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Published in the January 5, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Upcoming meetings on annexation plan, vacation rentals, Habitat for Humanity

by Amy Reinholds

At the start of the new year, the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) has a packed agenda. In January, PCDC meetings will cover several issues that might affect affordable housing in Lyons, including the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan for future annexation to Town of Lyons and a policy for short-term vacation rentals in town limits.

And don’t forget that this Saturday, Jan. 7, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is holding a special orientation for people who lost their homes in the 80540 zip code area during the 2013 flood and want to be homeowners at new Habitat for Humanity homes to be built at 2nd and Park in Lyons. Either this in-person orientation, or an online orientation (available Jan 3-10), is required before someone can apply. For more information, contact Erin Minaya at eminaya@stvrainhabitat.org or 303-682-2485 x 104 and see www.stvrainhabitat.org. You can read more about how potential applicants can prepare at Steps for potential Habitat for Humanity homeowners.

The next two PCDC meetings, Jan. 9 and Jan. 23, will continue work on the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, which will guide current and future town leaders in making decisions when landowners petition to annex into town limits. Then a special public workshop on short-term vacation rentals is scheduled for Jan. 30. PCDC meetings, whether public hearings (with times for members of the public to comment) or workshops (discussions of PCDC commissioners) start at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. Check the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx.

Before the Primary Planning Area Master Plan is added as an amendment to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan (the overall planning document for the Town of Lyons) the PCDC has been reviewing drafts since late November from Ricker|Cunningham, a practice of Real Estate Economists, and planners and engineers from Kimley-Horn, consultants hired by the town to conduct the master plan process. After the final draft of the Primary Planning Area Master Plan is ready, the next steps will be official public hearings before the PCDC and the Board of Trustees. After the PCDC adopts the plan as an amendment to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan, the next step is for the Lyons Board of Trustees to ratify the amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

At the end of December, the PCDC discussed a short-term vacation rental policy for the Town of Lyons. The commission also discussed tiny homes as detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), something Mayor Connie Sullivan and the Board of Trustees requested in December, and heard input from a tiny home developer, according to PCDC chair Gregg Oetting. Determining if and how tiny homes on wheels can be included in the Town of Lyons ADU code will be scheduled at a PCDC meeting in February.

As you may know, 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 Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan process started in March 2016 with planning workshops with neighbors and other 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). A tenth meeting in October was a public wrap-up presentation, based on the work from all nine of those previous workshops, where Lyons residents and planning area neighbors attended and gave input.

With the public hearing before the PCDC this month, and a public hearing before the Board of Trustees after that, the public has at least two additional times to give input on guidelines for future annexations to the Town of Lyons, in addition to the 10 workshops that happened in 2016.

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.

Economic health of Lyons, and post-flood replacement housing that is affordable for people who work in town, were two of the biggest challenges and goals for the Primary Planning Area Master Plan. This Master Plan is directed by goals in the Lyons Comprehensive Plan, the Lyons Recovery Action Plan, and the Lyons Affordable Housing Resolution. The Primary Planning Area Master Plan is intended 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, Town of Lyons staff members have said that 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.

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.

Other guiding principles in the draft Primary Planning Area Master Plan include that land uses and product types will advance the Town’s goal for a more diverse economy (as expressed in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan), homes in the area will address the needs of residents at different life stages and income levels, and mobility improvements in the area will be both vehicular and non-vehicular and will connect to activity centers within the town. Also, the scale of development will balance economic feasibility with environmental sensitivity and physical context, and natural and open spaces will be integrated into new developments while protected from potential adverse impacts.

Information in the preliminary drafts list hurdles that prevent or delay development in the physically constrained environment of the Primary Planning Area, including few contiguous acres under single ownership, limited locations for viable commercial development, public land, cost of development, town policies and practices such as the vote on potential annexations of 5-acres or greater, elements of multi-jurisdictional agreements like the Intergovernmental Agreement with Boulder County, and existing and proposed locations of public facilities, such as the town public works building.

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.

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.