Published in the August 31, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

Planning Commission recommends allowing vacation rentals in residential zones

by Amy Reinholds

Homeowners in R1 residential zones in the town limits of Lyons are now one step closer to being able to legally rent out rooms as short-term vacation rentals as a use by right. The Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) voted Monday to recommend that the Lyons Board of Trustees approve an ordinance that lets homeowners rent out rooms to vacationers in the homes where they live.

A “use by right” means an allowed use that doesn’t require a conditional use review, with additional processes. “Short-term” means rental periods of less than 30 days. Right now, in town limits, short-term vacation rentals are not permitted by right on R1 residential zoned land (neighborhoods where most of us live). Under current town code, to legally rent out rooms as short-term vacation rentals in residential zones, homeowners today need to complete a longer process to apply to run a Bed and Breakfast business, with several steps and public hearings before the PCDC and the Board of Trustees.

But renting short-term vacation rentals could become much easier with the changes the PCDC recommended. After hearing public comments at the Aug. 28 public hearing, the PCDC voted to recommend that the Lyons Board of Trustees approve an ordinance adding and amending town code to allow some short-term vacation rental use by right in R1 residential zones in the Town of Lyons.

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, to comply with safety-based requirements such as certifying they have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers, and to acknowledge that the Lyons Fire Protection District may require an inspection.

The recommended changes to town code would allow this new business use in R1 residential zones by right, including the following rules:

  • 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, with a maximum of 8 total adults.
  • 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.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in recreation vehicles (which includes any vehicles with a VIN number), tents, campers, or other temporary structures.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in accessory dwelling units (ADUs). You can learn more about ADUs, also known as mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses, and intended to increase availability of long-term rentals, by reading the Lyons municipal code at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.
  • Short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in permanently affordable, deed-restricted homes (for example Habitat for Humanity homes, when they are built).

The Board of Trustees will determine the fees needed to administer the program, including the short-term vacation rental business license cost.

On September 5, the ordinance goes before the trustees for a first reading. PCDC chair Gregg Oetting will attend the meeting and will also address the PCDC’s earlier recommendation of a budget for staff enforcement of the town ordinances.

If the trustees approve the ordinance on first reading, it goes to a second reading at the next trustees meeting on Sept. 19. The earliest the new Town of Lyons municipal code changes and additions could go into effect is the day after the trustees approve the second reading of the ordinance.

The public will have a chance to give input again, when the trustees hold a public hearing. Look for materials posted on the Town of Lyons website at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/Board-of-Trustees-3.

What do these proposed changes to allow short-term vacation rentals mean for affordable housing in the Town of Lyons? I started following this issue when Lyons staff and the PCDC first started looking at allowing short-term rentals, because I care about rental housing that people who work in town can afford. Some communities with unmanaged short-term vacation rentals deal with a new problem of fewer longer-term rentals that local employees can afford.

The PCDC aimed to balance minimal impact on neighborhoods and general ease of compliance for homeowners who want to rent out rooms in the homes they live in. Over the year I followed these discussions, I saw PCDC commissioners care about availability of long-term rentals for local employees. The ordinance that the PCDC voted to recommend mentions both benefits and adverse effects of short-term vacation rentals. It states that allowing homeowners to rent rooms to overnight guests brings additional visitors to town to spend money at local shops, increasing revenue through additional sales taxes. It also states that renting short-term vacation rentals can include “adverse impacts upon adjacent properties, the character of residential neighborhoods, the availability of long-term rental housing, public services…”

I agree that 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 apartment, who would otherwise rent it monthly to someone who works in town but sees a way to make more money renting the space to tourists. That’s why I’m glad the ADU ordinance requires rentals must be at least 30 days (month-to-month).

To me, a balance means that affordability is not just for those who own homes, but also for those who can only rent at this time in their lives. Not only can an artist or musician who worked hard enough to own a home in Lyons gain additional opportunities to cover the mortgage payments, but another “starving artist” muralist, fiddle player – or even an elementary school teacher – can find an affordable longer-term rental in the spare room, apartment, or basement suite. Better yet, if all of these creative folks live in the same house, they might even collaborate on projects that we all can enjoy. I call that a win-win situation.

I’ll be watching to see if the trustees care about the same balance when deciding to allow short-term vacation rentals in Lyons.

The recommendations from the PCDC apply only to 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.

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.