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Published in the April 13, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Planning Commission prepares for annexations, conditional use reviews for ADUs

by Amy Reinholds

At Monday’s Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) meeting, commissioners heard updates about future annexations and prepared for upcoming public hearings on annexations and accessory dwelling unit special use reviews. They also shaped a draft of possible code changes that could allow homeowners to rent out rooms as short-term vacation rentals.

Update on Lyons purchase of former Longmont water treatment plant 

The Town of Lyons plans to close on purchasing the former water treatment plant from the City of Longmont on April 25. At the Monday, April 10, PCDC meeting, the commissioners received a report from Town of Lyons planning staff and a consulting attorney about how annexation will work for the land east of town.

The attorney update to the PCDC commissioners described how state law has different requirements for town-owned land, which can be annexed into town limits directly without assigning zoning, but the property must be zoned by 90 days after the annexation. The plan for annexing the 9.88 acres is for the Board of Trustees to hold two readings of an annexation ordinance on May 1 and May 15. Although not required for this annexation step, the trustees do plan on holding a public hearing (for members of the public to comment) at the second reading on May 15. Then the Town of Lyons officials and staff will come up with a schedule for subdivision and zoning and will bring it back to the PCDC for the zoning process when the final plat is ready (before July 25, to meet the 90-day requirement).

In 2015, Lyons was awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency as matching funds to extend the sewer and water to this site in order to increase the likelihood of development and increase the employment base in Lyons. The utilities expansion work must begin by mid-June to keep the schedule and not lose the funding. The next priority after that is to zone the 2 acres where the Lyons public works building will be located for municipal use.

In March, the Town of Lyons and the City of Longmont agreed on a sales price of $925,000 for the land, east of U.S. 36: 6.45 acres on the north side of Colo. Hwy. 66 and 3.43 acres on south side. FEMA will pay for the part of the land where the Lyons public works building will be relocated, on 2 acres in the furthest northeast corner of the northern parcel. Insurance funds from the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) will pay for the new public works building, which was destroyed in flood.

After the Town of Lyons has the land, The Board of Trustees can determine the best path forward for the remainder of the parcels, and when sold, reimburse the town water enterprise fund. The land is acceptable for mixed use, and residential and commercial development, including light industrial. The town might also consider offering incentives for light-industrial businesses to consider swapping land near the center of town that could be residential for land on the eastern corridor. The Board of Trustees will also consider whether this land could be part of Lyons Urban Renewal Authority for another possible funding sources.

The area has been a possible area for affordable housing, discussed in past years when the town applied for a national resiliency grant that it did not receive. If light-industrial businesses move from central areas of town to this eastern corridor area, land could open up for future affordable housing in more centrally located areas.

Short-term vacation rentals

The PCDC also continued a past discussion on a policy to allow limited short-term vacation rentals in rooms of homes that are owner-occupied. The commissioners expected to prepare some final recommendations to the Board of Trustees for proposed changes to town code after a finalized draft. 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.

On Monday, the commissioners had consensus on including the following limitations, if short-term vacation rentals are to be allowed “by right” in residential areas:

  • Homeowners can only rent to one party of guests at a time (one room or suite of rooms)
  • Occupancy is limited to 2 adults per room.
  • Homeowners must pay sales tax to the state and have a short-term vacation rental business license for the Town of Lyons.
  • When getting the license, homeowners must sign that they agree to follow a code of conduct, including safety and “good neighbor” behavior such as having smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher, and a parking plan for guests.
  • When rooms are rented to guests, homeowners must display a document (similar to a building permit) that is visible from the front door, that identifies the home as having short-term vacation guests, and provides contact information for the owner or a designated person managing the vacation rental.

The Town of Lyons needs long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. Those of us who care about affordable housing should watch the proposed changes to vacation rental policy and determine how the decisions affect other rental stock.

A packed PCDC agenda for April 24 

The first conditional use review for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) will be held April 24. 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 voted to change town code with the aim of encouraging more ADUs for lower-cost long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. The changes to town code removed the additional utility connection fees for “detached” ADUs in separate buildings from the main house. Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house don’t require conditional reviews, but require permits.

Also on the agenda for the April 24 meeting, although not related to housing: the PCDC commissioners will have a public hearing about annexation of Planet Bluegrass-owned land in Boulder County to the west, across Hwy 36, from the current Planet Bluegrass festival grounds. And, the PCDC will review a Deed-Restricted Buy Out Properties (DR BOP) Neighborhood Handbook for adjacent property owners who want to use undeveloped buyout properties for uses such as gardens.

PCDC chair Gregg Oetting also reported that Mayor Connie Sullivan will be appointing a commissioner to fill a PCDC vacancy.

Tiny homes as accessory dwelling units?

Finally, the PCDC commissioners got a brief update from Lyons flood recovery planner Matt Manley about options for town code changes to respond to Board of Trustees direction to look into whether tiny homes on wheels could be included in the Lyons ADU policy.

Manley said that an amendment to International Residential Code could be made to allow homes under 400 square feet on a foundation. However, the town’s hired building inspection company, Charles Abbott Associates, estimates a cost of $1,200 to make that amendment to the code. He also said that other options would be for Lyons to adopt a completely new building code. For tiny homes on wheels, the town would have to write its own code or choose to rely on the National Fire Protection Association 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles (not intended for year-round living), with a few additional requirements.

The term “tiny homes,” 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 building inspection companies like Charles Abbott Associates 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.

Discussion with PCDC commissioners included suggestions that if tiny homes on wheels were allowed as ADUs, there could be a recommendation to the Board of Trustees that a limited number be allowed in town, or that a landowner could have a limited time to have such an ADU, such as 3-5 years. This would allow the town to evaluate if there are any issues with tiny homes as ADUs.

It’s interesting that this PCDC discussion about a temporary trial period synced up with a panel discussion that I attended earlier that day at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado titled “Housing Security: A Roof Over Every Head.” Andrew Heben, project director with Square One Villages in Eugene, Ore., has worked with his city of 160,000 in order to provide transitional housing for homeless people who had been living in tent cities, and his organization is using tiny homes.

Obviously, the Eugene use of tiny homes is not the same application as what the Town of Lyons, now less than 2,000, is pursuing with ADUs as options for homeowners to rent out to local employees at market rate. However, Heben found that tiny homes on foundations were more likely to be permitted by his city, instead of tiny homes on wheels. He said it is a tricky situation to work with tiny homes as permanent housing because tiny homes on wheels were popularized as temporary RV homes in order to get around code. I submitted a question about whether tiny homes on wheels could work as accessory dwelling units, and Heben said “It could serve as a model for a temporary solution.”

This is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. 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 the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park buyout, closing on April 28) and to the changed use of the Riverbend 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.