Published in the August 17, 2016, edition of the Redstone Review.
COMMENTARY: What’s the fix for affordable housing in Lyons?
Trustees and commissions consider ADU and rental policies
By Amy Reinholds
LYONS – In the past month, affordable housing discussions in Lyons focused on rental policies in town for landlords who rent out rooms or apartments in residential neighborhoods, whether as short-term vacation rentals or as lower-cost, market-rate rentals for people who work in town.
The main issues are safety, registration, and limits on short-term vacation rentals to keep residential neighborhoods residential and available for long-term renters.
As a member of the Human Services and Aging Commission, I care about rental safety and registration, and keeping as many long-term rentals in town as possible. 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.
Consider the current situation in the town limits of Lyons. There are two policies in town code that no homeowners have applied for: The accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy, aimed at increasing long-term rentals, and the Bed and Breakfast ordinance, which allows homeowners who apply for a conditional use of their residential-zoned land to rent out rooms in their home to vacationers, as long as the home is owner-occupied.
Yet homeowners are renting out apartments in basements, garages, or outbuildings on their single-family home residential lots. And Lyons has many listings on the AirBnb website. The Lyons Fire Department and the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department have asked the Town of Lyons for a registry to know where renters (either long-term tenants or vacationers) are staying in apartments in garages or basements, because they need to know when responding to fires or other health and safety calls.
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.
Now consider what the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Utilities and Engineering Board (UEB) are discussing with town staff to bring forward as recommendations to the Board of Trustees: a registration of rentals for safety, limits on short-term vacation rentals in single-family home zones, and definitions in Lyons utility code to make it clear that apartments that are part of the ADU policy won’t require separate tap fees.
PCDC commissioners identified the biggest barrier to people participating in the ADU program as tap fees/connection costs for separate ADUs that aren’t part of the original home. At an August 8 workshop, members of the PCDC and the UEB, and town staff, all agreed on a recommended approach to clarify definitions in Lyons utility code about ADUs so they can share the tap with the main house.
PCDC chair Gregg Oetting researched ADU regulations for several other municipalities in Colorado and other states, finding 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.
The Trustees asked the PCDC and town staff to report back. Policies will be discussed at future meetings with opportunities for public comment. All town meetings are open to the public and posted at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. Also, focus groups with stakeholders are expected to be scheduled, including meetings with Town of Lyons residents who currently rent out short-term vacation rentals.
The supply of lower-cost market-rate rentals is just one piece in a much larger puzzle to solve our local need for affordable housing. Last month, there was focus on homeownership with the final Board of Trustees approval of subdivision and rezoning that allows 6 lots to be sold to Habitat for Humanity at 2nd and Park. And results from a survey that Mayor Connie Sullivan and the Board of Trustees sent out showed community support for affordable housing in the Eastern Corridor, which would probably be a mix of rentals and homeownership, subsidized with federal funds in one way or another. The town would not develop affordable housing itself but would partner with developers who build affordable housing.
Trustees said they saw the survey with 65% of respondents saying that affordable housing was “essential” or “very important” as a positive endorsement of moving forward if the opportunity presented itself to have the Town of Lyons buy and annex a parcel in the Eastern Corridor. When asked how important it is for affordable housing to be available in Lyons, 41% said “essential,” 24% “very important”, 21% said “somewhat important,” and only 13% said it was “not important.”
There have been no updates from the Board of Trustees about the Town of Lyons purchasing land in the Eastern Corridor, but last year, the Town entered into an option-to-buy contract with the City of Longmont for the former Longmont water treatment land on the north and south sides of Hwy 66, just east of Hwy 36. It turned out that Colorado wasn’t awarded any funds for a National Resilience Competition, but mixed residential and commercial could work if other funding sources are found.
Keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons after the 2013 floods. For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns posted on my blog at https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. 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.