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Published in the March 30, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Upcoming Planning Commission meetings

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) did not have a quorum at this Monday’s meeting, but two commissioners, with the Board of Trustees and town planning staff liaisons, discussed upcoming meetings.

The next PCDC meeting is April 10, when the commissioners are expected to continue a past discussion on a short-term vacation rental policy, and respond to Board of Trustees direction to look into whether tiny homes on wheels could be included in the Town of Lyons accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy. The PCDC meeting is 7-9 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.

The PCDC and town planning staff will review and recommend changes to town code to allow limited short-term vacation rentals in rooms of homes that are owner-occupied. Currently, short term vacation rentals are not allowed in residential zones in Lyons unless there is a conditional use review for a bed and breakfast.

At a PCDC report to the Lyons Board of Trustees at the beginning of March, the trustees asked if there was any feedback on whether people who are currently renting out rooms on vacation rental sites (in violation of current town code) couldn’t do vacation rentals, would they rent out rooms or part of their homes for long-term rentals. And they discussed if people buying homes in Lyons, with the expectation that they could make regular income by renting out rooms for short-term vacation rentals, would drive up housing prices.

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.

Also at that March 6 report to the trustees, PCDC chair Gregg Oetting and Matt Manley, a member of Town of Lyons planning staff, gave updates on the status of researching whether tiny homes could be included in the town ADU policy. They described difficulties in the building codes and building inspections. Mayor Connie Sullivan and the trustees had asked the PCDC to look into whether tiny homes on wheels could be included in the ADU policy and allowed as permanent structures like stick-built buildings.

The term “tiny homes,” does not refer to small cottages or structures that are stick-built and constructed on a residential property. Instead, it describes a trend that started in the early 2000s of small constructed homes that are on built on a trailer frame with axles and wheels, registered like recreation vehicles (RVs). 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 the building inspector company hired by the Town of Lyons (and inspectors for municipalities around the country) use, or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles, which currently applies to any RV but is not intended for year-round living.

Manley reported to the mayor and trustees that the Town of Lyons would have to create its own standards for tiny homes or take a stance to rework existing standards through the conditional use process and RV standards. Manley said the next step for the PCDC on this issue is to see if the PCDC is comfortable recommending using other standards for tiny homes as part of the conditional use review process. Oetting said that the Town of Lyons doesn’t have a history of writing its own building codes. Also, even if Lyons does arrive at its own building code standards for tiny homes, issues remain, such as finding manufacturers who will follow those standards, and getting an inspection process in place. The town’s current inspectors don’t want to inspect anything that is not using the IRC standards.

Some of the pros for including tiny homes on wheels as ADUs that Mayor Sullivan has mentioned at meetings 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 it might send 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 be interpreted as gentrification of RVs.

Placing tiny homes on foundations like mobile homes/manufactured housing is another avenue to consider, as a few other municipalities have allowed.

Aside from the tiny homes issue, it’s possible upcoming PCDC meeting agendas will include conditional use reviews for Town of Lyons homeowners who want to build detached ADUs. The Town of Lyons efforts to encourage ADUs by to removing the additional utility connection fees have resulted in many homeowners in Lyons expressing interest and requesting more information. ADUs are small apartments in either the existing house, a garage or separate outbuilding. At the end of 2016, The PCDC and the Board of Trustees changed town code to encourage more lower-cost long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house don’t require conditional reviews, but require permits, which several homeowners are asking about.

All meetings for the elected Lyons Board of Trustees and appointed town boards and commissions are 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. 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 in the Lyons Recorder. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.