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

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

Vacation rental policy discussion delayed to July 24

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) cancelled this Monday’s meeting and postponed a discussion short-term vacation rentals to a workshop on July 24.

Additional wording changes from the Town of Lyons attorney to a proposed short-term vacation policy were not completed in time for the meeting this week, so the next PCDC meeting on July 24 will be a workshop to discuss all the specific changes. Then the PCDC can vote on the final recommendation of the plan at a public hearing in August. The Lyons Board of Trustees is responsible for voting on any changes to town code, after a recommendation is received from the PCDC.

At a June 26 meeting, the PCDC commissioners expressed a goal to provide a lighter-use option than a bed and breakfast business use for homeowners in Town of Lyons residential zones, finding a balance of minimal impact on neighborhoods and general ease of compliance for homeowners who want to rent out rooms in the homes they live in. They also prepared a draft memo to the trustees stating that the PCDC wants to see an enforcement officer hired.

Right now, in the Town of Lyons limits, short-term vacation rentals are not permitted by right on residential (R-1 and R-2) zoned land (neighborhoods where most of us live). 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. To legally rent rooms as short-term vacation rentals in residential (R-1 or R-2) zones, current town code requires that homeowners 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 for this kind of conditional use review.

However, the new, proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance that the 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 review process would be required. However, 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.

Even with this proposed short-term vacation rental policy for residential zones, homeowners would only be allowed to rent rooms to vacationers in the same house where they live, not in a separate building or apartment. Why? 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 the number of lower-cost residential rentals for people who work in town.

In the past year, researching what other communities have done, the PCDC commissioners have agreed upon the following limitations, if short-term vacation rentals are to be allowed by right 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 get safety inspections by Lyons fire protection district at least every two years.
  • Police and fire officials must be able to identify homes with rooms rented as vacation rentals, without a sign advertising it posted on the front door. There must be a way for neighbors, the town, or safety officials to know who to contact in an emergency without advertising that a homeowner is not home. Homeowners must complete a document (similar to a building permit) filed with the town that 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, of Town of Lyons code.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in accessory dwelling units, according to section 6-7-30 of Town of Lyons code.
  • 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 of Town of Lyons code.
  • The town attorney said that the Board of Trustees will set the fees needed to administer the program, such as the inspection fees.

I’m following this proposed change in Town of Lyons policy because I care about long-term rentals that people who work in town can afford. 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 the free market (if there were no limits in residential zones), if property owners could 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? I would support a short-term vacation rental policy for the Town of Lyons that doesn’t take away spaces in homes that would otherwise go to long-term renters. Not all homeowners who have a spare bedroom and bathroom want to have a roommate year round, but they might want to occasionally rent out that space to vacationers. That doesn’t concern me as much as someone who has an entire space, suite, or apartment, who would otherwise rent it monthly to someone who works in town but suddenly sees a way to make more money renting the space to tourists.

Do you think short-term vacation rentals should be in the Town of Lyons? What is good for the whole of our community, the neighbors, other homeowners and residents who are long-term renters, and people who are looking for affordable places to rent? The PCDC will vote on recommending the draft policy at an August public hearing, and after a recommendation is sent to the Lyons Board of Trustees, the trustees will also hold a public hearing to vote on final changes to Town of Lyons code.

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. After the September 2013 flood, 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. 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.