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Published in the March 16, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Planning commission approves Lyons plan for future annexation

by Amy Reinholds

At a Monday public hearing, the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) voted 5-2 to adopt the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan document as a component of the 2010 Town of Lyons Comprehensive Plan (the overall planning document for the Town of Lyons) and to recommend adoption of the plan to the Lyons Board of Trustees, with edits and changes collected at the meeting.

The next step is a public hearing before the Board of Trustees on Monday, March 20, where the master plan will be up for a vote of the trustees to ratify a final document, and the public can give more input. The regular meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. Check the town website for an agenda.

The board room at the Lyons Town Hall was filled for the March 13 meeting, and about 10 people gave their input. There were also about half as many emailed or written comments, which were read at the meeting. There were a surprising range of comments, which fell into the following categories: 1) basic questions about the Primary Planning Area and plan details like water and sewer capacity, access between areas, and the choice of raising taxes versus allowing annexation, 2) corrections to typos or errors in the draft (mostly what I provided), 3) opposition to development in two specific areas: the former Longmont water treatment plant in the Eastern Corridor (1 person) and the parcels with conservation easements in the South St. Vrain area near Bohn Park (4 people, including one with a document and thumb drive about the history of the conservation easements, which he requested to include in the appendix), 4) highlighting of a need for a residential population that supports local businesses and increases local sales tax revenue/prevents sales tax leakage when residents shop in other towns (including an email with an economic development document attachment that might also be appropriate for the appendix), 5) a business owner who wanted to make it easier for developers to go through the annexation/zoning process, 6) and a business owner who wanted more rentals in town that his employees could afford.

A clarification to point 3) above: The Lyons Primary Planning Area master plan does not state that development in the parcels with conservation easements is recommended. It only lists the fact that conservation easements and other agreements with neighboring property owners exists. See pages 2-10 through 2-12 and pages 3-20 to 3-21. However, stating the facts that conservation easements existed, and documentation about the hurdles of renegotiating with Boulder County that would need to happen weren’t enough for Commissioners Roger Flynn and Nick Angelo, who voted against approving the draft.

None of the commissioners support developing land with conservation easements, and commissioners worked for several months to get language that they thought was appropriate and factual. “We’re not creating new information up here,” Commissioner Neil Sullivan said. “The goal is to factually provide information that can be proven with written documentation.”

“This document does not say that we should be developing in conservation easement areas,” said Commissioner Mark Browning. “I wouldn’t vote for it if it did.”

For background, the Lyons Primary Planning Area master plan process started a year ago in March 2016 with three planning workshops with neighbors and other members of the public for each of three subareas of Lyons Primary Planning Area: the Eastern Corridor, South St. Vrain, and Apple Valley. 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. At the end of November 2016, the PCDC began reviewing drafts of the master plan from Ricker|Cunningham, a practice of Real Estate Economists, and planners and engineers from Kimley-Horn, hired by the town to conduct the master plan process.

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 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. The goal of this document is to describe what types of land use are possible, based on geography, economically viability, and other community goals and governmental factors. Read the vision statements for the Eastern Corridor, the South St. Vrain, and the the Apple Valley areas.

And why do I write about this master plan in my affordable housing column? Affordable housing is a goal of the Town of Lyons, but after reading the master plan, you see just how few feasible places there are for affordable housing, or any development, even in this area on the outskirts of town.

There were a few comments at the PCDC meeting Monday that weren’t based on the actual draft document, including one written comment that might have been submitted before reading the finished draft, accusing the preparers of the document of excluding information about two votes related to Parks and Open Space land near Bohn Park. In fact, those votes were described in detail in the master plan on page 3-8, page 2-11, and also pages i-5-i-6.

Several of the PCDC commissioners mentioned misinformation on social media that implied because the PCDC and town staff were collecting factual documents for inclusion in the plan about past communications about conversation easements meant that the plan itself advised removing those easements.

To understand how false information spread on social media can start with real pieces of information or parts of documents, I recommend reading a report about a fascinating study about disinformation that researchers Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, and Ethan Zuckerman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Commissioner Seth Portner told the other commissioners at the meeting, “I was in the coffee shop and someone said to me, ‘I heard you’re going to build houses in the dog park.’ I said ‘Please read the document [the Primary Planning Area master plan]. That is not what’s happening.’”

This column is getting too long, and I’m wonder if anyone is reading it. So my advice to you is what Commissioner Portner gave his friend in the coffee shop: “Please read the document.”

You can read the versions of the documents that were discussed at the March 13 PCDC public hearing (before any changes discussed at the meeting were made) at http://www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_03132017-711?html=true and an updated version will be available for the March 20 Board of Trustees meeting agenda  (see http://www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/Board-of-Trustees-3 for all agendas).

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. 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) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election. At the end of 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots in Lyons to build three permanently affordable duplexes.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds  @ hotmail.com.