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Published in the March 1, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder

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

Tiny homes on wheels as ADUs still on Planning Commission’s discussion list

by Amy Reinholds

A process for adding accessory dwelling units (ADUs), small carriage houses, mother-in-law apartments, or garage apartments to single family home residential lots has been shaped in the Town of Lyons during the past few years, aiming to encourage more rentals in town at lower costs because of the size, but still market rate. So far, three homeowners had plans approved by the town to build legal ADUs. In 2017, both the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Board of Trustees approved conditional use review plans for a garage apartment at 427 Stickney Street, a garage apartment at 327 Seward Street, and a separate 600 square-foot one bedroom apartment at 600 Indian Lookout Road, currently an undeveloped parcel where a new home will also be built.

The Lyons ADU ordinance 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 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.

One aspect of the ADU approach that Mayor Connie Sullivan and the Lyons Board of Trustees asked the PCDC to look at more than a year ago is still on the commission’s plate: whether tiny homes on wheels could be included in the ADU policy and allowed as permanent structures like stick-built buildings. At their Jan. 26 meeting, the PCDC commissioners talked about preparing a report to deliver at an upcoming meeting with the trustees, describing the remaining issues and open questions for the trustees about the direction that that the town should take.

The trustees had directed the PCDC to see how tiny homes (either put on foundations, or used like recreation vehicles) could work as ADUs. However, the PCDC and Town Staff had separated tiny homes as a distinct issue from ADUs because of difficulties with inspection and standards (tiny homes on wheels do not currently have standards for residential inspection like stock-built homes or mobile homes/manufactured housing do).

The term “tiny homes” describes a trend that started in the early 2000s of small constructed homes that are on built on a trailer frame with axles and wheels, registered like recreation vehicles (RVs). These tiny homes on wheels, which have a vehicle license like RVs, don’t fit into the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes), the International Residential Code (IRC) that building inspection companies like Town of Lyons contracting company Charles Abbott Associates use, or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles, which currently applies to any RV but is not intended for year-round living.

The Town of Lyons doesn’t have a history of writing its own building codes. Also, even if Lyons does arrive at its own building code standards for tiny homes, issues remain, such as finding manufacturers who will follow those standards, and getting an inspection process in place. The town’s current inspectors don’t want to inspect anything that is not using the IRC standards.

Previous discussions with PCDC commissioners last year included suggestions that if tiny homes on wheels were allowed as ADUs, there could be a recommendation to the Board of Trustees that a limited number be allowed in town, or that a landowner could have a limited time to have such an ADU, such as 3-5 years. This would allow the town to evaluate if there are any issues with tiny homes as ADUs. The PCDC has also discussed that even though tiny homes are classified as RVs, they would have to meet design standards that they look like a stick-built homes if they were to be used as ADUs.

As of the Feb. 26 PCDC meeting, there is not consensus among the PCDC commissioners about whether the best way to include tiny homes on wheels as ADUs is to require them to be on foundations and hooked up to all town utilities, or as RVs “off-the-grid.” Commissioners have not made a decision on what option is the best way to help homeowners save money, therefore encouraging more ADUs as rentals in town, what option is the best for neighborhoods and overall for the town of Lyons. However, in the next month, the commission, with Lyons Director of Community Development Paul Glasgow, plans to compile all issues in a presentation for the trustees (expected at a trustees meeting this spring).

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. 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.

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.