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Published in the November 17, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Planning commission votes 7-0 for ADU recommendations

by Amy Reinholds

The first step toward updates to Town of Lyons code that intend to encourage more mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses passed the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) on Monday.

At a Nov. 14 public hearing, the PCDC commissioners unanimously approved recommending changes to Town of Lyons code about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family residential lots in town limits. The next steps are for the Board of Trustees to hear input at public hearings for a first reading and a final reading that consider the recommended changes to current Town of Lyons ordinances. The next two regular Board of Trustees meetings are Nov. 21 and Dec. 5. Board of Trustees meetings start at 7 p.m., but check the agenda to see when the ADU public hearings are scheduled.

With the goal of encouraging more lower-cost, market-rate rentals in town for employees of Lyons businesses, seniors, and others who need affordable housing, the Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC earlier this year to work with the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board to look tools that could help. The current Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, established in 2013 after the flood, allows small apartments to be permitted on single-family residential lots, but no homeowners in Lyons have applied to participate in the program.

The PCDC is recommending changes in Town of Lyons code including allowing ADUs on single-family home lots to share tap fees with the primary house (saving property owners utility connection fees, approximately $15,000-$16,000).

In exchange for the incentive that saves homeowners money in building the ADUs, there are recommended requirements for owner occupancy and longer-term rentals. The proposed changes would also require owner occupancy in either the main house or the ADU and would require longer-term rentals of 30 days or longer. Owners would be able to rent out either the main house or the ADU, but not both at the same time. However, on a case-by-case basis, exceptions for the owner occupancy would be allowed for periods up to 2 years.

The current Lyons code requires at least one parking space be provided per ADU, and the PCDC recommendations have clearer definitions that ADUs shall not be occupied by more than one family (which is defined as any number of related people, and up to 3 unrelated people who share a household).

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 ways to encourage increasing affordable housing that were listed in the the April 2016 Lyons Affordable Housing Resolution. The resolution specifies a goal of 10% affordable housing stock in Lyons with a list of possible housing policies and incentives that future boards can use to accomplish that goal, including zoning changes, annexation conditions, deed restrictions, and incentives such as land swaps, reduced tap and permitting fees, property tax exemptions, and density bonuses.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how many homeowners will participate and build new long-term rental apartments on their lots if the Board of Trustees approves the changes recommended by the PCDC and connection fees can be shared with the main house. But if a barrier that many have said made building ADUs financially prohibitive is removed, we’ll see how many Lyons homeowners are sincere about moving forward to provide more rental opportunities. Even then, ADUs probably won’t be added in all parts of town. Some neighborhoods with homeowners associations are likely to prohibit ADUs.

It’s also important to keep in mind that more ADUs built in Lyons are only a market-rate solution, with no guarantee to remain affordable in the future. I do think that if more Town of Lyons residents build legal ADUs, there would be more rental housing stock in Lyons (if owners are prohibited from using ADUs for short-term vacation rentals). ADUs are a helpful attempt to add more rentals in Lyons, but not the magic solution that fixes all our affordable housing issues.

The town already has a total of 26 permanently affordable rentals (already in Lyons before the September 2013 flood), according to the Boulder County Housing and Human Services department: 8 apartments at Bloomfield Place, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing, and 6 apartments at Mountain Gate. Also, 6 permanently affordable townhomes are planned to be built at 2nd and Park Streets on residential lots purchased by by Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley.

The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including one mobile home park expected to close soon) and to the changed use of a second mobile home park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use).

For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers 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. This column is a weekly commentary in the Lyons Recorder. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds@ hotmail.com.