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Published in the March 2, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Everybody wants to go to heaven

by Amy Reinholds

I’ve got a song in my head: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” written by Don Nix and performed by Alison Krauss and other traditional folk musicians.

This week I have updates on a initiatives in the works at the state and local levels, which can be summed up as “Everybody wants affordable housing, but…” There is a “but,” or maybe several of them. Maybe “but nobody knows how,” “but nobody has a quick fix,” “but nobody wants to pay,” or “but nobody can agree what it is.”

In these efforts for affordable housing in state and local ordinances, there is no proven path on whether the commitment will follow through the political process, or if the plans will actually work to increase housing that is affordable to people in mid-to-lower incomes. But it’s useful to know and follow the attempts that are underway, and to learn from both successes and failures.

Colorado Senate Bill 156

On the state level, there was some action in a Senate committee on a bill that is hoped to encourage more condos in Colorado. On Monday, Feb. 27, Colorado Senate Bill 156, sponsored by Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), passed through the Senate Committee on Business, Labor, & Technology with bipartisan support, and it was referred amended to Senate. The bill intends to reduce the number of lawsuits for faulty construction of condominiums in current Colorado construction defect law, a barrier some developers have blamed for slowing down condo development in Colorado. Supporters of reforming the constructions defect laws hope to encourage more condo development in Colorado, which is a lower-cost home-ownership opportunity.

The Homeownership Opportunity Alliance – a diverse collaboration of business groups, affordable housing nonprofits, developers, contractors, and metro area mayors (including the Town of Lyons mayor) – supports Senate Bill 156. For the bill to succeed, the Republican sponsors need Democrat supporters, balancing the goal to reduce the number of lawsuits filed for faulty construction but still to protect the consumer rights of people buying condos in Colorado. According to the Colorado Statesman, one Democrat on the committee, Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, joined four Republicans to approve the bill.

The current Colorado construction defect law, created to protect would-be home buyers from poor workmanship in new construction, allows as few as two condo owners to bring a class-action suit against a builder, and does not allow the builder to make fixes before the suit proceeds. With these current laws, developers have said that builders are less inclined to begin condo projects. Opponents of the bill don’t want condo homeowners to be at risk for shoddy construction. The bill, as is, is not expected to live through the Colorado House, which is controlled by Democrats. You can read more at www.coloradostatesman.com/senate-committee-oks-condo-construction-bill-require-arbitration.

On the local level, the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and Lyons planning staff discussed updated information related to three Lyons policies at a Monday, Feb. 27, workshop.

Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan

First, a final draft of the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan is now available, and a public hearing with the PCDC is scheduled for March 13. The master plan, which focuses on the eastern corridor, the South St Vrain, and the Apple Valley areas that are currently outside town limits, will serve as a guide for future annexation requests, if property owners petition to annex to the Town of Lyons. The goal of this document is to describe what types of land use are possible, based on geography, economically viability, and other community and governmental factors. Although affordable housing is a goal of the Town of Lyons, after reading the document, you see just how few feasible places there are for affordable housing, or any development, even in this area on the outskirts of town.

The Lyons Primary Planning Area is determined by an intergovernmental agreement between Lyons and Boulder County. After approved by the PCDC and ratified by the Board of Trustees (each with public hearings), the master plan will be added to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan. See the draft that the PCDC and Town Staff have been working on refining for the past few months at and make sure to come to the public hearing on March 13, 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. See http://www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_03132017-711?html=true for the final master plan and appendix.

Short-term vacation rentals and affordable housing in Lyons

Next, the PCDC and town planning staff also discussed some possible policy changes for short-term (less than 30 days) vacation rentals in town. When the Board of Trustees first asked the PCDC to look into short-term vacation rentals last summer, consulting Town Planner Bob Joseph prepared a report that “Although not mutually exclusive, the goals of increased housing (especially rentals) and the possible goal of allowing short-term vacation rentals are at odds with each other. Short-term vacation rentals will consume available housing stock, and might act to drive up housing costs in the long run.”

According to current Town of Lyons code, short-term (shorter than 30 days) vacation rentals in residential zoning districts in Lyons are not allowed unless homeowners have been approved as a bed and breakfast through a conditional use review. However the PCDC commissioners and town planning staff have looked at what changes in current town code could allow some flexibility for homeowners who want to rent out rooms in their homes while they are living there. Joseph compiled a list of possible restrictions, such as requiring an annual short-term vacation rental license (like a Town of Lyons business license, which is currently $50), allowing vacation rentals only in the primary residence, and requiring owner occupancy. The proposed restrictions will be presented to the Board of Trustees at an upcoming meeting. Before any changes to town ordinances are scheduled before the trustees, a public hearing will be held.

The Town of Lyons needs long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. It’s important to watch the proposed changes to vacation rental policy and determine how the decisions affect other rental stock.

Accessory dwelling units and tiny homes on wheels in Lyons 

Finally, the PCDC discussion on Feb. 27 included a follow-up about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in residential zones and the Board of Trustees direction to the PCDC to look at how tiny homes on wheels could work as ADUs. Mayor Connie Sullivan has said at Board of Trustees meetings that she thinks that tiny homes on wheels as ADUs could save homeowners money and time in building accessory dwelling units.

Will this approach create more lower-cost rentals for people who work in town? I don’t know. In general, we do know that many Lyons residents are currently interested in building regular ADUs now (not tiny homes). Matt Manley, a member of Lyons planning staff, told the PCDC commissioners that it’s possible a conditional use review for an ADU could come before the PCDC soon.

How the Town of Lyons building inspectors and the Lyons Fire Protection District can inspect the tiny homes on wheels, which are built off-site, is a challenge. Tiny homes on wheels (which have a vehicle license like RVs) don’t fit into the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes), the International Residential Code (IRC) that building inspectors for Town of Lyons and municipalities around the country use, or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles, which currently applies to any RV but are not permitted for year-round living.

To respond to the Board of Trustees direction, the town planning staff are looking into other standards, which are rare, but might work, such as the National Organization of Alternative Housing. Both the Lyons Fire Protection District and the company that performs building inspections for Lyons will need to agree to work with any standard that the Town of Lyons chooses to use. You can read what was previously discussed here: lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/planning-commission-discusses-tiny-homes-as-adus.

All meetings for the elected Lyons Board of Trustees and appointed town boards and commissions on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. All meetings are open to the public, and many include portions of the agenda for public comment. 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.

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.