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Published in the August 25, 2016 edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Public can comment about ADUs at Sept. 12 Planning Commission meeting

by Amy Reinholds

Whether you call them mother-in-law apartments, carriage houses, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), or garage (or basement) apartments, you have a chance in September to help shape policy for how they can be built and used in single-family residential lots in Lyons town limits.

A Sept. 12 public hearing for the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) will give members of the public a chance to comment about proposed recommended changes to town zoning code about ADUs. As you may know, town staff and members of the PCDC and the Utilities and Engineering Board (UEB) have been working on some recommended changes in policy over the past month or two, responding to direction from the Board of Trustees. The Sept. 12 public hearing for the PCDC is from 7-9 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.

Earlier in the 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, referring to the Affordable Housing Resolution that the Board of Trustees passed on April 18 for possible incentives and policies to implement (see https://lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/outgoing-trustees-pass-affordable-housing-resolution ).

This Monday, Aug. 22, all seven commissioners (including two newly appointed members) on the PCDC met with Lyons planning staff Matt Manley and Bob Joseph to shape the types of recommendations they will bring to the public and to the Board of Trustees in September.

Manley summed up the discussion about affordability and ADU and rental policies when he said “This is not a silver bullet for affordable housing,” but the discussion at Monday’s meeting focused on how policies that encourage more safe, legal, small apartments in town can add more market-rate but lower-priced rentals. If the time that landlords can rent out for short-term vacation rentals is limited, hopefully, new apartments can be available for people who work in town and want to find a small place on the lower-end of the rental market. They also talked about how ADUs can be free or discounted housing for family members (for example, actual mother-in-law apartments) or could support aging-in-place as options for live-in caregivers for people who live in the primary houses.

Here’s a summary of the types of policy recommendations the PCDC is preparing for consideration in September:

  • The property with the ADU should be owner-occupied. The owner should either live in the main house or in the ADU for a period of time such as more than 6 months every calendar year.
  • ADUs should be primarily for long-term rentals. However the PCDC will recommend a range of options for limited short-term vacation rentals to the Board of Trustees to choose from: no vacation rentals at all (current policy), allowed for a range of days each calendar year, such as 14 or 30 days, or allowed for any period of time (which would work against the Affordable Housing Resolution goals for increasing rentals that the Board of Trustees passed in April).
  • ADUs, whether in the main house or elsewhere on the property, should be able to share the water taps and utilities connections with the main house. The PCDC has found this approach to be consistent with municipalities across Colorado and the country.
  • The UEB’s role is to recommend specific water tap fees and utility connection fees for the ADUs. However, the PCDC encourages that utility tap/connection fees for accessory apartments should be proportional to the size, especially with the recommendation from the PCDC that they share the tap with the main house. At earlier meetings, staff and commissioners started out with the idea of waiving tap fees completely for the ADUs if they shared the taps with the main house. However they are investigating the costs and policies of other towns further so fee changes don’t burden the Town of Lyons utilities. Instead of being waived completely, it’s possible ADU tap fees will be smaller, maybe based on size, instead of the current regulations that are interpreted as requiring the same fee as a tap for a regular single-family home.
  • Lyons town staff will hold a focus group for people who currently rent out their homes, or part of their homes for short term vacation rentals (such as on AirBnB or VRBO websites). If people are renting out rooms or homes in a single-family residential zoned lot in the Town of Lyons, it is not currently a use allowed by right. However, those who participate in the focus group will have a chance to shape future short-term vacation rental policy that will allow some vacation rentals in neighborhoods. It’s a chance to decide what is reasonable for number of people in a vacation rental and how many days a year it is rented out, develop a code of ethics for landlords, and get important advice for dealing with homeowners insurance companies that might drop or not cover homeowners who rent rooms or homes as short-term vacation rentals. Any homeowner who rents out rooms needs to pay attention to homeowners insurance.
  • After new policies are put in place, Lyons town staff propose educational materials and workshops for homeowners who build ADUs and become landlords.

Do you have strong feelings or interest in any of these ideas? Make sure to attend the Sept 12 PCDC public hearing!

While rental policies can help Lyons, we still need other affordable housing options that are subsidized and permanently affordable, not dependent on the market. 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. All town meetings of the elected Lyons Board of Trustees and appointed town boards and commissions like the PCDC are open to the public and posted on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. 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.