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Published in the February 8, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Fears and facts discussed about option to buy Lyons Valley Park tract for affordable housing

by Amy Reinholds

Trustee Jim Kerr summed up a key point Monday night about a purchase and sale agreement that gives the Town of Lyons an option to buy a tract of Lyons Valley Park, already intended for multifamily housing, to use as a location for affordable housing.

“The owner already has the right to develop the land,” Kerr said at the Feb. 5 Board of Trustees meeting, referring to an existing intention for 43 homes in multifamily buildings in Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. “You’re already going to face that development.”

The difference is that instead of just market-rate multifamily housing sometime in the future, the Town of Lyons might be able to leverage federal flood recovery funds to purchase Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8 and partner with an affordable housing developer to build units that are affordable to households that earn about $42,000 to $49,000 a year (60 percent of the area-median income for a one-person or two-person household). For example, rents might be $1,300 a month or less, depending on household size. “Affordable” monthly costs are determined as no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income. The area median income changes every year.

During a public comment period about the purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., about 15 people spoke, most of them homeowners in Lyons Valley Park, including several grandparents who expressed fears about traffic increases and safety of children. Other homeowners who spoke had questions about how affordable housing works, the costs the Town of Lyons might be committing to, and the timeline.

“We invested a lot of money in this town,” a homeowner on McConnell Drive said. “We were told there would be more homes like ours built there.”

Videos of Town of Lyons Board of Trustees meetings are now available to view online at www.townoflyons.com/588/Board-of-Trustees-Meeting-Videos.

At a January 29 meeting, the previous Monday, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase agreement for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. Filing 8, part of a December 2008 subdivision agreement, states that up to 43 multifamily units are intended. The town signed a joint letter of intent between Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and David Wickum of Wickum Properties and Realty. It states the Town of Lyons intends to purchase Track A and work with public and private sectors to replace some of the housing lost in the 2013 flood, and that Wickum intends to purchase Lots 15-32 of Block 2 to develop single-family housing. If either Wickum or the Town of Lyons discontinues pursuing an intended purchase, Bell and Lyons Valley Park, Inc., will negotiate with the other party for a possible purchase. For example, if Wickum discontinues purchasing the Block 2 lots, the Town of Lyons could negotiate to purchase those as well. A price for all the tracts and lots won’t be negotiated until an appraisal is conducted, per Bell’s request. Wickum and the Town of Lyons also plan to work in good faith to share infrastructure costs.

Although some of the Lyons Valley Park homeowners who spoke at the Feb. 5 meeting either did not know or did not recall that the mayor and trustees had committed to adding affordable housing options to the Town of Lyons after the September 2013 flood, the current board has been working during its term to find land for several, smaller, in-fill residential developments that could qualify for $4 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds that have been earmarked for the Town of Lyons. The search became more urgent last fall as a deadline from the State of Colorado, which is distributing the funds, grew closer.

Mayor Connie Sullivan recapped at the Feb. 5 meeting that the timing of the funding required having a sales agreement in place while the town determines if the land will work for affordable housing.

“The one thing that’s really important to know is that we are four-plus years post-flood, and the CDBG-DR funding for housing expires if we couldn’t be in a purchase and sale agreement by the end of January,” Sullivan said. “So, not having a purchase and sale agreement by the end of January in essence loses $4 million – even the hope of spending $4 million.”

She continued: “And it doesn’t even mean that we will get it. We still might lose that money. We still might lose a portion of that money. But what that purchase and sale agreement did for us is kept us in the game so that we have a possibility of looking at a land parcel that is available to see if it’s even viable for development.”

“So, I think there is a lot of work to be done before we even know if any units – and if there are units that can be built on that parcel – how many, and of what type,” Sullivan said. “We can’t answer those questions at this point because there is a whole lot of due diligence that must be done.”

A request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developers who are interested in partnering with the town for the Tract A parcel went out on Friday, Feb. 2, with a due date of March 5. A meeting and a walk-through of the property for applicants is scheduled this Friday, Feb. 9, starting at 2 p.m., Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen reported to the trustees.

“Mr. Bell said he always hoped this would be a development that would contain multifamily units that looked like the larger homes, fitting in with the neighborhood,” Simonsen said, giving an example of multifamily residential units that look like the Lyons Valley Village co-housing that was built in the same neighborhood in 2006.

The walk-through is open to the public, and more details were sent out in a Town of Lyons email two days later. This Friday, Feb. 9, from between 2-4 p.m., the Town of Lyons is hosting a pre-proposal meeting at Town Hall, followed by a site tour of Lyons Valley Park Tract A. The public is invited to attend one or both. The site tour begins just after 3 p.m., starting at McConnell and Carter in Lyons Valley Park. The Town of Lyons email also included a link to the 8th Plat Filing for Lyons Valley Park document.

A larger amount of federal funds were lost in 2015 when a proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) was rejected in a town-wide vote: 498 Lyons voters supported it, and 614 Lyons voters opposed it. However, with the $4 million still reserved for Lyons in the years that followed, the trustees have been pursuing more smaller options for housing. Lyons can receive a maximum of $40,000 in CDBG-DR funds per each new affordable housing unit (up to $4 million total if 100 new affordable housing units are built). 

On the eastern corridor of Lyons, a partnership has submitted a proposal to purchase town-owned land for an agricultural and business development that includes 45 affordable rental units built and managed by Thistle, a community non-profit. This proposal is still in process with the town, and no formal actions have yet been taken by the trustees. For details, see a previous column: Trustees interested, but request more info about agriculture/affordable housing proposal.

To discuss negotiating other possible sales agreements related to other smaller parcels in the Town of Lyons, the trustees held an executive session (closed to the public) at the end of the Feb. 5 meeting. Real estate agreement negotiations are covered under the State of Colorado sunshine laws.

The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is another source of funding that could help developers build housing that is available at lower cost. A deadline for a higher subsidy of tax credits to cover 70 percent of the units in a project (also referred to as “9 percent tax credits”) is approaching this spring. For details about LIHTC, see www.chfainfo.com/arh/lihtc/overview.

“The 9 percent tax credits are what make the small projects work,” Mayor Sullivan said. “The Bell property and the [RFP proposal for the town-owned land on the] eastern corridor are the two proposals that we want to look at to find out if they are viable for affordable housing.”

The Town of Lyons currently has a total of 26 permanently affordable rentals (already in Lyons before the September 2013 flood): eight apartments at Bloomfield Place near the Stone Cup cafe, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing near the post office, and six apartments at Mountain Gate on 2nd Ave. 

The only in-progress, post-flood affordable housing is at 2nd Avenue and Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building six for-sale homes (in three duplexes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. To volunteer, sign up at www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction.

To get an accurate number of housing stock lost in the September 2013 flood, there are two ways to count. First, according to counts of Town of Lyons water taps/customer accounts, 94 customer accounts were lost after the flood (taking into account the 32 homes in Riverbend Mobile Home Park that were originally part of one water tap). However, some of those customer accounts were on Apple Valley Road (not in town limits), and some lots in town have more than one water tap/customer account. A second way to count is the number of flood-damaged homes in the Town of Lyons lost to both the federal buyout programs and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use), which totals 76 lost residential units. Federal buyouts totaled 44 units – including all residential units in the Foothills Mobile Home Park – and there were also 32 families who lost homes in the Riverbend Mobile Home Park, which was rezoned as a commercial wedding and lodging venue after the flood.

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.