Published in the June 29, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Planning Commission continues vacation rental policy decision to July 10

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) heard public comment and reviewed proposed changes to Town of Lyons town code about short-term vacation rentals on Monday. But the four commissioners at the June 26 meeting decided to continue the public hearing and any decision on changes to town code to July 10.

Kathie Guckenberger, consulting attorney for Town of Lyons, presented a revised draft of a proposed new article 7 in Chapter 6 of the Town of Lyons code, entitled Short-Term Rental Licenses. The PCDC commissioners didn’t have enough time to review all the changes before the meeting, and had concerns that the proposed policy was moving away from a simple, owner-occupied policy that would be self regulating. Commissioners Mark Browning, Clay Dusel, and chair Gregg Oetting have been seeking a balance of a policy that is easy for a majority of homeowners who rent out rooms in the homes they live in to come into compliance. At the June 26 meeting, they expressed a goal to provide a lighter-use option than a bed and breakfast use, finding a balance of minimal impact on neighborhoods and general ease of compliance for homeowners who want to rent out rooms in residential zones.

The commissioners hope to look at a revised draft by July 10 that includes several changes. They agree with required safety inspections by Lyons fire protection district (requested by Fire Chief JJ Hoffman at least every two years) instead of extensive inspections by the town’s hired building inspection company, Charles Abbott Associates. They don’t want to see homeowners required to bring a copy of deeds, or required to send a notification letter to neighbors (which commissioners said would imply that there was something neighbors could do to stop the short-term vacation rental use). They also discussed that the policy should include a way to make sure the police department and fire department know homes with rooms rented as vacation rentals, without a sign advertising it posted on the front door. They wanted to see a way for people to know who to contact in an emergency without advertising that a homeowner is not home.

Before changes to town code are approved, the Lyons Board of Trustees is required to have a public hearing and vote, which can be continued to a later date.

The commissioners also prepared a draft memo to the trustees stating that the PCDC wants to see an enforcement officer hired. They plan to finalize and vote on that memo at the July 10 meeting.

Here’s a recap of what is legal now in the town limits of Lyons: Bed and breakfasts with 6 or fewer units are allowed as a use by right on estate residential and agricultural zoned land, if the homeowners have a business license and the rented units are in the main house. In addition to agricultural and estate zoned land, lodging is also allowed in commercial zoned land. According to current town code, anyone who wants to legally rent rooms as short-term vacation rentals in residential (R-1 or R-2) zones in town (neighborhoods where most of us live) 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, 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 zones (R-1 and R-2) in the Town of Lyons. 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. The use would be less than a bed and breakfast, and 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) and comply with safety-based requirements.

The Town of Lyons accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy prohibits using residential properties ADUs (separate apartments in the main house or detached) for short-term vacation rentals, because the policy is intended to increase residential rentals for people who work in town.

The PCDC has now identified that the Town of Lyons must be able to enforce these new policies, both the short-term vacation rentals policy, the bed and breakfast ordinance, and the ADU policy, and this message will be sent to the Board of Trustees.

The draft memo that the commissioners plan to finalize July 10 states “The PCDC has spent many volunteer hours in recent months drafting proposed regulations relating to important matters in our community, including accessory dwelling units and short term vacation rentals. Assisting the PCDC in its efforts were paid Town staff and outside professionals (planners and attorneys). The PCDC believes that in order for its efforts, and those of the Board of Trustees in adopting final versions of ordinances, to best achieve their intended effects – which are to benefit the town and its citizens – it is necessary for the Town to put in place a reasonable enforcement procedure. At a minimum, that should include a Code Enforcement Officer position.”

It also adds “Fairness would also be promoted by funding such a position, so that those who do make an effort to comply with Code requirements are not undercut by others who do not comply. At hearings, we have heard multiple comments from members of the public who have questioned what good regulations do if those regulations are not enforced. Proper code enforcement can also generate revenue to cover the cost of enforcement through such things as business license fees and sales tax receipts.”

In the past year, as the PCDC has been working with town staff to shape a policy, researching what other communities have done, they have agreed upon the following limitations, if short-term vacation rentals are to be allowed “by right” in residential zones in the town limits of Lyons:

  • 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 (which can be collected and administered by companies like Airbnb) and have an annual short-term vacation rental business license for the Town of Lyons. It was also discussed that the Town of Lyons should consider an occupancy fee for nightly lodging.
  • Homeowners must live in the home as a primary residence for at least 6 months out of the year.
  • 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.
  • Homeowners must post in a town-approved location a document (similar to a building permit) provides contact information for the owner or a designated person managing the vacation rental.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in recreation vehicles according to section 6-7-30, Eligibility for licenses.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in accessory dwelling units, according to section 6-7-30.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in permanently affordable, deed-restricted homes (for example Habitat for Humanity homes, when they are built), according to section 6-7-30.

Guckenberger said that Board of Trustees will set the fees needed to administer the program, such as the inspection fees.

During the public hearing, three members of the public spoke, including a homeowner of estate residential zoned land who wanted to know if the proposed changes affect bed and breakfast use in that zone. The town staff explained that it is not affected. Two homeowners that currently rent rooms as short-term vacation rentals said they are concerned about having to post phone number contacts on their homes. The commissioners later discussed about an alternative way to post contact info for public safety officers.

There were two email comments that were read. One homeowner emailed in support for the policy, and another homeowner emailed against the policy.

New PCDC commissioner Reena Rotz, attending her first meeting since appointed, asked about whether homeowner associations can limit short-term vacation rentals. Bob Joseph, consulting town planner, said homeowners associations can be more restrictive than town code, and not allow homeowners to rent out rooms as short-term vacation rentals. However, the homeowners association itself, not the town, must enforce those restrictions.

Oetting said “I know there are people in town who don’t think this is the direction the town should be going. I fully understand the purpose of zoning regulations and buying homes with an understanding of what property owners can do. We were very careful with the ADU policy to differentiate so that ADUs are not duplexes. And short-term vacation rentals are not bed and breakfasts. There are simply going to be neighborhoods that are becoming higher density. Time marches on and we have to gracefully move forward.”

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 the enforcement of any new policy, and determine how the decisions affect the availability and prices of Lyons rentals. Some communities with unrestrained short-term vacation rentals deal with a new problem of fewer longer-term rentals that local employees can afford. Looking purely at money and the free market, with no limits in residential zones, if 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. It’s a question of what and who we value.

Do you think short-term vacation rentals should be in the Town of Lyons? What is good for the whole of our community, including neighbors as well as homeowners and other residents who are long-term renters, and people who are looking for affordable places to rent? The next PCDC meeting is July 10, and then you have another chance to give input at a later Lyons Board of Trustees public hearing in July, which will be held after the PCDC commissioners send recommendations to the trustees.

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.