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Published in the January 18, 2018, edition of  the Lyons Recorder

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

Trustees interested, but request more info about agriculture/affordable housing proposal

by Amy Reinholds

The Lyons Board of Trustees expressed interest this week in a proposal for the eastern corridor to integrate food production in vertical greenhouses with 45 affordable rentals, an “ugly produce” grocery, a farm-to-table restaurant, hostel lodging, and a commercial kitchen.

Trustees heard a presentation at a Jan. 16 workshop from a partnership that applied for the request for proposals to buy town-owned land east of Colo. Hwy. 66 and U.S. 36. Donna Merten, who owns a real estate development company and is getting a masters degree from the University of Colorado in sustainable food systems, brought forward the project proposal with Paul Tamburello, who runs a real estate development firm and serves on the board of the indoor farm and marketplace GrowHaus in Denver, and Mary Duvall, CEO of affordable housing nonprofit Thistle.

During the regular meeting later that evening, the trustees directed town staff to work with the applicants to get more information about several areas of interest. They wanted to know more about affordable rentals that allow for people who make less than 60 percent of the area median income, preference policies for affordable housing that are allowed based on funding sources, the amount of retail and housing space, the kind of retail that the market that the Lyons area can support, including whether it fits in with the character of Lyons, and whether lodging is a committed component for the project. A report is expected at the next regular meeting on Feb. 5.

You can see the partnership’s original application to the Lyons Village East Redevelopment request for proposals (RFP) at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/3378?fileID=7794, although some aspects have changed since November, when it was originally submitted.

The proposal is for a mix of 45 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments that are permanently affordable to people who make 60 percent of the area median income. Right now, 60 percent of the area median income means about $42,000 a year for an individual or $48,000-$49,000 for a two-person household. For that income range, monthly rent that is affordable is around $1,300, depending on family size. Lyons staff and trustees have encouraged looking at ways to also include rents that are affordable for people with incomes less than $42,000 a year, and Duvall said she would research what mixes of income levels could work, based on the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program and various funding sources.

For the north side of the highway (4.3 acres at 4651 Ute Hwy), the partners propose vertical greenhouse structures, and a building with the affordable apartments on the upper level. On the main level, they propose a “seconds” or “ugly produce” grocery store, and a distribution center for the greenhouse business. There would also be a commercial kitchen, which would be available for rent.

For the south side of the highway (3.28 acres at 4652 Ute Hwy), they propose a farm-to-table restaurant and a community center, including a catering facility to rent out for weddings. They also propose either mini apartments, which would be market rate, possibly housing students doing research into sustainable agriculture, or possibly a hostel lodging model for at least part of the year, available as short-term vacation rentals for tourists.

In April 2017, the Town of Lyons purchased the former Longmont water treatment plant land east of U.S. 36 from the City of Longmont to use a portion 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. The land has been annexed into town, and the part that is for sale is currently zoned as agricultural land. The town put out the RFP for prospective buyers with development plans in the fall of 2017.

Examples of Thistle rentals throughout Boulder County include 1200 Kimbark in Longmont, the Cannery Apartments at 15 3rd Ave. in Longmont, and Parkside Village Townhomes at 5007-5095 Valmont Rd. in Boulder. All are listed on the website at www.thistle.us. Thistle has been building and managing affordable housing in communities in the Boulder County area for more than 30 years. With 871 homes at the end of 2017, Thistle affordable housing includes a diverse mix of rental units, home ownership, and community land trusts in both mobile home parks and condominium buildings. Thistle is part of NeighborWorks America, a non-profit chartered by congress to bring local and independent housing solutions to communities.

Examples of Tamburello’s work building and also redeveloping and reimagining old buildings includes several well-known projects around the Highland neighborhood of Denver including Root Down and Linger restaurants and LoHi Market Place, and he owns Little Man Ice Cream. Tamburello is a founder of GrowHaus, a nonprofit indoor farm, marketplace and educational center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.

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. 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). For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons – including 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) that was voted down 614 to 498 by Lyons voters in 2015, and the land at 2nd and Park that Habitat for Humanity bought to build 3 duplexes – you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.