Published in the May 18, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder. 

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

Trustees annex town-owned land on eastern corridor

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Board of Trustees voted 6-0 on May 15 to annex the recently purchased land at 4651 and 4652 Ute Hwy. This step helps the Town of Lyons find a new home for a public works building, damaged in the 2013 flood, and it could provide opportunity for future affordable housing.

At a workshop about the annexation and initial zoning, held before the regular May 15 Board of Trustees meeting, Mayor Connie Sullivan talked about economic development and affordable housing are related. “Businesses aren’t thriving because they don’t have enough employees, and employees can’t afford to live here,” she said.

The Town of Lyons closed April 25 on purchasing the former Longmont water treatment plant land east of town from the City of Longmont, and at a May 1 meeting, the trustees adopted the ordinance on first reading that annexes the 9.88 acres into town. 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 at 4651 Ute Hwy and 3.43 acres on south side at 4652 Ute Hwy.

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 damaged in the 2013 flood. FEMA has said that the public works building must be in progress, and significantly moving forward, by September.

According to attorney reports to the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Lyons Board of Trustees, town-owned land can be annexed into town limits directly without assigning zoning, but the property must be zoned by 90 days after the annexation. 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).

At the May 15 meeting, Mayor Sullivan said the board’s idea is to have a basic zoning for the town-owned property, and then when selling other parcels for mixed use, commercial, and residential, the individual developers will go through the regular Town of Lyons zoning process. The Lyons zoning process includes several steps with the Lyons PCDC and the Lyons Board of Trustees. Developers and landowners who purchase parcels on this eastern corridor land will come forward with proposals that will be vetted publicly and include development reviews.

Now that the Town of Lyons owns the land, and it is part of town limits, the trustees can determine the best path forward for the remainder of the land, and when sold, the Town of Lyons can reimburse the town water enterprise fund. According to the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, developed with months of input from neighbors and community members, the land is determined as acceptable for mixed use, residential, and commercial development, including light industrial. The town might also consider offering incentives for light-industrial businesses to swap land near the center of town that could be residential for land on the eastern corridor.

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 not lose the funding. Then the next priority is to zone the 2 acres where the Lyons public works building will be located for municipal use.

Matt Manley, Lyons flood recovery planner, said during the workshop that bringing the utilities to the area is a big incentive and town staff has been meeting with several interested parties who are bringing forward ideas for residential and mixed-use.

The parcels have been considered as a possible area for affordable housing, discussed in past years when the town applied for a national resiliency grant that it did not receive. Also, 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.

During staff reports at the May 15 meeting, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen said that the Boulder County Collaborative, a group determining how federal Community Development Block Grants – disaster recovery (CDBG-DR) funds are distributed locally, is still reserving $4 million for housing for the Town of Lyons. Any project using those funds must already be identified and underway in 2019.

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) 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.