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Published in the August 4, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Trustees direct PCDC and staff to draft short-term vacation rental policy

by Amy Reinholds

If you look on websites like Airbnb, you’ll see several rooms or homes available for vacationers to rent by the night in Lyons, but none of those rentals are regulated. No one has applied through the Town of Lyons Bed and Breakfast ordinance for a conditional use of their residential-zoned land. And emergency response officials have asked the Town of Lyons for a registry to know where renters are staying in apartments in garages or basements, as a matter of public safety.

At the Monday, Aug. 1 Board of Trustees meeting, the trustees directed the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and Town staff to draft a policy for short-term vacation rentals in Lyons.

After reading a document presented by consulting town planner Bob Joseph, there was consensus from the mayor and trustees that there should be limits on the amount of time that homeowners can rent out rooms or apartments as short-term vacation rentals in their single-family home zoned residential lots.

The main reasons discussed for this direction was the shortage of year-round rentals for people who work in town, and the goal to keep Lyons residential neighbors as residential. Joseph’s document stated “Although not mutually exclusive, the goals of increased housing (especially rentals) and the possible goal of allowing short-term vacation rentals are at odds with each other. Short-term vacation rentals will consume available housing stock, and might act to drive up housing costs in the long run.”

The trustees were also interested in seeing owner-occupied short-term vacation rentals because it doesn’t change the nature of residential neighborhoods. They wanted the staff and PCDC to recommend a policy for what should be allowed for short-term vacation rentals if done year-round in residential zones.

The PCDC commissioners and their Board of Trustees liaison Barney Dreistadt have discussed how the PCDC and the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board should hold a joint workshop to become better informed about their respective concerns around utility connection fees and water taps for ADUs. On Monday night, the Board of Trustees directed Joseph and the PCDC to make that joint workshop the next step.

The trustees also want the PCDC and town staff to recommend a registration program for public safety for homeowners who rent out rooms or apartments in their houses or garages. How broad the registration program is (if it starts with just short-term vacation rentals, or includes all accessory dwelling unit rentals in town) is up to PCDC to recommend. The registration program would allow fire and police officials to know where people are living in town, even if just vacationers there for a few nights. Trustees discussed how other communities have registration programs that make sure the landlords have homeowners insurance.

Joseph’s report stated that one approach for short-term vacation rentals could be to simply enforce the existing conditional use review process on owner occupied short-term vacation rentals under the Bed and Breakfast ordinance, while enforcing the current prohibition of those that are full time commercial operations that are never owner occupied.

Trustee Juli Waugh said she would want to find out where short-term vacation rentals are and limit where they can be in town. Other trustees suggested there could be limits on what would require the conditional use review under the Bed and Breakfast ordinance and determine what number of weeks of short-term vacation rentals would be allowed “for free,” such as two weeks a year.

Town planning staff have met with the PCDC during the past month to discuss possible policies for both short-term vacation rentals and accessory dwelling units (ADUs, or apartments in basements or garages) in Lyons. They reviewed policies in other municipalities in Colorado. The document that Joseph prepared said that short-term vacation rentals are known to be difficult and time consuming to regulate successfully. Fees associated with annual permits or fines for violations are usually set high enough to recover the costs of administering and enforcing the program.

The document recommends that use of ADUs as short-term vacation rentals should be prohibited if ADUs are to remain useful as a housing option. It also states that the water service agreement with the City of Longmont should be reviewed to see if it places any constraints on the possible discount of ADU water service by the Town. The trustees agreed.

Joseph’s staff report said that a grace period along with other incentives to inspect and permit existing un-permitted ADUs should be considered. However, it also said that the Town of Lyons cannot absorb the cost of inspection by Town staff, as is done in some larger municipalities that employ full time in-house building inspectors on staff.

Joseph’s report stated that the use of HUD-inspected manufactured housing units might be an option for detached ADUs, but some related design guidelines might be useful, and the use of “Tiny Home” RVs as ADUs would require a significant local amendment to the building code and possibly related design guidelines.

There is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) policy in Lyons (intended to increase the stock of long-term rentals in town), but no homeowners in Lyons have applied to participate in the program. PCDC commissioners previously identified the biggest issues as tap fees and connection costs for separate ADUs that aren’t part of the original home. PCDC chair Gregg 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 renting 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 previously built without permits don’t know their apartments are illegal, and the separate buildings have been used that way for years.

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 previous Lyons Recorder columns at www.lyonsrecorder.com/index.php/opinions/40-housing. 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.