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Published in the June 15, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Planning Commission recommends third ADU, postpones vacation rental policy

by Amy Reinholds

Monday’s Planning Commission discussion covered most of the recent challenges the commissioners have faced in the past year or two: accessory dwelling units, short-term vacation rentals, and the lack of a town zoning and code enforcement department.

And there was a surprise at the June 12 Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) meeting. Attendees at the meeting learned that there are two legal, permitted bed and breakfasts in Town of Lyons, on estate and agricultural zoned land, both which allow bed and breakfast use by right with a business license (if in the main house, with fewer than 6 units). One is the Big Tree Farmstead on Bradford Street near Bohn Park, which the commissioners knew about. However, the commissioners and others in the audience learned that a bed and breakfast that was permitted in 2016 is in a literal tree house. The Little Red Treehouse bed and breakfast is on agricultural zoned land up Indian Lookout Road, on the same lot as the property owner’s main house. But because it’s a detached building, it should not have been allowed to be permitted as a bed and breakfast as a use by right.

This is another example of the problems the Town of Lyons is having because of no code enforcement staff. Matt Manley, a Lyons flood recovery planner, whose contract ends at the end of June, recently learned about this mistake in interpreting town code when researching the bed and breakfast policy and the proposed short-term vacation rental changes and additions that the PCDC is considering for residential zoned properties in town. “It never came forward as a conditional use review, which it should have. There are some errors here that should have been enforced,” he told the commissioners. “The Town of Lyons does not have code enforcement department.”

Lyons did have a code enforcement officer on a temporary basis, but that contract ended. The PCDC commissioners want to communicate to the Lyons Board of Trustees the need for code enforcement to be funded in the town budget.

“There needs to be an enforcement department and it needs to be funded,” said Commissioner Mark Browning. “We’re pretty much wasting our time creating a short-term vacation rental ordinance if it can’t be enforced.” The three other commissioners present, Chair Gregg Oetting, Clay Dusel, and Neil Sullivan, agreed. They decided to continue a public hearing about a proposed short-term vacation rental policy until June 26. One member of the public spoke during the public hearing asking for the hearing about the short-term vacation rentals to be continued. I also spoke during the public hearing and agreed.

I attended this PCDC public hearing because I care about how both accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and short-term vacation rentals could affect affordable housing stock in Lyons. ADUs are an attempt to add more lower-cost, market-rate rentals for people who work in town, which in general I feel positive about. I’m watching for results. Short-term vacation rentals might work in the opposite direction. Some communities with unrestrained short-term vacation rentals deal with a new problem of fewer longer-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. Looking purely at money and the free market, when property owners can make $200 a night per room or suite from vacationers, why would they want to rent on a monthly basis to a tenant and make $1500 a month? Lately I’ve been considering the balance between viewing a place to live as a basic human right, and viewing it as an investment commodity. For me, it comes down to what and who we value.

In addition to the bed-and breakfast use in agricultural and estate zoned land, lodging is also allowed in commercial zoned land in Lyons. However, the new short-term vacation rental ordinance the that PCDC and town planning staff are working on would also allow some short-term vacation rental use by right in residential (R-1) zones in the Town of Lyons, neighborhoods where most of us live. According to current town code, anyone who wants to legally rent rooms as short-term vacation rentals in residential zones in town would have to apply for a conditional use review as a bed and breakfast, with several steps and public hearings before the PCDC and Board of Trustees. But no homeowners in residential zones have applied.

However, to give residential property owners a break, the PCDC looked into simplifying town policy to allow renting rooms or suites in a house in a residential zone where the owner lives, to only one party at a time, with limited number of people in that party. No conditional use would be required, but homeowners would be required to get a short-term vacation rental business license (similar in cost to other Town of Lyons business licenses). However, the PCDC has now clearly identified that the Town of Lyons must be able to enforce these new policies, and this message will be sent to the Board of Trustees.

Despite all the discussion about issues with short-term vacation rentals and lack of enforcement at the June 12 meeting, the PCDC did approve the conditional use review for an ADU, a separate 600 square-foot one bedroom apartment at 600 Indian Lookout Road.

ADUs cannot be used for vacation rentals, and the applicant pledged that he intended to honor that requirement. He said he appreciates that goal of providing more long-term rentals in town. If he doesn’t use the apartment for his own family members, he said he will rent it to longer-term tenants. The ADU policy prohibits using the ADU for short-term vacation rentals, because the policy is intended to increase residential rentals for people who work in town. The Town of Lyons code changed at the end of 2016 to allow ADUs in separate buildings to share utility connection fees with the main house (saving homeowners $15,000-$16,000 or more in additional connection fees), and so far, plans for two ADUs have completed the process. This proposed apartment, on agricultural (A-2) zoned land is set to become the third legal detached ADU, if the Lyons Board of Trustees approve the conditional use review.

The applicant purchased the 5.2 acre vacant parcel and also will be going through the planning and zoning process for building a new main house.

Conflicting information with homeowners association documents for the Indian Lookout Road area (the former Forsberg annexation) will have to be sorted out by the homeowner and his neighbors, one who spoke during public comment. Some documents state that detached apartments weren’t allowed in the area, but other documents do not include that restriction. The PCDC commissioners said it was not their role to determine what the homeowners association restrictions are, but instead, they evaluated the conditional use review based on the Town of Lyons ADU ordinance. They approved the conditional use review for the ADU 4-0.

Other requirements in the ADU policy include that the property owners must live in either the main house or the apartment. (They can’t rent out both units at the same time.) You can read the ADU ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.

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.