an accurate number of housing stock lost in the September 2013 flood, there are two ways to count. First, according to counts of Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts, 94 customer accounts were lost after the flood (including the 32 homes in Riverbend Mobile Home Park that were originally part of one water tap). However, some of those customer accounts were on Apple Valley Road (not in town limits), and some lots in town have more than one water tap/customer account. A second way to count is the number of flood-damaged homes in the Town of Lyons lost to both the federal buyout programs and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use), which totals 76 lost residential units. Federal buyouts totaled 44 units – including all residential units in the Foothills Mobile Home Park – and there were also 32 families who lost homes in the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, which was rezoned as a commercial wedding and lodging venue after the flood.

In March 2015, a proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498.

Some other subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, including on land that Summit Housing Group wants to purchase in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision. But so far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on six residential lots the non-profit purchased in late 2015 from Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass and his LLC, south of the former Valley Bank building (which remains on a separate commercial lot). The Lyons Board of Trustees voted in 2015 to waive water and sewer connection fees that they have control over for Habitat for Humanity. The total of about $173,500 in savings helped Habitat for Humanity meet its permitting and fees budget for the Park Street homes, keeping mortgages down to about $150,000 for homeowners. Applicants to purchase all six of the homes were selected by April of this year. To volunteer or to donate to Habitat for Humanity construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.

I’ve collaborated with some people I didn’t know before the flood, and people I never knew I would work with, and our community is now building six homes out of the 76-94 that were lost. The Town of Lyons does have the chance to see maybe 30 or 40 more new affordable homes, if we are willing to link arms and take an opportunity. I’m willing to be both hopeful and grateful like Mindy Tallent.

Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission and served as a liaison to the Special Housing Committee during its existence from April 2015-April 2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on her blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact her directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.

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Next week’s events remember where we’ve been and look to a possible future

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Published in the Sept 6, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?)

Next week’s events remember where we’ve been and look to a possible future

by Amy Reinholds

Almost five years have passed since the waters of the North and South St. Vrain Rivers revealed their immense and destructive powers in unexpected ways, changing the Town of Lyons forever.

Events next week remember where we’ve been and what we have come through. On Monday, Sept. 10, from 10-11:30 a.m., Governor John Hickenlooper and state and local officials commemorate the five-year anniversary of the flood in Bohn Park. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the Town of Lyons encourages the Lyons community to come together in Bohn Park for a five-year Flood Reflection and Community Picnic from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Town officials will give updates on recovery progress, and all are invited to commemorate and share stories of the five-year journey.

In between those two commemoration events, a Tuesday, Sept. 11, community meeting from Summit Housing Group discusses possible new affordable housing – part of our town’s flood recovery that is not yet accomplished but could be in our future. Summit is planning to purchase land in Lyons Valley Park to build affordable rental homes and invites all in the community to learn more about proposals from 6-8 p.m. at Lyons Middle/Senior High School Cafetorium.

Then, some of us who volunteered on the Housing Recovery Task Force in 2013-2015 are rounding out the week of the five-year flood anniversary by volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity build site on Friday, Sept. 14. This is a way to give back, helping construct the small amount of new affordable housing that is a reality in Lyons: 6 homes in three duplexes at 112 Park Street. If you want to gather a group to volunteer on future dates, or to donate to the construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.

These events sum up the past five years with thoughts about what we’ve come through, possibilities for the future, and hard work in the here and now.

Most of the physical scars are gone now. Government funds have reconstructed parks and roads. Homeowners have rebuilt homes, sold them to other owners, or sold them as part of the federal buyout program. Renters and mobile home owners have moved several times since then, some finding new opportunities in other towns and other states, and some managing to rent in Lyons in a rising market while their children attend school here and they work or run businesses here. One mobile home park has become a wedding venue, where people spend money on celebrating new beginnings, maybe unaware of the people who once lived there or what the land looked like in the aftermath of the flood. Another mobile home park was part of the federal buyout program, and is gradually transforming to be part of the new green space surrounding a trail to our beautiful, popular town parks.

 THE JOURNEY STARTS WITH 76-94 LOST HOMES

The Town of Lyons has weathered many challenges in the rebuilding and recovery process.

Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes. To get an accurate number of housing stock lost in the September 2013 flood, there are two ways to count. First, according to counts of Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts, 94 customer accounts were lost after the flood (including the 32 homes in Riverbend Mobile Home Park that were originally part of one water tap). However, some of those customer accounts were on Apple Valley Road (not in town limits), and some lots in town have more than one water tap/customer account. A second way to count is the number of flood-damaged homes in the Town of Lyons lost to both the federal buyout programs and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use), which totals 76 lost residential units. Federal buyouts totaled 44 units – including all residential units in the Foothills Mobile Home Park – and there were also 32 families who lost homes in the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, which was rezoned as a commercial wedding and lodging venue after the flood.

Affordable housing hit a roadblock in the flood recovery journey in March 2015. A proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498.

SIX HABITAT FOR HUMANITY HOMES UNDER CONSTRUCTION

But Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley did not give up on the Town of Lyons and its need for housing that people displaced by the flood can afford. So far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street. Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased from Craig Ferguson and his Planet Bluegrass partners at the end of 2016.

Applicants to purchase all six of the homes were selected by April of this year. Habitat for Humanity is hoping that many of the homeowners will be celebrating the new year in completed homes, but more volunteer labor and donations are needed. The preference policy gave first preference for applicants displaced as a result of the flood disaster of 2013, who maintained their primary residence in the Lyons area (80540 zip code) at the time of the flood. For income level requirements in Lyons, preference is for applicants at 60% of area median income or below (and possibly as much as 80% of the area median income was allowed for Lyons). A permanently affordable restriction means that homeowners who sell their homes in the future must sell to qualified buyers who are in that same income range.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners. Mortgages are about $150,000 (depending on some custom options). The range of monthly mortgage payments including taxes and insurance will range from about $650 to $850 for all the homeowners in Lyons, depending on income and household size. All Habitat for Humanity homeowners complete about 250 volunteer hours per adult in each household, which includes attending financial and home-ownership classes, as well as working on construction of their own and their neighbors’ homes.

POSSIBLE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOMES

Some subsidized affordable rental homes have been proposed in the past year, but no land has changed hands yet. Summit Housing Group is negotiating with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc. to purchase Lyons Valley Park subdivision Tract A of Filing 8 for building 29 affordable rental homes in multifamily buildings like duplexes and triplexes – and possibly an additional 11 single family home lots. Summit is interested in building affordable single family homes on those 11 lots, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen told the Lyons Board of Trustees in August. We’ll all find out more at Summit’s community meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Lyons Middle/Senior High School.

Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in six states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median income or less. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates.

This spring, Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or any future property owner), but not as many as the 43 that Summit had originally proposed. Lyons Valley Village, a co-housing community built in the early 2000s, is an example of multifamily density in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision.

At a May community meeting, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. But at the same meeting, the president of the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association said his attorney did not agree that any multifamily housing was allowed in the subdivision agreement and announced that the Homeowners Association was prepared to go to court.

Summit typically provides homes with rents available in four levels based on percentages of area median income (AMI), Summit president Rusty Snow explained at a Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission meeting in July. The rents are set for households with income at 30 percent or lower AMI, 40-31 percent AMI, 50-41 percent AMI, and 60-51 percent AMI. Snow gave examples of the broad range of incomes, from a one-person household with a $23,000 annual income up to a five-person household with a $70,000 annual income. Each of the four income levels have different rents, also based on family size. Examples of rents for two-bedroom apartments are $661 a month for a 30 percent AMI household, and $1,200 a month for a 60 percent AMI household.

Snow said that if Summit could acquire more land to build additional homes elsewhere in Lyons, financing could allow for more rents at the lower-income categories. He also confirmed that a preference policy like Habitat for Humanity uses would be in place for Summit rentals proposed for Lyons. People who were living in the 80540 area during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes have first priority.

Another option for possible affordable rentals that has been discussed in the past year is part of a proposal from the Greens partnership to purchase town-owned land on Hwy 66, east of Hwy 36 (adjacent to the new town public works building that is under construction). The proposal from the Greens partnership includes an innovative food agriculture business, a commercial kitchen, other business space, and affordable rental homes from Thistle Community Housing. The Greens partners include Donna Merten of Boulder-based real estate development firm Merten Development and Paul Tamburello, who has developed and consulted on several well-known projects around the Highland neighborhood of Denver and serves on the board of directors of GrowHaus, a nonprofit indoor farm and educational center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. The Lyons Board of Trustees plans another meeting with the Greens partnership to follow up this fall.

What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons? Decisions and actions in the next year could affect the rest of our journey. Since April 2015 I’ve been writing this weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the flood. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. To help shape the future of Lyons, please get involved, share your story, and attend meetings.

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End-of-summer reading list

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Published in the August 30, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

End-of-summer reading list

by Amy Reinholds

As Labor Day approaches, did you finish all your summer reading? Or are you looking for some fall books to expand your mind as school starts? I’ve updated an affordable-housing-related reading list from last summer with some new books, some that I’ve read, and some that I hope to read. Comments and suggestions are welcome at the email address listed at the end of the column. I’d love to hear your recommendations.

  • The Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, by Richard Reeves. I first heard the author interviewed on the On Point NPR podcast, and this summer, I had a chance to read his book. It’s so common for Americans to view the top 1 percent of the wealthiest people in our country as the main problem, but Reeves presents statistics that show that it’s actually the richest 20 percent of American society that is splitting society into the upper middle class and everyone else. The upper middle class – families with professional jobs – see society as merit-based, but they use every tool available to preserve the economic future of their own children, often at the expense of other people’s children. Reeves, who reveals he is a member of the upper middle class, discusses exclusionary zoning, college savings plans and admissions policies, and other local and federal policies that help the upper middle class hoard the American Dream for themselves and their own families.
  • Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund. I learned that Bill Gates is giving away copies of this book to all 2018 college graduates. He said the book describes ten instincts that keep us from seeing the world factfully, and then gives practical advice on how to overcome our biases. The instincts include fear (paying more attention to what scares us), size (being impressed by standalone numbers without comparison and context), and gap (expecting extreme differences, when most people fall somewhere in between). I’m looking forward to reading this book and learning what I can from it, even if I learn that I’m wrong.
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein. According to Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, there is a clear history of local, state, and federal housing policies mandating housing segregation based on race. The book shows that actions of the Federal Housing Administration, established in 1934, increased segregation, and it discusses the lasting effects of those actions on American society today.

You can read my list from last summer here: lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2017/06/23/summer-reading-list.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. Some subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year. But so far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. To volunteer or donate, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

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Returning home

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Returning home, an article in the program for Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, August 17-19, 2018, at Planet Bluegrass Ranch, Lyons, CO:
Folks Fest 2018 Program
(Note: After you click the link, the PDF file takes time to load in a browser window)
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Town Administrator gives updates about Lyons Valley Park Proposal

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Published in the August 15, 2018, edition of the Redstone Review. A similar column with updates was published in the Lyons Recorder on August 23, 2018.

Town Administrator gives updates about Lyons Valley Park Proposal

COMMENTARY: AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN LYONS

By Amy Reinholds
Affordable Housing Columnist
Redstone Review

LYONS – Summit Housing Group, which is considering building 29 affordable rental homes in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision Tract A, has extended its purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen told the Lyons Board of Trustees on Aug. 6.

Simonsen reported to the trustees that the original purchase and sale agreement expired July 31, and Summit and Bell extended it for two weeks. She also said that the Markel Homes option to purchase 11 to 13 lower single-family home lots near Carter Drive from Bell has expired, so Summit is also evaluating those lots. Simonsen also said that the property owner at 19617 N St. Vrain is no longer considering selling to Summit, but that Summit is still pursuing other available properties to purchase.

Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in six states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median income or less. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates.

Simonsen said that Summit plans to hold another community meeting at Lyons Middle and High School (after Labor Day when the school year is underway). At a May community meeting, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. But at the same meeting, the president of the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association said his attorneys did not agree that any multifamily housing was allowed in the subdivision agreement and announced that the Homeowners Association was prepared to go to court.

This spring, Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or someone else), but not as many as the 43 Summit had originally proposed in a request for proposals application. Lyons Valley Village, a co-housing community, is an example of existing multifamily density in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision.

Summit president Rusty Snow also gave an update over the phone to the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission July 24. He said if Summit could purchase only the Tract A Filing 8 of Lyons Valley Park, the company could still move forward with a proposal for building 29 rental homes there.

Federal disaster recovery funds in the form of Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing are available at a maximum of $100,000 per rental home, which would be $2.9 million if Summit builds 29 homes on just the Lyons Valley Park Tract A, or up to $4 million if Summit can build at least 11 units somewhere else, for a total of at least 40 units. However, Snow explained to the commissioners that the Department of Housing requires that the total funds awarded must be spent by September 2019.

Snow said that if 20 rental homes were added somewhere else in Lyons, Summit would have different financing that could allow more homes available for renters with household incomes in the lower end of the income brackets. Because of the LIHTC program, Summit typically provides homes with rents available in four levels based on percentages of area median income (AMI): households with income at 30 percent or lower AMI, 40-31 percent AMI, 50-41 percent AMI, and 60-51 percent AMI. Snow gave examples of the broad range of incomes to the Human Services Commissioners, from a one-person household with a $23,000 annual income up to a five-person household with a $70,000 annual income. Each of the four income levels have different rents, also based on family size. Examples of rents for two-bedroom apartments are $661 a month for a 30 percent AMI household, and $1,200 a month for a 60 percent AMI household.

Snow also confirmed that a preference policy like Habitat for Humanity uses would be in place for Summit rentals proposed for Lyons. People who were living in the 80540 area during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes have first priority.

Renters who are interested in getting on a waiting list will have to wait until about 120 days before construction completion to fill out applications. However, Snow said they can go to www.leasehighland.com, the property management site for Summit buildings, to see what the applications are like for other rentals built by Summit, like the homes in Longmont. If all the steps are completed and Summit purchases the land and begins construction, information about Lyons will be added to the website.

On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc, for an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, a parcel of a little more than 4 acres. A selection committee (including representatives from the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association and the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission) brought forward two finalists for the applications received for the request for proposals (RFP), and Summit was selected by the trustees in March. The purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell was then assigned from the Town of Lyons to Summit, who is working directly with the seller.

Simonsen also included in her Aug. 6 report to trustees that Lyons Mayor Connie Sullivan reached out to Paul Tamburello of the Greens partnership for a time for the trustees to meet with that group again about a proposal to purchase town-owned land on Hwy 66, east of Hwy 36. A proposal from the Greens partnership included an innovative food agriculture business, a commercial kitchen, other business space, and affordable rental homes from Thistle Community Housing.

This column is a monthly commentary (opinion column) in the Redstone Review about affordable housing after the 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints, contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, see previous columns at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

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Bringing vacation rentals and ADUs into compliance

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Published in the August 9, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Bringing vacation rentals and ADUs into compliance

by Amy Reinholds

Research from town staff found about 38 non-compliant accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the Town of Lyons, and another possible 17 more, Town Planner Paul Glasgow told the Lyons Board of Trustees on August 6.

A process for adding ADUs (small carriage houses or mother-in-law apartments) to single family home residential lots was created and modified in the Town of Lyons during the past few years, aiming to encourage more available rentals in town at lower costs because of the size, but still at market rate. The Lyons ADU ordinance (see www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units) allows small carriage houses to share utility connection fees with the main house, which saves homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs. Homeowners of ADU properties must rent for periods of 30 days or longer (for example, at least a month-to-month lease), and cannot use their properties for short-term vacation rentals. Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house (for example, basement apartments) don’t require conditional reviews like detached ADUs (for example, carriage houses), but they do require permits.

Glasgow gave an update about short-term rental and accessory dwelling unit compliance and enforcement issues during a staff report at Monday’s trustees meeting. He said staff looked at information at Town Hall about previously known ADUs, conducted an analysis of building permits for the last two years, and a visual inventory of all properties through a “windshield survey” (which looked for air conditioning or utilities on outbuildings that might indicate a separate building is used for a dwelling unit). Of those 38 identified ADUs, 19 are attached and 19 are separate buildings, Glasgow said. The other possible 17 are a combination of attached and detached.

To determine a path forward for compliance, including dealing with new construction of ADUs or renovated outbuildings, the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) is holding a public workshop next Monday, August 13, to address ADU compliance and permitting issues. Glasgow told the trustees that he plans to come back to the trustees on August 20 to report PCDC recommendations or at least next steps. PCDC meetings begin at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. The public is encouraged to attend to share their input on what is appropriate for ADUs in their neighborhoods. For example, what would be acceptable on your block? Should parking be handled a specific way? Should there be a limit of a certain number of ADUs per block for neighborhoods that are zoned low-density, one house per lot?

Neighborhoods in Lyons are facing a future where there could be twice as many homes on a street if every homeowner builds an ADU, but homeowners bought their low-density, single-family home residential (R-1) properties in Lyons with the reasonable expectation that the permitted uses for the zoning would be stable. The trade-off of neighborhoods dealing with the changed use that allows ADUs is that there might be more beneficial options for aging family members, for caregivers, or for lower-cost, market-rate rentals for local employees or grown children. But forcing neighborhoods to deal with this change without enforcement just means that new property owners who ignore the rules and the neighborhood character might rent out both homes as short-term vacation rentals, treating the neighborhood as a profit generator, and not a community where people live.

Bringing existing ADUs into compliance, something that was discussed in early 2016, was a big reason why I supported waiving additional utility connection fees to allow ADUs. Lyons Fire Protection District and Boulder County Sheriff officials had been asking for several years to know which addresses in Lyons had additional dwelling units in case of emergency. Also, enforcement of the requirement that ADUs can only be rented to long-term tenants – and not used for short-term vacation rentals – was another reason I supported the change. I knew that the rents wouldn’t be permanently affordable, and they would go up with the rising rental market, but I wanted to see more, safe rentals available for long-term tenants, who struggle to find places to live in Lyons.

Until June, all that the Town of Lyons focused on was new construction of ADUs. In the 12 months between May 2017 and May 2018, conditional use reviews were completed and approved for four new detached ADUs that went under construction in Lyons. Then, in June 2018, a conditional use review was approved for an and ADU in a previously constructed large garage building built by homeowners who rebuilt after the 2013 flood.

Before the regular meeting on August 6, the Board of Trustees had a workshop with the Lyons Fire Protection District, and Chief JJ Hoffman. After discussing general building code updates, Lyons Fire reiterated some of the fire safety concerns about increasing residential density with ADUs. They said owners of ADUs need to contact the Fire Department and submit plans, whether the ADU is built or moved to the property, or is converted from another structure. The Fire Department reserves the right not approve the request and to impose additional requirements if there are no approved turnarounds or the distance from a fire hydrant is greater than 1,000 feet. The Fire Department has agreed with the Town that all occupied structures on the property must be identified with the designation ½ added to the existing address, displayed in front of the main structure and visible from the street. The Fire Department also needs verification that flows from fire hydrants have a minimum of 1,000 gallons per minute.

The fire officials at the Aug. 6 workshop mentioned that an ADU at 310 5th Ave. that was approved in June by the Board of Trustees (contingent on the approval by Lyons Fire) is still not able to be used as an ADU and rented to another household because it is not known that the fire hydrant has enough pressure. “Until we have better data, we can’t sign off on ADUs without having 1,000 gallons per minute,” Hoffman said. Two ADUs still in the application process at 408 Reese Street and 227 Park Street also are still responding to those requirements for the required fire hydrant flow to support the increased residential density. Homeowners who need Lyons Fire approval for ADUs can pursue contracting with independent companies to verify nearby fire hydrant flow of at least 1,000 gallons per minute, or they can look at installing sprinklers.

Expanding beyond ADUs, Glasgow also gave an update to the trustees about compliance to the Town of Lyons Short-term Rental License process. To date, the Town of Lyons has received eight complete applications and issued five Short-term Rental Licenses to homeowners at 450 Vasquez Ct., 204 Ewald Ave., 109 Noland Ct., 107 Longs Peak Dr., and 336 McConnell Dr. Glasgow reported that three applications are still under review. They also reported that four homeowners of short-term vacation properties were given notice that they cannot be licensed because they are in structures that are not allowed for short-term vacation rentals: RVs or campers, in ADUs, or in homes that are not their principal residences (including a Tree House on Indian Lookout Road). Staff have denied those applications and one applicant is currently appealing the staff decision. In July, staff sent out 22 letters to all other suspected short-term vacation rentals, alerting homeowners that they need to apply for a license, and so far they have had responses from four recipients.

Compliance of short-term vacation rentals is important because it helps keep the stock of residential rentals for long-term renters who work in town and are looking for lower-cost options in smaller spaces, like roommate situations or in ADUs. If space that could go to someone struggling to find a place to rent instead goes to tourists, our town stock of rentals goes down, increasing demand, and even increasing rental prices.

Owning a home on a residential lot in the Town of Lyons, whether you purchased it recently, 15 years ago, or you inherited it from a family member, does not come with the automatic allowance to run a lodging business in that home and make money by renting it out by the night to tourists. However, running lodging businesses is perfectly acceptable on commercially zoned properties in Lyons. And now, with some limitations, renting out spaces for short-term vacation rentals in residential properties where the owners live is allowed for homeowners who get Town of Lyons Short-term Rental Licenses.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. Although some subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, so far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

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Summit says 29 affordable rentals could work on Tract A

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Published this in the August 2, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Summit says 29 affordable rentals could work on Tract A

by Amy Reinholds

Summit Housing Group is still pursuing purchasing other properties in Lyons to be able to build a total of at least 40 affordable rental homes. However, if Lyons Valley Park Tract A is the only site, the company could still move forward and build only 29 homes there, Summit president Rusty Snow said last week.

Snow gave an update over the phone to the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission on at the commissions regular July 24 meeting. Elizabeth Johnson, an architect from Lakewood who is working with Summit, attended the meeting in person. Commissioners asked questions about the income levels and rents for the proposed housing and how the process would work for renters.

Federal disaster recovery funds in the form of Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing are available at a maximum of $100,000 per rental home, which would be $2.9 million if Summit builds on just the Lyons Valley Park Tract A, or up to $4 million if Summit can build at least 11 units somewhere else, for a total of at least 40 units. However, Snow explained to the commissioners that the Department of Housing requires that the total funds awarded must be spent by September 2019.

“I don’t anticipate any issues,” he said about that deadline. He said it would fit in with a time frame of acquiring the land from Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc. “But we will have to decide whether to start construction in winter. We would try to get at least the excavation work done before winter.”

He also said that based on the funding deadline, Summit would have to decide what date is too late to continue pursuing purchasing another property. However, he and Johnson said they both hope that Summit can acquire additional land in Lyons.

“If we add 20 units [somewhere else in Lyons], we would have a difference financing that could allow moving to lower AMIs,” Snow said, referring to how to determine the specific number of homes available for renters with household incomes in the various income brackets, from 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Johnson said that a geotech report did come back for Lyons Valley Park Tract A, showing as expected that there is a lot of bedrock on the site, and no more than 29 homes would be feasible there because of the terrain. In the spring, Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or someone else), but not as many as the 43 Summit had originally proposed in a request for proposals application.

Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in 6 states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60 percent of AMI or less. The latest homes in Colorado are Centennial Park Apartments at 1205 Pace St. in Longmont. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program is a source of funding that helps developers build rental homes at lower cost. The LIHTC gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates.

On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park Inc, for an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, a parcel of a little more than 4 acres. A selection committee (including representatives from the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association and the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission) brought forward two finalists for the applications received for the request for proposals (RFP), and Summit was selected by the trustees in March. The purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell was then assigned from the Town of Lyons to Summit, who is working directly with the seller.

Because of the LIHTC program, Summit typically provides homes with rents available in four levels based on percentages of area median income (AMI): households with income at 30 percent or lower AMI, 40-31 percent AMI, 50-41 percent AMI, and 60-51 percent AMI. At the Human Services Commission meeting last week, Snow gave examples of the broad range of incomes: from a one-person household with a $23,000 annual income up to a five-person household with a $70,000 annual income. Each of the four income levels have different rents, also based on family size. Examples of rents for two-bedroom apartments are $661 a month for a 30 percent AMI household, and $1,200 a month for a 60 percent AMI household.

Commissioners and members of the public asked about the preliminary market study that Summit used to apply for the RFP, which showed a need for more rents at the 60 percent AMI level than at the 30 percent AMI level. However, social services in the Lyons community show a great need for assistance at the lower income level. Snow said that as the purchase and development process moves forward, a full market analysis from a third party will be required by Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). “We would ask the third party market analysis to get data specific to Lyons,” he said, describing that some of the preliminary housing market info in the RFP was based on census data that is not always 100% accurate or applicable on the scale of a small town like Lyons.

Snow also confirmed that a preference policy like that of Habitat for Humanity would be in place for Summit rentals proposed for Lyons. People who were living in the 80540 area during the 2013 flood and were displaced from their homes have first priority.

Renters who are interested in getting on a waiting list will have to wait until about 120 days prior to the construction completion before filling out applications. However, Snow said they can go to www.leasehighland.com, the property management site for Summit buildings, to see what the applications are like for other rentals built by Summit, including the homes in Longmont. If all the steps are completed and Summit purchases the land and begins construction, information will appear about Lyons on that website.

Summit plans to hold another community meeting in August about the updated proposal for Lyons. At a previous community meeting in May, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. Although some subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, so far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. There are currently 26 permanently affordable rental homes in the Town of Lyons (already in town before the September 2013 flood): eight apartments at Bloomfield Place near the Stone Cup cafe, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing near the post office, and six apartments at Mountain Gate on 2nd Ave, all operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority.

If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

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Aug. 13 meeting to address permitting and compliance issues for ADUs

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Published in the July 26, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Aug. 13 meeting to address permitting and compliance issues for ADUs

by Amy Reinholds

At Monday’s Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) meeting, public hearings for conditional use reviews for detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at 408 Reese St. and 227 Park St were postponed until August 27. The public hearing for review and approval of the Lyons Regional Library District development plan for a new library took the entire meeting, nearly three hours.

Also, there was no time for the PCDC commissioners to hold a public discussion about a review of permitting and compliance issues for ADUs. That workshop, which encourages the public to bring input on ADUs in town neighborhoods, was moved to the August 13 PCDC meeting.

What do you think is appropriate for ADUs on your block? What would be acceptable to you as a neighbor? Should parking be handled a specific way? Should there be a limit of a certain number of ADUs per block for neighborhoods that are zoned low-density, one house per lot?

Neighborhoods in Lyons are facing a future where there could be twice as many homes on a street if every homeowner builds an ADU, but homeowners bought their single-family residential (R-1) properties in Lyons with the reasonable expectation that the permitted uses for the zoning would be stable. The trade-off of neighborhoods dealing with the changed use that allows ADUs is that there might be more beneficial options for aging family members, for caregivers, or for lower-cost rentals for local employees or grown children. But forcing neighborhoods to deal with this change without enforcement just means that new property owners who ignore the rules and the neighborhood character might rent out both homes as short-term vacation rentals, treating the neighborhood as a profit generator, and not a community where people live.

Following through on the plan for compliance and enforcing the ADU ordinance are ethical issues, to respect other homeowners in Lyons, including long-time, multi-generational residents of our town. Bringing existing ADUs into compliance, something that was discussed in early 2016, was a big reason why I supported waiving additional utility connection fees to allow ADUs. Lyons Fire Protection District and Boulder County Sheriff officials had been asking for several years to know which addresses in Lyons had additional dwelling units in case of emergency. Also, enforcement of the requirement that ADUs can only be rented to long-term tenants – and not used for short-term vacation rentals – was another reason I supported the change. I knew that the rents wouldn’t be permanently affordable, and they would go up with the rising rental market, but I wanted to see more, safe rentals available for long-term tenants, who struggle to find places to live in Lyons.

Here’s what I shared in general about ADUs to both Town of Lyons elected trustees and to the appointed PCDC commissioners in the past month:

1) I support a moratorium on new ADUs in existing buildings until all the older cottage houses/additional detached rental units (which have been going on for years on single-family home residential lots) are brought into compliance with the ADU policy. Last year, Town of Lyons staff knew of 21 accessory units that were used as dwelling units, but were not yet brought into compliance. That number might be higher now, and I understand that town staff are compiling a current list.

2) The PCDC and the Board of Trustees should consider some standards for the maximum number of ADUs allowed per block in Town of Lyons, which should be evaluated with neighborhoods after all the existing ADUs are also counted and brought into compliance.

3) Finally, I’m adamant that our town code about short-term vacation rentals needs to be enforced in all ADUs – and the separate buildings that don’t become ADUs, like just a shed or a studio – on all our single-family home residential lots in the Town the Lyons. I got verbal confirmation from Ian Greer, the new Town of Lyons enforcement officer, that short term vacation rentals are not allowed in ADUs, and they are also not allowed in a garage or shed or separate workshop building that is just for family use and doesn’t become an ADU. He said that town code on those uses will be enforced.

I really appreciate that all Lyons residents, homeowners and renters – new-comers and people whose families have lived here for generations – can participate in this process. It’s best if we speak up and give some constructive information of what we would like to see to preserve the character of our neighborhoods. There are a lot of us who like the positive aspects of ADUs (options for aging family members or caregivers for aging in place, or lower-cost rentals for local employees or grown children), but we know there are trade-offs with increased density, and enforcement to respect the existing neighbors who bought homes in a low-density zone and don’t want to see a conversion to a hotel/lodging businesses district. We can encourage the town to make decisions that will be helpful for the neighborhoods going forward.

The original Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, established in 2013 after the flood, allowed ADUs to be permitted on single-family residential lots, but no homeowners in Lyons applied to participate in the program for those three years. With the goal of encouraging more lower-cost, market-rate rentals in town for employees of Lyons businesses, seniors, and others who need affordable housing, the Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC in early 2016 to work with the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board to look for approaches that could help encourage ADUs.

At the end of 2016, the PCDC and the Board of Trustees voted to change town code, removing the additional utility connection fees for “detached” ADUs in separate buildings on single-family residential lots in town (saving homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs). Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house don’t require conditional reviews but do require permits. You can read the ADU ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.

Until last month, all that the Town of Lyons focused on was new construction of ADUs. In the 12 months between May 2017 and May 2018, conditional use reviews were completed and approved for four new detached ADUs that went under construction in Lyons. Then, in June 2018, a conditional use review was approved for an and ADU in a previously constructed large garage building built by homeowners who rebuilt after the 2013 flood.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

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Lyons Neighbors series: Meet Stevie LaRue

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Published in the July 19, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Lyons Neighbors series: Meet Stevie LaRue

This summer and fall, look for features of some of our Lyons neighbors who live in affordable rentals. This profile is the first in the series.

Stevie LaRue first came to Lyons in 2006. He had lived in Ward, Colorado, since 1971, and originally rented a room from a family friend he knew from Ward who had a house in Lyons. “I saw him at the Folks Festival and asked if he had space available,” he said. LaRue is a long-time volunteer at Planet Bluegrass events in Lyons and Telluride.

He was still working for the Boulder County Parks Department then, although he retired soon after he moved to Lyons. LaRue lived a few different places in Lyons, and after the 2013 flood, he said he “floated around” with different situations with roommates and living where he worked on flood rebuilding.

In 2015, LaRue moved to an apartment at Walter Self Senior Housing, after what he described as about seven years on the wait list. He said the community at the small senior apartment building is one of the aspects he likes the most about living there. “Everybody gets along here,” he said, over a lunch of fajitas one Friday. “That’s rare.”

Two catered weekly lunches are sponsored each week by Boulder County Aging Services at the community room. The meals on Wednesdays and Fridays are open to all in the community, whether or not they live in the Walter Self apartments. People 60 and older receive a lower price for the lunches in a pay-as-you-can model. Those younger than 60 can join for lunch, paying a full price that is similar to the cost at other cafes and restaurants in town.

LaRue also likes the location. “It’s very central,” he said. “Oskar Blues is just a walk across the park.” An avid music fan, LaRue goes to about two or three concerts a week. He has volunteered at Rockygrass and the Folks Fest for 17 years. LaRue has two sons who live in Breckenridge, one who is a professional snowboarder, and he enjoys trips visiting them in the mountains, sometimes coordinating trips to festivals together.

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“It’s so wonderful being part of this community,” he said about Lyons as a whole. “You can wave at anybody and they wave back.”

“We all talk about how about lucky we are here,” LaRue said of his neighbors at Walter Self. “It’s a safety net. I’ve very happy with life because I don’t have to worry about finding a place.”

LaRue grew up in Springfield, Ohio. Although I have known him since 2006, and have heard his stories about being a police cadet during the turbulent 1960s and quickly changing his career path, he revealed something I never knew when we were eating lunch. When he was 11 and 12, LaRue’s family lived in Japan when his father went there for a civilian job on an Air Force base near Sapporo. “I learned Japanese,” he said. “At that age, I was like a sponge.”

Other ways he spends his spare time is creating his own art. LaRue has focused the past few years on painting portraits and other images on sandstone.

“I think God put me on this earth to be a good example and spread kindness. I found my purpose in life here in Lyons.” LaRue also volunteers to drive his neighbors who no longer drive to doctor appointments or other errands.

What are some favorite parts of Lyons that he would share with people who are new to town? The summer concert series in Sandstone Park, music at Oskar Blues, and “There’s a wonderful library, something I didn’t know about when I first moved here.”

Walter Self Senior Housing, 335 Railroad Ave., contains 12 one-bedroom apartments for people age 62 and older or with a disability. Walter Self Senior Housing was built in 2006 by the Boulder County Housing Authority, using funds from US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development program.

According to the Boulder County Housing Authority, the maximum income for one-person households ranges from $34,800 for very low income to $47,600 for low income and to $53,100 for moderate income. Renters pay 30% of their income toward their rent, which can be as low as $830 a month. The rent amount is set by USDA Rural Development.

Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis, and applicants are placed on a wait list (www.BoulderCountyHousing.org , under “Affordable Rentals,” choose “How to Apply”).

There are currently 26 permanently affordable rental homes in the Town of Lyons (already in town before the September 2013 flood): eight apartments at Bloomfield Place near the Stone Cup cafe, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing near the post office, and six apartments at Mountain Gate on 2nd Ave, all operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority. Although some subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, so far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.

 

Updates on both subsidized affordable and market-rate rental proposals in Lyons

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Published in the July 12, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Updates on both subsidized affordable and market-rate rental proposals in Lyons

by Amy Reinholds

The July 2 Lyons Board of Trustees meeting included updates about subsidized affordable rental proposals for Lyons Valley Park and 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive, and a decision about a market-rate rental in an accessory dwelling unit.

During a staff report, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen told the trustees that Summit Housing Group, which has an agreement to purchase Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, is creating a new concept design proposing to build 29 affordable rentals on that parcel. She said that Summit is also pursuing a purchase agreement for 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive and a concept plan that proposes 20 to 24 affordable townhomes there.

Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in 6 states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median incomes or less. The latest homes in Colorado are at 1205 Pace St. in Longmont. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program is a source of funding that helps developers build rental homes at lower cost. The LIHTC gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates.

On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell, for an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. The town signed a joint letter of intent between Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and David Wickum of Wickum Properties and Realty, based in Lyons. The letter stated that the Town of Lyons intended to purchase Tract A and work with public and private sectors to replace some of the housing lost in the 2013 flood, and that Wickum intended to purchase Lots 15-32 of Block 2 to develop single-family housing. A request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developers interested in partnering with the town for that Lyons Valley Park Tract A parcel went out in February. A selection committee (including representatives from the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association and the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission) brought forward two finalists who presented to the Lyons Board of Trustees, and Summit Housing Group was selected by the trustees in March. The purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell was then assigned from the Town of Lyons to Summit Housing Group, who will work directly with the seller.

Simonsen told the trustees on July 2 that Summit plans to hold another community meeting in July about the updated proposal for building affordable rental homes in Lyons. At a previous community meeting in May, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. Long said at that meeting that Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or someone else). Summit proposed rentals affordable to people who make about 60 percent of the area median income (or possibly less, depending on funding sources and investments like LIHTC).

Also at the July 2 meeting, the trustees heard a public hearing for a conditional use review for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a single-family-home lot at 310 5th Ave., owned by Randy and Georgie Pollard. The trustees voted 4-2 to approve the conditional use for the ADU, which had been previously built above a new garage that was constructed after the flood. This approval allows the homeowners of the single-family zoned lot to now rent the additional dwelling unit out to long-term tenants for a market-rate rent, instead of using it just for their own family. It also allows them to put in a full kitchen. The week before, the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) approved the conditional user review more narrowly, 3-2.

The difference between the public comment from the June 25 PCDC meeting and the July 2 Board of Trustees meeting was striking. However, the Board of Trustees did not know exactly how big the difference was in public comment – other than an overview in the PCDC minutes and a brief staff report – and the “Open & Closed Case for BOT” article in last week’s Lyons Recorder did not mention the difference in the public comment at the two meetings, either.

At the June 25 PCDC meeting, the conditional use review public hearing for the 310 5th Ave. ADU included comments from four neighbors who had concerns with the applicants bringing the conditional use review forward for an ADU now, a year after the living space above the garage was permitted and built. It appeared to the neighbors that the applicants used the process to apply for a family living space above the garage to bypass the conditional use review process for an ADU. Comments also centered around how hard it was for everyone to rebuild after the 2013 flood, although the neighbors who spoke said they shared their rebuild plans with neighbors for input and had expected the same from others.

At the July 2 trustees meeting, four friends of the applicants, and a contractor who built the garage with the living space above, all spoke in favor of the proposal and said the homeowners were good people who weren’t “devious about anything” as one friend described it. Adjacent neighbor Joe Meckle was the only close-proximity neighbor who spoke before the trustees on July 2, and he opposed the conditional use as an ADU, which allows renting the unit to tenants outside the family. He reiterated the same concerns that he communicated at the June 25 PCDC meeting that if it was known that the space would be used for a market-rate rental (not just for the homeowners’ family use), when the garage structure was planned, the neighbors would have had input in a conditional use review at that time, instead of after the building was already completed, when it was too late to modify the footprint of the building or make other changes to ease the impact on immediate neighbors.

Despite the differences in public input from June 25 to July 2, the same facts remained at the July 2 public hearing: building the garage building was within current Town of Lyons code. The large size and height of the garage with the living space above met the requirements of a maximum 30-foot height allowed under Town of Lyons building code for buildings, including garages that are part of a single-family home residential lot. The four trustees who voted in favor of this conditional use as an ADU, allowing the homeowners to now rent the second building out to long-term tenants, said they voted that way because the building was allowed under town code.

Town code that meets the goals of fairness and equity for all single-family, residential property owners within town limits is what is at stake for Lyons, not whether applicants are good people. In my opinion, these applicants are good people, as are all the property owners who have applied for ADUs. It’s unfortunate that loopholes existed that allowed this large living space, including a high-end kitchen area with a refrigerator, sink, and a dishwasher – but not a stove, an attorney for the owners stated – to be permitted and built for family use only, without the required conditional use review for an ADU. A conditional use review would have allowed public input to both the PCDC and the trustees and notified neighbors within 300 feet – before the building was constructed. When I walked by the neighborhood recently, I thought the lot at 310 5th Ave. looks like an R-2 residential lot with two single family homes on it. The two structures, one the detached garage, look like two homes of similar size on one lot, yet it is still an R-1 lot.

All the trustees at the July 2 meeting (regardless of how they voted on the 310 5th Ave. conditional use review) said that fixing town code to eliminate this kind of loophole is once again their priority, as trustees have said before. “We do need to do something about the loophole in the town ordinance,” Trustee Juli Waugh said. “I’m concerned about density in old town. I’d like to see us start to address this at our July 16 meeting.”

Trustee Mark Browning, who had advocated for fixing this problem in the town code when he was on the PCDC before being elected to the Board of Trustees said, “This is a problem that the town created. I’d like to see this ordinance fixed before we grant any other ADU approvals.”

Mayor Connie Sullivan said “The board has set into motion a zoning code review to the PCDC that might have prevented a loophole.” She also addressed broader issue of legacy non-conforming ADUs (town staff knew of 21 a year ago). “We need to get the current ADUs that are already out there approved and know what steps will be taken to get those into compliance. I know town staff has been working on this,” she said, suggesting that an update of next steps could published as a staff report at an upcoming meeting.

I’m glad to hear this from the trustees. Here’s why I think compliance with the Town of Lyons ADU code is important to affordable housing and fairness for all residents of Lyons, both homeowners and renters.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. Although other affordable homes have been proposed in the past year, so far, the only post-flood affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of 6 homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.