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Published in the July 28, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Planning Commission supports licensing vacation rentals for safety

by Amy Reinholds

Lyons needs a licensing mechanism for homeowners who rent out rooms and apartments, primarily for safety, according to a discussion at Monday’s Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) meeting.

PCDC chair Gregg Oetting and town planning staff Matt Manley and Bob Joseph met Monday, July 25, to follow up about recommendations to the Board of Trustees that PCDC and Town Staff are compiling and creating about policies for Lyons residents who rent out rooms, apartments, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

This summer, the Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC to come up with a work plan that promotes affordable housing through rentals of accessory dwelling units, including tiny homes, referring to the Affordable Housing Resolution that the Board of Trustees passed on April 18 for possible incentives and policies to implement. At the July 25 meeting, Town Staff and the PCDC chair focused first on discussing rental policies for short-term vacation rentals (for example, rented through websites like AirBnB and VRBO), based on direction Town Staff received from Mayor Connie Sullivan and the Board of Trustees.

I joined the discussion as a representative of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission. Our commission recently reported a goal to the Board of Trustees that we support affordable housing, safe accessory dwelling units, and safety for all renters in town, protections for tenants and landlords, and education that encourages safe, healthy, and fair rentals.

The Town of Lyons has a bed and breakfast ordinance, so homeowners who apply for a conditional use of their residential-zoned land can rent out rooms in a home on an online short-term vacation rental site, as long as it is owner-occupied. However, Joseph said he didn’t know of any Lyons homeowners who had applied for this conditional use.

Monday’s discussion included the analysis that homeowners renting out their entire homes as short-term vacation rentals for all months of the year is simply not allowed in any residential zone in the Town of Lyons. However, the staff and PCDC are supportive of short-term vacation rentals for part of the year if the homes are owner-occupied, or managed by registered representatives. Town Staff and PCDC will do more research to recommend an appropriate percentage of the year that could be allowed for short-term vacation rentals.

Other than the existing bed and breakfast ordinance and an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance (which was originally created for long-term rentals only) there are no other policies that address short-term vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons. The PCDC and Town Staff are crafting some recommendations for new and changed policies. Recommendations might include changing the ADU policy, which hasn’t encouraged any homeowners to apply for permits to participate and build new rental apartments.

PCDC commissioners previously identified the biggest issues as tap fees and connection costs for separate ADUs that aren’t part of the original home. Oetting researched ADU regulations for Longmont, Golden, Estes Park, Boulder, and Loveland, as well as Fresno, Calif., and found that none require separate tap fees for ADUs. Several of the regulations for the other municipalities specifically state that the main home is required to be owner-occupied. Some even state that the ADU must connect to the same utilities as the original home and not be on a separate utility billing, which encourages landlords to continue to live in the original home instead of rent out both structures to separate households.

Town staff know of 21 ADUs in Lyons, none of which are legal, because they are on R1 residential lots in town, which only allow one single-family home. Many current owners of homes with ADUs that were built without permits don’t know their apartments are illegal, and the separate buildings have been used that way for years.

Because the Lyons Fire Department and the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department need to know which structures have occupants, Town Staff and the PCDC are encouraging that the first items to focus on should be registration of addresses and locations of all rental rooms and apartments for emergency response, and safety inspections. The next step will be looking into registration program with a grace period for owners of existing unpermitted ADUs or bed and breakfast rooms for rent.

The discussion also focused on how homeowners who rent out rooms or apartments will be protecting themselves if they complete safety inspections and register locations with emergency response – eliminating risks of lawsuits if their rooms or apartments are not safe and something unexpected and unfortunate happens to a vacationer or another renter while staying there.

More PDCD workshops on this topic will be scheduled, including meeting with the Utilities and Engineering Board for further discussion and sharing research on tap fees for ADUs in other towns. Focus groups with stakeholders are expected to be scheduled, including meetings with Town of Lyons residents who currently rent rooms or apartments for short-term vacation rentals on sites like AirBnB and VRBO.

Keep up with upcoming Board of Trustees and PCDC meetings and all town meetings, which are open to the public and posted on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. And keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read my previous columns at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please 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 in the past year. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.