Published in the May 24, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Trustees closer to a sales agreement for the eastern corridor
by Amy Reinholds
The Lyons Board of Trustees unanimously voted on May 21 to direct staff to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with the partners who are proposing a mixed-use proposal on the eastern end of town that includes an innovative food agriculture business, a commercial kitchen, and affordable rentals.
Even though the Board of Trustees cannot commit any of the $4 million of possible federal disaster recovery funds earmarked for Lyons to this proposed project, the partners in the Greens development still wanted to move forward to negotiating a purchase of town-owned land.
The Greens partnership, originally the only group to submit a completed application at the end of 2017 for proposals to purchase land east of U.S. 36 that the Town of Lyons owns, has presented several updates to the Board of Trustees since that time. At Monday night’s meeting, the trustees got questions answered from a May 7 workshop and agreed to pursue next steps for a purchase and sale agreement. The Greens partners are Donna Merten, who owns a real estate development company and is getting a masters degree from the University of Colorado in sustainable food systems, 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.
As in any potential property purchase, there are still many steps, even after a sales agreement is signed, and not all sales agreements are completed. But the positive step for seeing potential affordable rentals on the eastern corridor is these business partners are willing to pursue options for commercial, agricultural, and housing that are viable for Lyons, even without the federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds for affordable housing that are currently committed to another proposal.
“It becomes an opportunity because we’re not tied to that timeframe,” Duvall said. According to timelines discussed at previous meetings, any project using the CDBG-DR funds for affordable housing that would come to Lyons through the State of Colorado must be already underway in 2019, and many developments like the one proposed by the Greens could take longer.
For about three decades, Thistle has developed affordable housing throughout Boulder County, with other sources of funding, such as federal and state low-income housing tax credits for investors. Examples of Thistle rentals 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. More examples are listed at www.thistle.us. 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.
A year ago, 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 request for proposals for prospective buyers with development plans in the fall of 2017. The Merten-Tamburello-Thistle proposal is for purchasing all the land that Lyons is selling, on both the north and south sides of the highway (4.3 acres at 4651 Ute Hwy and 3.28 acres at 4652 Ute Hwy).
Examples of Tamburello’s work building and also redeveloping and reimagining old buildings includes several well-known projects around the Highlands 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.
Architects from the partnership presented some proposed ideas that could be pursued if there is a purchase and sales agreement, including using some of the existing cement structures from the former water treatment plant on the south side of Ute Highway as underground parking with a platform and mostly residential buildings above (if structurally feasible and the foundations have not been compromised). There could also be some market rate housing, some lodging, an event center, and retail space on that side of the highway.
The north side of the highway is where affordable rentals for people who earn 60 percent of the area median income (a range set by the low-income housing tax credits), which might be on the north side of the highway, as well as the innovative, vertical greenhouses for food production, a farm grocery, and a commercial kitchen. Earlier proposals had about 45 affordable rental homes, and that number could be similar, but dependent on funding sources.
Although the Greens partnership had previously shown a proposal suggesting relocating the town public works building to the west, they said on May 21 that its location was not a deal-breaker. The main concern from the town staff and trustees was that it took years to find a site for the town public works building that FEMA will fund as part of the recovery process for the building destroyed in the 2013 flood, and moving it could slow down the process and jeopardize funding.
Trustee Mark Browning said that he liked the ability of the developers to be flexible because of the dependencies on decisions by so many outside groups such as the Colorado Department of Transportation for the highway corridor, FEMA, and state and county agencies.
The Greens partners also said they were discussing ideas of how to bring the proposal forward to the community in an event.
In the past two years, the Lyons Board of Trustees has been trying to find land for affordable housing, to not lose $4 million in federal CDBG-DR funds set aside for Lyons for affordable housing. Other 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 vote: 498 Lyons voters supported it, and 614 Lyons voters opposed it. However, with $4 million still reserved for Lyons in the years that followed, the trustees have been pursuing several smaller options for housing. The Division of Housing has committed to allowing a maximum of $100,000 per unit of new affordable homes built in Lyons.
Another proposal that the Town of Lyons has moved forward on a purchase agreement is with Summit Housing Group on for Filing 8, Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. Summit was assigned the purchase and sale agreement to purchase Lyons Valley Park, Filing 8, Tract A from Keith Bell, and completed some due diligence tasks last month. However many more steps are required.
“I like that there’s a plan B in the works,” Mayor Connie Sullivan said at the May 21 meeting about Thistle Housing’s proposal for the Greens. “We still have a long way to go with Summit.”
Summit won a request for proposals process in March, after a selection committee, including representatives from the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Lyons Valley Park homeowners association, brought forward finalists. Summit, based in Missoula, Mt., is a development company that specializes in low-income tax credit and mixed-use developments. It develops and manages rental properties in 6 states, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, all which include portions affordable to people who make 60% of the area median incomes or less.
Summit held a question and answer session with the community earlier this month, where several Lyons Valley Park homeowners in the area urged Summit to build a fewer number of homes on the Tract A — 29, as allowed without rezoning according to the subdivision agreement, instead of 43. Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen gave an update to the May 21 trustees meeting on the phone. She said that Summit would like to offer as many units as possible per their request for proposals application, but that Summit would not rule out providing fewer units on Tract A if another site could be located to also build homes. “They expressed a willingness to look at more than one site,” Simonsen said, and added that she is reopening discussions with the owner of 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive, 2.13 acres in Boulder County next to the Baseline-Mocon industrial parcel and near the Eagle Canyon subdivision.
The Town of Lyons lost about 76-94 flood-destroyed homes in the 2013 flood. 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.
There are currently 26 permanently affordable rental homes in the Town of Lyons (already in town 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, all operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority. The only post-flood affordable housing currently being built is at 2nd Avenue and Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of 6 homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. To volunteer or donate, see www.stvrainhabitat.org.
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.