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Published in the November 3, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

What’s up with the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan?

by Amy Reinholds

I wasn’t able to attend the community wrap-up meeting of the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan on Oct. 20 because I was out of town. (I was in Austin, Texas, staying in a registered, legal AirBnb, in a gentrified neighborhood with a high cost of living, but I’ll save that story for another column.)

How many of you attended the Oct. 20 open house or presentation? Even if you, like me, couldn’t attend, you can read the materials at www.townoflyons.com/441/Lyons-Primary-Planning-Area-Master-Plan, especially the October 20, 2016 LPPA Final Wrap-Up Meeting Presentation at www.townoflyons.com/DocumentCenter/View/834. If you really want to know what’s up with the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, read all the presentation materials – don’t just look at the pictures.

The Lyons Primary Planning Area is an area of Boulder County on the outskirts of Town of Lyons limits, where landowners in the area are allowed to petition to annex into the town, based on an agreement between the Town of Lyons and Boulder County originally, established in 2002 (before many of us even lived in Lyons).

As you can see when you read the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan website, there have been planning workshops with neighbors and members of the public, starting in March of this year for each of three subareas: the Eastern Corridor (original workshops in March-April), South St. Vrain (original workshops in May-June), and Apple Valley (original workshops in July-September). What was reported in the wrap-up presentation on Oct. 20 is based on the work from all nine of those previous workshops, conducted by consultants from Ricker|Cunningham, a practice of Real Estate Economists, and planners and engineers from Kimley-Horn, where you, or if not you, your neighbors attended and gave input.

The reason the Town of Lyons is completing a Master Plan for the Lyons Primary Planning Area is because of an Intergovernmental Agreement (also called an IGA) between the Town of Lyons and Boulder County, first established in 2002, and updated in 2012, that defines the area surrounding Lyons that landowners can petition to annex into town. The Primary Planning Area Master Plan will guide Town of Lyons decision makers, including the current and future Board of Trustees, on how to make decisions when presented with petitions for annexation. As residents of Lyons or residents in the adjacent county neighborhoods, we don’t want future decisions about how land can be used to be made ad hoc by town leaders, even if it’s years or decades before any landowners petition to annex.

As the Master Plan website describes it: “While the agreement has been in place for more than a decade, little planning for the area has occurred, and none at a level of detail sufficient to inform the decisions of elected officials. Since land use and design recommendations for a community’s extraterritorial jurisdiction must be defined and consistent with those in the current adopted master plan [the Lyons Comprehensive Plan] before properties in this location may be incorporated into the municipal boundaries, the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan (LPPA) will be used to guide future annexation and development decisions by representatives of the Town of Lyons.”

Because of my interest in finding creative ways to encourage and implement affordable housing in Lyons, I prioritized attending all three of the Eastern Corridor meetings, where there were the most opportunities for future residential, mixed in with commercial – providing workforce housing, as supported by the Town of Lyons Comprehensive Plan. I was able to attend the final Apple Valley workshop but wasn’t able to attend any of the South St. Vrain workshops. Although both the Apple Valley and South St. Vrain areas could have some small-lot residential use if land owners annex to town, it doesn’t seem likely that physical, regulatory, and economic limitations would be overcome for mixed-income housing to include many homes affordable to retired people, or people who make less than the area median income.

That’s why I think the Eastern Corridor could be the most likely part of the Primary Planning Area for new residential areas that include affordable housing for various income levels. Affordable housing, senior housing, small cottages, and mixed residential, business, and retail use were some of the land uses that the public strongly supported for the Eastern Corridor.

The Town of Lyons lost about 70 flood-destroyed homes to the federal buyout programs (including one expected mobile home park buyout) and a second mobile home park property that is no longer used as a mobile home park. Some neighbors have told me that they don’t want the town of Lyons to grow, but we’ve got to face the fact that the town has shrunk after the September 2013 flood. Shouldn’t we make wise plans to allow Lyons to get back to the size it used to be before the flood? What is the best way to define how to allow annexation in the Primary Planning Area that is already set for Lyons? What does the Chamber of Commerce and the Lyons Economic Development Commission think? I’m interested to find out. Ask your friends and neighbors who run local small businesses about whether they are able to find employees who can afford to live in Lyons.

According to previous presentations about the Primary Planning Area, build-out of undeveloped parcels only within current town boundaries will result in a budgetary deficit. Based on 72 acres within the town limits and densities for their current zoning, the balance of revenue generation from residential and non-residential was be projected to be $119,228, but total service costs to the town was projected to be $172,075 per year, resulting in a deficit of $52,846 or 31% per year.

However, it doesn’t seem likely that new residential property (affordable to lower incomes or higher incomes) in the Primary Planning area will be annexed and developed quickly. According to the Primary Planning Area website, “Based on findings from the planning process that revealed a significant number of conditions (floodways, steep slopes, conservation easements, critical habitat areas, etc), severe enough to effectively delay and increase the cost of development within properties in the Subject Area, the Town anticipates that annexation requests, if any, will be submitted on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Given the number of property owners in the LPPA, nearly 200, officials further expect that it will take several decades to realize significant levels of investment across the entire LPPA.”

The first draft of the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan is slated to go to the Lyons Board of Trustees on Nov. 21. All Board of Trustees meetings start at 7 p.m. and include periods for public input.

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 are open to the public and are supposed to be 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.