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Published in the September 14, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

The path ahead in our 5th year of recovery

by Amy Reinholds

This week is the 4th anniversary of the flooding that greatly affected our community and destroyed about 70 homes that were not rebuilt. To see some signs of continued recovery, I hope you were able to attend yesterday’s Habitat for Humanity ground blessing ceremony, the tours of Bohn Park, and the Town Hall meeting with flood recovery updates.

As we see the news media and social media now are filled with pictures and news of destructive hurricanes in Texas and Florida, it reminds me of what I wrote in my column last year at the 3rd anniversary of the Lyons flood: “Although it sounds gloomy, there is always going to be another natural disaster somewhere, whether the New Jersey coast, the Gulf Coast, Nepal, Oklahoma, Japan, Mexico, Texas, India, South Carolina, California, Louisiana, or somewhere else. I urge you to regularly donate to organizations you have seen help in Lyons, so they are ready to deploy wherever the next disaster hits.”

To help, we can donate to groups that we had personal experience with with Lyons, such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Team Rubicon, and Calvary Relief

As the Town of Lyons goes through its 5th year of flood recovery, our community will see some of the six Habitat for Humanity homes built – and even volunteer to help build them. Keep reading my columns this fall for updates on volunteer build days. In addition, there are two other housing issues that the Town of Lyons staff and elected officials are focused on in the upcoming months:
1) a free-market issue: balancing the need for more rentals in town with existing homeowners’ interest in renting to vacationers, and
2) a subsidized, permanently affordable housing issue: not losing $4 million in federal flood recovery dollars set aside for building permanently affordable housing in town.

The first issue of balancing the need of more rentals in town with existing homeowners’ wants to rent their homes as short-term vacation rentals, is common in many communities. Unfortunately the reduction in the number of available homes in Lyons after the flood makes this issue more severe. If you own your home in the town limits of Lyons, you can help provide more lower-cost rentals in town by complying with the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance, which allows small apartments or carriage houses to share utility connection fees with the main house (saving homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs). You can read the ADU ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units. Homeowners of ADU properties must rent for periods of 30 days or longer (for example, at least a month-to-month lease), and cannot use their properties for short-term vacation rentals.

However, in August the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) recommended a new, proposed short-term vacation rental ordinance that would allow some short-term vacation rental use by right in residential R-1 zones in the Town of Lyons, just not in ADUs. The Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing on the code changes for this new allowance on Monday, Sept. 18. (See the agenda at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/Board-of-Trustees-3.) This is the balance that the PCDC was seeking, to allow homeowners in Lyons town limits to rent out rooms or suites as short-term vacation rentals in homes where they live, while minimizing impact on neighborhoods and keeping ADUs for long-term renters who work in town.

Our town has a responsibility to watch out for the people in our community who are most vulnerable, post-disaster. I want the town leaders to think about the implications of the vacation rental policy on renters who are seeking an affordable place to live long-term in Lyons. People who own homes in Lyons are more likely to attend town meetings and voice their opinions about their needs and interests. Our town should care about needs of renters, too, not just the needs of homeowners and vacationers.

For the second issue, the mayor and trustees have said at multiple meetings that they do not want to lose $4 million in federal flood recovery funds that is earmarked for housing in Lyons. That means they are encouraging mixed-use, affordable housing/commercial proposals for purchasing town-owned land at 4651 and 4652 Ute Hwy (for example, commercial buildings along the highway with residential behind or above). And, they are encouraging “land swaps” of manufacturing and light-industrial businesses moving to the Ute Hwy land, opening up locations in central areas of town for affordable housing. Town staff have been meeting with business landowners interested in hearing options for relocating to the land on the eastern edge of town.

This spring, the Town of Lyons purchased land from the City of Longmont to use a piece of it as a permanent home for the town’s flood-destroyed public works building and to sell remaining available parcels to buyers who want to pursue uses described in the recent Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan. On the northeast part of 4651 Ute Hwy, 2.15 acres will be the permanent home of the Lyons public works building. The remaining 4.3 acres on the north side of the road at 4651 Ute Hwy and the 3.28 acres on the south side of the road at 4652 Ute Hwy will be available for sale.

Town leaders have not mentioned yet what affordable housing partners the Town of Lyons might work with on the smaller affordable apartments in the central part of town or on the eastern corridor. Based on the size of the areas they are talking about, I expect proposals would be similar to the Walter Self Senior Housing apartments near the post office. Expect to hear staff reports from Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen at upcoming meetings with the mayor and trustees, maybe even as early as Monday, Sept. 18. Trustees have said that a plan must be in place by the end of September.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. 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 broke ground by the 4-year anniversary of the flood.