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Published in the September 21, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
An updated version of this content ran in the October 18, 2017 edition of the Redstone Review.

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

Legal vacation rental process for residential zones begins Jan. 1

by Amy Reinholds

Starting January 1, 2018, there will be a legal process for short-term vacation rental use by right in Town of Lyons residential zones. After a public hearing and agreeing to about 10 amendments at their meeting Monday, Sept. 18, the Lyons Board of Trustees unanimously approved 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 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 (R-1 or R-2) 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 Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Board of Trustees. Bed and breakfast businesses 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).

But it will now be much easier for homeowners on R-1 and R-2 zones who want to rent out short-term vacation rentals in their homes. The PCDC worked with Town of Lyons planning staff on the changes to town code for more than a year, including gathering input from vacation rental hosts. After hearing public comments at an August 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. On Monday night, the trustees agreed, but they made several changes to the ordinance that they approved.

The use by right in residential zones will be less than a bed and breakfast business, and no conditional use review process would be required. However, homeowners will 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. Licenses can be revoked for reasons such as insufficient responses to repeated complaints from neighboring residents or law enforcement.

Other requirements include:

  • Homeowners must live in the home at least 9 months out of each calendar year.
  • 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 bedroom, with a maximum of 8 adults.
  • No more than two vehicles can be parked overnight on the street outside the vacation rental.
  • 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 on properties with accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses – either in the ADU or in main home if the owner lives in an ADU. You can learn more about ADUs, which are intended to increase availability of long-term rentals, by reading the Lyons municipal code at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.

The Board of Trustees will determine the fees needed to administer the short-term vacation rental program, including the short-term vacation rental business license cost. Look for materials posted on the Town of Lyons website at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/Board-of-Trustees-3.

What do these new 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. I saw the PCDC and the Board of Trustees as a whole aim 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 and trustees care about availability of long-term rentals for local employees. I’m glad a majority of both the commissioners and trustees voted in support of approaches that value the needs of affordable housing and long-term renters and not just property owners.

The ordinance that was approved 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).

Mayor Connie Sullivan even expressed these values when she said during the discussion Monday night “I think it should be easier to do an ADU and a long-term rental” than short-term vacation rentals. Trustees Dan Greenberg and Wendy Miller introduced and voted for amendments that kept in mind the concerns of renters looking for places to live in town. “It takes away what little housing stock we have,” Miller said to an earlier proposal to allow homeowners to be away 6 months out of the year and still rent out short-term vacation rentals. Miller recommended a required 9 months of homeowner occupancy instead, which made it into the final ordinance. Trustee Jim Kerr, whose wife gave input at earlier PCDC meetings as a vacation rental host, supported amendments that were more advantageous for homeowners and vacation rental hosts than concerns of longer-term renters in Lyons, or surrounding neighbors. Trustee Juli Waugh also supported some amendments that helped homeowners more than long-term renters, but she did say “I think the public is comfortable with what we have put together” as the changes to town code. Trustees Barney Dreistadt and Mike Karavas were mixed in their support of specific amendments. But all trustees approved the final resolution unanimously.

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. Consider that a homeowner in Lyons who needs to cover costs of a mortgage can easily do so with longer-term renters, and doesn’t have to rent only to short-term vacationers in order to “afford” to keep her house. For example, 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 or 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 it’s in the same house, they might even collaborate on projects that we all can enjoy. I call that a win-win situation for the homeowners, the long-term renters, and our entire community.

The new changes to municipal code to allow short-term vacation rentals will be implemented by the Town of Lyons on Jan. 1, 2018. Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen and Town Planner Paul Glasgow are working on an educational plan to roll out information and resources to the public.

Keep in mind that the changes to Town of Lyons code 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). Even within town limits, it’s important to know that some homeowners associations and deed-restricted affordable housing 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.

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