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Published in the November 9, 2017,  edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

No decisions yet on incentives for affordable housing during annexation

by Amy Reinholds

Although trustees discussed adding possible incentives for affordable housing to a town annexation policy at a workshop on Monday, the Lyons Board of Trustees is no closer to arriving at a decision than in October.

The conversation about changes to annexation requirements goes much deeper than incentivizing affordable housing, and no decisions on changes of any kind to the annexation process were made at during previous Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 16. The trustees wanted to continue the public hearing on changes to annexation requirements to a Dec. 4 meeting, and scheduled the workshop on Monday, Nov. 6 to gather more information.

“The spirit of this ordinance is to slow growth,” Mayor Connie Sullivan said at the workshop. “People want to know that development will be controlled.” But Sullivan said some of the parcels that are requested to be annexed might be larger than 5 acres but not have 5 developable acres because of geographic or other constraints. The board had talked about a previous citizen petition nearly two decades ago related to annexation requests by developers of large, high-end residential neighborhoods, which influenced the town’s current annexation ordinance. It triggers a Town of Lyons election at the end of an annexation process if the total land parcel is larger than 5 acres, but size of the proposed development itself is not considered.

By the time the trustees listed actions for the town planner and town attorney during the regular part of the Nov. 6 meeting, they were able identify the following requests for more information and drafts of possible changes to annexation policy to bring back in December:

  • An annexation ordinance that is as simple as possible, so that the public, including landowners who apply to annex, can easily understand it.
  • A statement that explains that the board is under no obligation to approve an annexation just because the property requested to be annexed meets a specific exemption for a town election. (There is still an independent annexation approval process that involves multiple public hearings and reviews with the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission and the trustees.)
  • A possible option to increase size of annexations that require voter approval in a Town of Lyons election to 10 acres.
  • A possible requirement that only 5 acres of a parcel that is exempt from an election can be developable, and remaining acres must have a lower-impact zoning (with a 10-year moratorium on rezoning).
  • A possible exemption of parcels greater that 10 acres if half of the parcel is already encumbered as non-developable.
  • A possible exemption for affordable housing with higher-density R2 and R3 zoning.

We’ll find out more on these annexation requirements, and if they can encourage affordable housing, at future meetings of the trustees this month and next.

The previous Board of Trustees passed an affordable housing resolution in April 2016, specifying a goal of 10 percent affordable housing stock in Lyons with a list of possible housing policies and incentives that future boards can use to accomplish that goal. Since then, the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, which describes the planning area where landowners can request to annex into the Town of Lyons if they want to be part of the town, and a request for proposals to purchase town-owned land on the eastern corridor both mention affordable housing as a goal. Also, based on a Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership plan that is in progress, the town is also considering raising the goal of affordable housing to 12 percent of all Town of Lyons housing units.

Affordable means that a middle or low income household spends no more than a third of household income on housing costs, either rent or mortgage. The town has a total of 26 permanently affordable rentals (already in Lyons before the September 2013 flood): eight apartments at Bloomfield Place, twelve apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing, and six apartments at Mountain Gate. Also, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building six permanently affordable homes for sale (3 duplexes) at 2nd and Park Streets. Those 32 affordable homes are only 3.3 percent of the approximate 950 homes in Lyons.

To get some perspective if you didn’t live in town before September 2013, consider that 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, where 32 families used to live, 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, beginning work this fall.

Other than those six homes that Habitat for Humanity will be building, no new permanently affordable homes are planned. Plans for three new accessory dwelling units (carriage houses or garage apartments) have been approved in town, but the rent will be market rate, which means that it is not prevented from rising in the future.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 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.