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Published in the December 8, 2016, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Trustees change Lyons town ordinances to encourage ADUs

by Amy Reinholds

To encourage more mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses in town, the Lyons Board of Trustees voted Dec. 5 to change to chapters of town code for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family residential lots, including removing additional utility connection fees.

The board voted unanimously to amend town code, accepting the recommended changes from the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) from Nov. 14, with one change about possible waivers for off-street parking space.

What passed

The Board of Trustees passed two ordinances to change Town of Lyons code in chapter 13 and chapter 16. The biggest change is 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). This recommendation came out of research by the PCDC and Town Staff of other municipalities in Colorado and other states, and was also agreed upon by the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board.

As previously defined in town code, ADUs are separate apartments with kitchens that can either be located in the primary residence, such as a basement, or detached in a separate building. All detached ADUs require a conditional use review for single-family residential zones. Detached ADUs can be up to 800 square feet, based on the size of the primary home. Basement ADUs can be the size of the entire basement.

The new changes require owner occupancy (of at least 6 months of the year) in either the main house or the ADU. 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.

Clearer definitions state 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).

To encourage providing rental housing for employees of local businesses (instead of short-term vacation lodging), it is required that owners only rent out the space for terms of 30 days or longer.

The policy was clarified to require 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).

The current Lyons code requires at least one off-street parking space be provided per ADU. At the Dec. 5 Board of Trustees meeting, the trustees added a clarification that for detached ADUs on smaller lots that have difficulties finding enough room for a parking space, they can ask for a waiver of the off-street parking requirement as part of the conditional use review process.

What’s to come with the PCDC

The Board of Trustees decided to pass the recommended changes that went through the public hearings with the PCDC instead of adding in changes to town code about tiny homes on wheels that the mayor suggested. However, they sent the direction to the PCDC to determine how tiny homes on wheels, but not other recreation vehicles, could be allowed as ADUs in town code.

The request to see how tiny homes (either put on foundations, or used like recreation vehicles) could work as ADUs was one of the items the trustees had directed PCDC to look at. However, the PCDC and Town Staff had separated tiny homes as a distinct issue from ADUs because of difficulties with inspection and standards (which at this time do not have standards for residential inspection like stock-built homes or mobile homes/manufactured housing do). Matt Manley, Lyons flood recovery planner, and Kathie Guckenberger, town attorney, said at the meeting that the issue was not yet reviewed in full.

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.

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.

In addition to tiny homes, the PCDC is also planning to look at short-term vacation rental policies, a registry of rentals in town for emergency response and safety, and education for landlords about ADUs and other rentals.

Tiny homes on wheels as a residential concept

Mayor Connie Sullivan talked about how tiny homes on wheels could be an easy way for homeowners to have temporary ADUs and proposed an amendment to town code that the trustees later decided to remove and instead consider in the future after input from the PCDC.

During the public comment, Kenyon Waugh, an owner of the Wee Casa tiny homes lodging and tiny home sales at River Bend, said that tiny homes would be a good solution for ADUs and would be different than other recreation vehicles. Trustee Juli Waugh, who is an owner in the business with husband Kenyon, recused herself from voting when the Trustees were considering adding an amendment to town code to include tiny homes, although she was part of the earlier discussion.

I also spoke during the public comment encouraging the trustees not to link tiny homes on wheels into the ADU decision because it would be hard for the town to separate tiny homes, which are classified as recreation vehicles, from other RV types. I don’t think it would send the right message to the community that some recreational vehicles are OK to live in and others are not.

Some of the pros for including tiny homes on wheels as ADUs that Mayor Sullivan mentioned are saved time in constructing an ADU, and the ability for homeowners to try out renting ADUs to see if they like it.

Some of the cons for including tiny homes on wheels as ADUs are the homeowners wouldn’t see an increase in property value, and what I mentioned earlier about sending a message that only these special kind of RVs are acceptable, while other RVs like vintage airstream trailers are not. I’m not sure how the town residents would respond to an approach that might seem to some like gentrification of RVs.

And placing tiny homes on foundations like mobile homes/manufactured housing is another avenue to pursue, as a few other municipalities, like Walsenberg, CO, have done. The PCDC will now be looking into these options.

Fire codes and education

Another issue that Lyons homeowners who are considering creating ADUs need to work with is the fire code from the Lyons Fire Protection District, which the Lyons Board of Trustees does not have control over. More information is available at lyonsfire.org/need-to-know/fire-inspection-permit/.

At the Board of Trustees meeting staff and trustees talked about creating a guide for people who want to build ADUs to equip them with a checklist of items that are required. An educational guide for ADU owners or others becoming landlords for the first time was something that former PCDC chair Michelle Allen suggested more than two years ago, after the first ADU policy was put into town code. However, the guide was never created.

Now Lyons has a new mayor, as well as new trustees, PCDC commissioners, and town planning staff members, so maybe this will become a reality. Education about ADUs and renting is on the to-do list of the PCDC and town planning staff.

Now that a barrier that many have said made building ADUs financially prohibitive is removed, we’ll see how many Lyons homeowners can and do move forward to build ADUs 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.

I would like to see more rental housing stock in Lyons, and I recognize ADUs as a market-rate solution that might help. But I don’t think it is a magic solution that fixes all our affordable housing issues.

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).

The town 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.

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 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.