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Published in the December 1, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Planning commission reviews guidance for annexing

by Amy Reinholds

Opinions varied at a Nov. 28  workshop about how to balance the rights of landowners who want to annex to the Town of Lyons with the wishes of adjacent neighbors – both now and in the future of the Lyons area. But planning commissioners all seemed to agree that the best plan to guide annexation will both help the fiscal health of Lyons and help maintain the small-town nature of Lyons.

The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) devoted nearly three hours Nov. 28 to reviewing and discussing how the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan can be a guiding document for future annexation requests. They gave input and recommended changes for a Master Plan document to Anne Ricker of Ricker|Cunningham, a practice of Real Estate Economists that has been leading the Primary Planning Area planning process, and decided to continue the discussion at another workshop. The next workshop is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12., 7-9 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.

A public hearing for the PCDC to hear public input about the Primary Planning Area Master Plan and consider a motion to adopt the plan as an amendment to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan is expected in January. Then, depending on what action the PCDC takes, a public hearing could be before the Lyons Board of Trustees in January to ratify the amendment to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan.

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. 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 (or their heirs) petition to annex.

PCDC commissioners focused on the need to have Primary Planning Master Plan to guide future annexation decisions and promote a fiscally balanced town budget in the future. Financial models have shown that Lyons could face operating in a deficit, increased taxes, and shrinking options for housing that the local workforce can afford, if the town does not plan properly for the kinds of annexation and new homes or businesses that are appropriate and feasible.

There are many financial barriers now for landowners and potential development partners who want to annex to Lyons and build new homes or businesses, so it’s not likely there will be many annexations in the near future. However, a few landowners have recently contacted the Town of Lyons expressing interest in annexing. The last parcels annexed to Town of Lyons were a few years before the 2013 flood, both in the Eastern Corridor area: Grace Design, which designs and manufactures recording studio equipment, and the Lyons Farmette, which provides community supported agriculture shares and a wedding venue.

The Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan process started back in March of this year with planning workshops with neighbors and members of the public for each of three subareas of Lyons Primary Planning Area: 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 a public wrap-up presentation on Oct. 20 was 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 Lyons residents and planning area neighbors attended and gave input.

The Primary Planning Area planning process was an opportunity for public engagement and sharing information in two directions: consultants bringing analysis and expertise and inform the public about what is possible and feasible, and the public, including residents of the Primary Planning Area or other parts of town, and Town of Lyons staff, bringing local knowledge of what is feasible and reasonable for the community.

In general, the types of land use that are considered for the Eastern Corridor are mixed use, commercial along Highway 66, small-lot residential away from the highway, mixed industrial office, and general industrial. For both the South St. Vrain and the Apple Valley areas, the considered land uses for future annexations are small-lot residential, and estate residential.

Materials, including drafts of the final Primary Planning Area Master Plan will be available on the www.townoflyons.com/441/Lyons-Primary-Planning-Area-Master-Plan website and also in meeting materials for the PCDC and the Board of Trustees public hearings that are posted at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter. If you want to read the current Lyons Comprehensive Plan, it is available here: www.townoflyons.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/155.

All references to the planning area in the Lyons Comprehensive Plan, the overall planning document for the Town of Lyons, will be included in the Primary Planning Area Master Plan.

The PCDC commissioners, Matt Manley of the Town of Lyons planning staff, and Ricker also wanted to clarify in the document that annexation decisions should also be guided by the Lyons Affordable Housing Resolution that the Lyons Board of Trustees passed in April 2016. The resolution states a goal of 10% of the housing stock in the Town of Lyons should be affordable for those who make 80% of the area medial income or less and that a majority of those units should be affordable to those who make 60% of the area median income or less.

The area median income for the Boulder County area is currently about $75,900 for a 2-person household or $94,800 for a 4-person household (numbers vary, depending on other household sizes). The area median income changes every year, but the examples I give here for a 2-person household and for a 4-person household are based on the current area median income in the Boulder County area.

A household making 80% of the area median income (approximately $60,720 for a household of 2 or $75,840 for a household of 4) can “afford” a home that doesn’t cost more than 30 percent of monthly income in rent or mortgage payment. For a household of 2 that makes $60,720 a year, an affordable monthly housing cost is $1,518 or less. For a household of 4 that makes $75,840 a year, an affordable monthly housing cost is $1,896 or less.

A household making 60% of the area median income (approximately $45,540 for a household of 2 or $56,880 for a household of 4) can “afford” a home that doesn’t cost more than 30 percent of monthly income in rent or mortgage payment. For a household of 2 that makes $45,540 a year, an affordable monthly housing cost is $1,139 or less. For a household of 4 that makes $56,880 a year, an affordable monthly housing cost is $1,422 or less.

Since the September 2013 flood, the Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including one buy out of a 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). In March 2015, a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) in 5-7 acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election. When new townhomes are constructed by Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley at 2nd and Park Streets, Lyons will have 6 new permanently affordable units available for homeownership for people who lost their homes in the 2013 flood.

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.

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