Published in the August 10, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Planning Commission holds public hearing about vacation rentals Aug. 28

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) plans a workshop discussion on Monday about a new, proposed ordinance that would allow some short-term vacation rentals in residential zones in the Town of Lyons. Short-term rentals are not currently allowed in residential zone properties, unless a homeowner completes a conditional use process for a bed and breakfast business.

Anyone who cares about affordable housing for renters in Lyons should watch these next steps carefully. Some communities with unrestrained short-term vacation rentals deal with a new problem of fewer longer-term rentals that local employees can afford. After the workshop discussion on Monday, August 14, the PCDC will schedule a public hearing, which includes a portion of the meeting for members of the public to speak, for Monday, August 28. Both meetings are at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.

Here’s a recap of current regulations: The Town of Lyons Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance prohibits using properties with ADUs 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. Also known as mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses, ADUs are small apartments in either the existing house, a garage, or a separate outbuilding. Homeowners of ADU properties must rent for periods of 30 days or longer (for example, at least a month-to-month lease). As an incentive for homeowners to provide more long-term rentals, the Lyons Board of Trustees approved code changes at the end of 2016 to allow ADUs in separate buildings to share utility connection fees with the main house (saving homeowners thousands of dollars in additional connection fees). You can read the ADU ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units. As of July 3, both the PCDC and the Board of Trustees have approved conditional use review plans for three ADUs: a garage apartment at 427 Stickney Street, a garage apartment at 327 Seward Street, and a separate 600 square-foot one bedroom apartment at 600 Indian Lookout Road, currently an undeveloped parcel where a new home will also be built.

So where are short-term vacation rentals allowed in Lyons, if they are not allowed in residential lots with ADUs? Right now, in town 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 (A1, A2, and Estate zones), 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 (including the CEC zone). 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 the Board of Trustees. But no homeowners in residential zones have applied for this kind of conditional use review.

However, a 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), comply with safety-based requirements such as fire inspections, and agree to a good-neighbor checklist. Public hearings about these changes to town code are expected August 28 for the PCDC and, depending on the PCDC recommendations, as early as the first week of September for the Lyons Board of Trustees. The public will have a chance to give input at both meetings. Look for materials posted on the Town of Lyons website at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/Planning-Community-Development-Commissio-11

The policy before the PCDC and the Trustees are only for short-term vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons. People who own homes outside Lyons town limits are subject to the specific regulations for their county (Boulder or Larimer). It’s also important to know that some homeowners associations have more restrictive rules than Town of Lyons ordinances and might prohibit short-term vacation rentals or even ADUs that are rented out to long-term tenants.

Ever since the 2013 flood, I have been concerned about the lack of affordable rentals in the Town of Lyons for people who live and work here. That’s why I’m playing close attention to the proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance. Looking purely at the free market (if there were no limits in residential zones), if residential property owners could run a business that brings in $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.

This column 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 and expects to start work this fall.