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Published in the July 13, 2016, edition of the Redstone Review.

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

Final rezoning and subdivision approved for Habitat homes

By Amy Reinholds
Redstone Review

LYONS – With the wide range of emotions that I have experienced and witnessed about affordable housing in the past 2 ½ years in post-flood Lyons, it was unusual to feel only tired when the Board of Trustees unanimously approved final rezoning and subdivision steps for 6 Habitat for Humanity homes.

A small, sedate group of town staff, elected trustees, applicants, and an even smaller audience attended the July 5 Board of Trustees meeting, the day after a holiday weekend. By the time all documents were reviewed, and all ordinances and resolutions were approved, it was after 11 p.m.

But we will have something real to celebrate later this year and next, when Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley breaks ground behind the former Valley Bank building at 2nd and Park, when the first applicants are selected to purchase the townhomes, and when Lyons residents and future homeowners come together for volunteer build days. These final zoning and subdivision votes were one small victory for affordable housing in Lyons that I was stubbornly hoping for.

The trustees approved Ordinance 1000 on second reading, which approves the final Planned Unit Development (PUD) plan and rezones the old Valley Bank commercial property to one PUD-Commercial lot and 6 PUD-Residential lots. The trustees removed some additional conditions that would require a special review for an entertainment facility, a marijuana retail or medical center, or a restaurant/bar on the PUD-Commercial lot, at Moore’s request, treating it like any other commercial lot in town. No adjacent residential neighbors have expressed issues with any of the allowed business uses.

The 6 lots for 3 duplexes can be sold to Habitat for Humanity after the plat is recorded, and the former bank building will remain on a commercial lot. Habitat for Humanity will complete the required subdivision improvements for the residential lots, planning to begin these improvements after closing on purchasing the lots (at $50,000 each). The non-profit, which acts as a builder and a lender of no-interest loans for homeowners, has a 2-year construction plan for the 6 homes and hopes to have foundations completed by the end of 2016.

The trustees also unanimously passed Ordinance 1001 for conditionally vacating a certain right of way that the Town of Lyons owned for a portion of an alley on the Putnam Plat on the former Valley Bank parcel (an exception to a common practice to have the town give up a Lyons-owned right of way without compensation), and Resolution 2016-53, the final plat and subdivision improvement agreement between the Town Of Lyons and landowners Downtown Lyons Development, LLC.

A lot of thank yous for perseverance were exchanged. Mayor Connie Sullivan thanked Dave Emerson, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of the St Vrain Valley, and the applicants/property owners Craig Ferguson and his business partner Jerry Moore, for staying at the table with the Town of Lyons for this long process, which started in Fall 2015. Ferguson has thanked his Planet Bluegrass business partners for their support. In addition to his financial investments as a business partner, Moore has invested a lot of time in negotiations and documentation preparations since last fall. Rosi Dennett, the town planner who picked up where two other town planners had worked previously on this application, also deserves thanks for all her work.

The 6 PUD-Residential lots will be permanently affordable, based on a covenants for resale, administered by Habitat for Humanity. Emerson had described these covenants and a preference policy for applicants at a June 6 meeting. First preference is for applicants who were living in the 80540 zip code during the flood and were displaced. Second and third preferences are for applicants from surrounding areas who were displaced by the 2013 flood, and current local residents, students, and employees of 80540 who weren’t displaced. Habitat for Humanity hopes that all 6 homes will be filled with people in the primary preference category and knows of three interested applicants who have been living out of state since they were displaced by the flood.

Applicants who meet the preference requirements must also qualify for the Habitat for Humanity program. Households must demonstrate a need for housing (examples include paying more than a third of your family income on rent, not qualifying for a traditional loan, or living somewhere that is not able to be maintained for health and safety), a willingness to partner with the Habitat for Humanity program (including volunteering hours to build their home and other homes), and ability to pay the mortgage and provide a down-payment (some assistance is available). Habitat homeowners get no-interest mortgages but agree to put in up to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” depending on family size, on both their own homes and other homes in the community.

The rezoning and subdivision process for 2nd & Park has been going on since last fall, but the idea for Habitat for Humanity on this site started more than a year ago. In June 2015, Ferguson purchased the 0.76-acre parcel from Valley Bank, and the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to waive water and sewer connection fees that they have control over for the proposed Habitat for Humanity homes. The total of about $173,500 in savings will help Habitat for Humanity meet its permitting and fees budget, keeping mortgages down to about $150,000 for homeowners.

This is the 16th month that I’ve written this column for the Redstone Review, and I’ve spent more than 2 years volunteering on town committees with other citizens who wanted to see affordable housing in Lyons. What have I learned so far? Affordable housing takes a long time, and it’s not easy. But nothing happens at all if no one tries in the first place, or if no one perseveres.

Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons after the 2013 floods. Keep up with housing-related agenda items at Board of Trustees and Planning Commission meetings. All town meetings are open to the public and posted at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. If you have any questions, comments or complaints about this column, contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.

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 2014-April 2015. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.