Published in the September 22, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Trustees support ADU proposals, but more work to be done
by Amy Reinholds
The Lyons Board of Trustees expressed support for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family home lots sharing tap fees with the primary house, requiring owner occupancy in either the main house or the ADU, and requiring longer-term rentals of 30 days or longer. However, more steps are required before Town of Lyons ordinances are changed, including sending the proposed ordinance wording changes reviewed by the town attorney back to the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) for an Oct 10 public hearing. Then, there will be two public hearings before the Board of Trustees on Oct. 17 (first reading) and Nov. 7 (final reading).
That means the public will have three opportunities to comment on proposed changed town policies for ADUs, also called mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses, within the town limits of Lyons.
At the Sept. 19 meeting of the Board of Trustees, representatives from the PCDC and the Utilities and Engineering Board (UEB) met in a workshop about votes on proposed revisions to Lyons municipal code earlier this month. The UEB approved a recommendation 4-1 that ADUs, which are defined as 800 s.f. or less, should be connected to the water, wastewater, and electric utilities of the principle dwelling unit, and additional utility connection fees (approximately $15,000-$16,000) are required only for new primary dwelling units. The PCDC approved a recommendations 5-1 to revise Town code with ADU definitions, aiming to encourage more small apartments for long-term rentals at the lower end of the market: ADUs would be able to share the utilities with the main house, but the property owners would be required to live in either the ADU or the main house more than half of each calendar year, and the ADU could only be rented out for a period of time of 30 days or longer, eliminating short-term vacation rentals by the week or by the day.
Then as part of the regular agenda, the Trustees further discussed possible routes to encourage ADUs. They raised more questions for the PCDC and Town Planning staff to address at the Oct. 10 public hearing, including a discussion on whether market-rate, although smaller, homes could help meet goals for affordable housing, or if there could be ways to encourage below-market rents.
There is direction for ADUs in two documents that the PCDC, Trustees, and Town Staff are guided by. Housing Strategy 1.1.1 in the 2010 Lyons Comprehensive Plan is “Review and revise Lyons’ Land Use Code as necessary to promote: mixed-use buildings such as live/work units near downtown, accessory dwelling units such as mother-in-law apartments and caretaker residences, and a variety of lot sizes and types of homes in all residential districts.” Also, Housing goal 1.3.1 in the Lyons Recovery Action Plan includes housing that is affordable based on size or square footage. Additionally, the PCDC was directed to look at tools for encouraging increasing affordable housing that were listed in the the April 2016 Affordable Housing Ordinance, which included reducing or waiving tap fees for ADUs. All of these are market-rate solutions. A current Town of Lyons ADU policy has been in place for about two years, but no one has requested a permit.
Although encouraging ADUs is generally a free-market approach, discussion at past PCDC meetings and the Sept. 19 Board of Trustees meeting included how to encourage landlords to make ADU rentals affordable to renters with lower incomes instead of just renting at market rate. Ideas that the trustees discussed briefly included possible licensing fees or permit fees being tiered, or waived based on whether landlords building ADUs committed to renting below market rate. Town Staff will also look into whether some flood recovery funds at the county or state levels might be available for some incentives, such as low-interest loans for homeowners who commit to renting at affordable rates to lower incomes for a set period of time.
Additional questions that the Board of Trustees discussed include whether there should be a change to the number of unrelated people who can live in a home (current Town of Lyons code is 3), and whether there should be a limit on the number of people who can live in an ADU, maybe based on square footage. The PCDC had considered these limits previously and will revisit them again as part of the Oct. 10 PCDC public hearing.
Other items that will go back to the PCDC for further discussion with Town Staff include how to track separate addresses for ADUs and registration for emergency response officials, and a statement in the code that would allow homeowners to install their own separate meter to track ADU utility use, even though ADUs are sharing the utility with the main house.
The Town of Lyons also is beginning a larger discussion of short-term vacation rentals that are not in ADUs but in rooms are part of the main house. At the Sept. 19 meeting, trustees discussed support for including sales tax and even a future occupancy fee, although limits will still be discussed further. On Thursday, Sept. 29, 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 to 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. Contact Lyons Flood Recovery Planner Matthew Manley at Town Hall if you are interested in participating in the Sept. 29 focus group: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And even if you aren’t renting out rooms in your house, Town Staff who are meeting with the focus groups want some data on how Town of Lyons residents feel about short-term vacation rentals in single-family home residential areas. Before Sept. 26, you can give your input in a survey at http://www.townoflyons.com/FormCenter/Surveys-12/ShortTerm-Vacation-Rentals-STVRs-in-Lyon-60 .
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 a 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 from 2015-2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.