Published in the July 15, 2015, edition of the Redstone Review.
Commentary: What’s the fix for affordable housing in Lyons?
Valley Bank purchase completed, housing committee shrinks
By Amy Reinholds
LYONS – On June 26, Craig Ferguson closed on the former Valley Bank property at 302 Second Avenue, on the originally scheduled closing date. Dave Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley (HFHSVV) said earlier in June that if the subdivision and rezoning process (a responsibility of the owner) goes smoothly, he expects that his nonprofit group would be able to buy residential lots for 2 tri-plexes by the end of the calendar year. The selection process for potential homeowners could begin this fall, with construction starting in early 2016.
Ferguson, an owner of Planet Bluegrass, said in early July that his business partners are supportive of the project and that he needed their help, so he transferred ownership of the Valley Bank parcel to Planet Bluegrass. Planet Bluegrass, as the owner, would be required to go through the regular town rezoning and subdividing processes. The portion along Park Street is proposed to be rezoned as residential so the six lots can be purchased (at $50,000 each) by Habitat for Humanity, and the the former Valley Bank building is proposed to be zoned as commercial and have a business tenant or owner. A southeast portion of the land is in the 100-year floodplain, so an environmental review that describes mitigation steps is required of HFHSVV.
On June 15, the Lyons Board of Trustees voted unanimously to waive the water tap fees, sewer tap fees, and water shares fees for these six proposed Habitat for Humanity homes, totaling $173,500 in savings, helping HFHSVV meet its permitting and fees budget, which helps keeps mortgages down to around $150,000 for homeowners.
In exchange, HFHSVV commits to a preference policy for Lyons residents who lost their homes in the 2013 floods, and to creating deed restrictions – for the town or another partner to administer – that keep the homes permanently affordable with requirements for new homeowners into the future. The town requirement ensures that someone will not come in and purchase or redevelop those homes in the future at market rate with a great discount on tap fees. Without this kind of agreement, it would be impossible to ensure permanent affordability for these six lots in the future.
HFHSVV still must pay fees, totaling close to $5,500 per unit for the St. Vrain Valley School District, for electric taps, for water meters, and for construction meters (fees that the Town of Lyons is responsible for collecting but doesn’t have the legal authority to waive).
In addition to the six proposed homes on the former Valley Bank site, there could be two more Habitat for Humanity homes in Lyons. Emerson and Cody Humphrey, Lyons housing recovery coordinator, have been looking into a possible duplex on town-owned property east of the post office, already zoned for allowing that kind of residential development. Surely, the community of Lyons can do better than helping establish recovery housing for just six to eight families. Of course, eight new homes will make a big difference to those new Habitat for Humanity homeowners. But can’t our Lyons community rise above and provide some opportunities for more of the 100 households who lost so much in the September 2013 flood?
Unfortunately, as its July 9 working meeting, the special housing committee still only has four members, and only three members attended the meeting: the chair, Justin Spencer, Wendy Miller, and Martin Soosloff, who had to leave early. Nate Mohatt hasn’t been able to attend any meetings since June 18, but Susanne Ducker, a new Lyons resident who has been attending meetings, submitted an application for the committee.
With shrinking membership, the special housing committee has committed to a lot of work, with subcommittees to work with the Utilities and Engineering Board on a tap fee policy, to work with the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) on encouraging residents to build accessory dwelling units or mother-in-law apartments, to identify potential sites, and to identify options for affordable rentals and manufactured housing.
I reported to the committee that a first draft of an educational hand-out for Lyons homeowners interested in creating apartments on their properties has been created, and town staff are finalizing the information. A future workshop with town staff and the PCDC would then answer questions people have about adding a small apartment onto their property. Homeowners need to decide whether building apartments is right for them, and they need to weigh the costs and benefits, for example, whether they have $10,000-$20,000 to invest in an ADU and when they can recoup their costs – maybe as early as 2 years.
ADUs can be a market-rate option to increase housing stock. Costs can be lower than renting entire homes because the units are smaller and might be less attractive if located in basement, for example. But I have not seen likely scenarios to force affordable rents like you can with deed restrictions for owner-occupied homes or non-profit and government affordable rental programs.
Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for updates about what has and has not been accomplished to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. All housing committee meetings are open to the public and published on the Town of Lyons calendar at http://www.townoflyons.com/calendar. Working sessions are 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month at the Lyons Valley Village Community House at 8:30 p.m. The next meeting is July 16. Regular meetings are now on 2nd and 4th Wednesdays at 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall annex behind the Barking Dog. The next meeting is scheduled for July 22, but check the town calendar for updates.
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 serves as a liaison to the special housing committee. She has lived in Lyons for 11 years and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.