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Published in the September 16, 2015, edition of the Redstone Review.

COMMENTARY: What’s the fix for affordable housing in Lyons?

Current housing committee examines goals

By Amy Reinholds
Redstone Review

LYONS – When former members of the special housing committee first asked the Lyons Board of Trustees to create a group, they proposed there was a way to create affordable housing solutions that hadn’t been considered before. But now, five months later, after the dust has settled, there are still only two small two possible small proposals for Habitat for Humanity homes in Lyons – one for 6 townhomes on the former Valley Bank land owned by Planet Bluegrass at 302 Second Avenue and one for 2 townhomes on town owned property on Railroad Avenue. And, the current housing committee is re-evaluating its goals and purpose. Recent housing committee meetings have discussed taking an approach that I see as similar to the 2013 and 2014 work of the Housing Recovery Task Force: looking for opportunities for sites for approximately 40-60 units that can be eligible for a three-piece combo of state and federal low-income tax credit dollars and disaster recovery funds.

At the Sept. 9 special housing committee meeting, current members Justin Spencer, Wendy Miller and Martin Soosloff talked with Board of Trustees liaison Dawn Weller and town staff liaison Cody Humphrey about purpose of the group, and how to address questions about the committee’s suggestions for affordable housing at the Valley Bank site, on the downtown municipal campus area, and at the former Longmont Water Treatment plant. At the next Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 21, the committee is expected to present a report, including a strategy for building citizen support for new affordable housing proposals in Lyons. The group also briefly discussed whether a survey of Lyons residents would be helpful to learn what kind of affordable housing is supported and where.

At the past few meetings, the housing committee also has been discussing a suggestion from Humphrey that the committee could assist in drafting a lasting affordable housing policy for Lyons, including a tap fee policy for affordable housing.

Spencer reported at the Sept. 8 Board of Trustees meeting and discussed with Trustee Dan Greenberg and Mayor John O’Brien whether the housing committee can recommend a strategy of how to deal with the opinion that affordable housing is not worth doing unless it is specifically for displaced residents.

“I’m assuming you’ll be getting the same criticism of new projects, including the proposal for the Valley Bank project that is already in the pipeline. I don’t want us to get to the zoning process [for residential lots for Habitat for Humanity] and then all criticism or opposition from the public comes up then.”

Earlier in the year, Trustee Weller had expressed concerns at meetings and in a newspaper column that because proposed affordable housing in Bohn Park wouldn’t be complete for at least three years after the flood that some, many, or most of the residents would not be former Lyons residents.

Greenberg asked her on Sept 8, “Your criticism about the proposal in Bohn Park was that it wouldn’t serve displaced residents. Do you have the same concerns about the proposal for the Valley Bank site?”

“No I don’t,” Weller said. “I think everything will work out.”

Spencer and Greenberg expressed agreement with each other that affordable housing is still necessary for people who live and work in Lyons, and they also discussed that public support was needed. The housing committee will also look into the following additional issues to provide more information to the public by the time that the rezoning process begins for the former Valley Bank property planned to be sold to Habitat for Humanity: 1) how many displaced residents are capable of the home ownership model provided by Habitat for Humanity, 2) more details about the portion of the property in the 100-year floodplain, and 3) if the housing committee can do public outreach to build support for affordable housing or if it requests additional help for outreach.

A month has passed since Town Planner Bob Joseph was waiting for a submittal from the land owner, Planet Bluegrass for the rezoning and subdivision process for commercial parcel at 302 Second Avenue. Spencer told the trustees on Sept. 8 that he met briefly with Craig Ferguson who reported a positive pre-application meeting more than a month ago, but that Planet Bluegrass owners “are a little delayed finishing up some things.” Planet Bluegrass plans to sell lots for two tri-plexes to Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley (HFHSVV) after subdivision. Because HFHSVV is planning to buy the lots when they are available and use federal disaster recovery funds to build the homes, HFHSVV is responsible for completing an environmental review. A southeast portion of the land is in the 100-year floodplain, so mitigation steps for building the new homes must be detailed in the environmental review that HFHSVV completes.

Also at the Sept. 8 Board of Trustees meeting, Spencer said that maybe some people who opposed affordable housing previously will change their minds. “Perhaps for some people, their opinion will be different,” Spencer said. “There might be some people who will – deep down, inside – feel bad about opposing affordable housing in Bohn Park, even if they won’t say so publicly.”

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 at http://www.townoflyons.com/calendar. The next special housing committee meeting at the Town Hall annex (behind the Barking Dog Cafe) is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m.

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 12 years and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.