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Published in the July 4, 2019, edition of the Lyons Recorder.

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

An update on licensed short-term vacation rentals

by Amy Reinholds

On the July 4 holiday week, many people are thinking about traveling and tourism. This week’s deadline was before the July 1 Board of Trustees meeting, but agenda materials included information on short-term vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons.

According to the written Administrative Report document in the July 1 Board of Trustees meeting agenda, there are 17 residential properties in town limits in 2019 that have Town of Lyons Short-term Rental Licenses already issued or currently processing.

There is a map on the Town of Lyons website that shows the location of all these licensed properties: townoflyonsgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=47c06c204fa541e7b2a4af5e258fefc5.

The report document also states that there are three non-compliant short-term vacation rentals in residential zones, one with a denied application, one that is a new listing on a commercial lodging website, and one that is listed as having “received a second administrative citation ($500).”

According to that same report, a status of the Town of Lyons lodging occupation fees ($2 per night) shows that five forms were not received by a March 20 deadline for the previous month’s fee. However, it states that nine forms were received before April 20.

Owning a home on a residential lot in the Town of Lyons, whether purchased recently, years or decades ago, or inherited from a family member, does not come with the automatic allowance to run a lodging business in that home and make money by renting it out by the night to tourists.

Until a Short-term Rental ordinance was added to the Town of Lyons municipal code at the start of 2018, the only way for owners of residential-zoned properties (R-1 and R-2) in town to legally rent space in their homes for short-term, nightly or weekly periods of time (including on websites like AirBnb and VRBO) was to apply for a conditional use review to run a Bed and Breakfast business. The Bed and Breakfast conditional use review process required several steps including public hearings before the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission and the Lyons Board of Trustees. No homeowners ever applied for the Bed and Breakfast conditional use reviews for R-1 and R-2 properties. (Bed and breakfast businesses with six or fewer units are allowed by right — without the conditional use reviews — on A-1, A-2, and Estate zoned land, if the homeowners have a business license and the rented units are in the main house.)

The new process makes it much easier for homeowners on R-1 and R-2 properties, who didn’t have a “use by right” before, to rent out rooms to vacationers in the homes where they live. Now all a residential homeowner must do is complete a Town of Lyons Short-term Rental Application, with a new application fee, and pay an annual license fee for a Town of Lyons Short-term Rental License. Residential homeowners can apply at www.townoflyons.com/ShortTermRentals.

The Lyons Short-term Rental Ordinance prohibits short-term rentals in campers or RVs, in other non-compliant structures like sheds, in carriage houses or ADUs that are covered by the www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units ordinance, and in homes that the property owners do not use as their principal residence. The homeowners who are renting out rooms to tourists must obtain a Colorado sales tax license and collect, report, and pay sales tax, or they can contract with a company like AirBnb to collect, report, and pay sales tax on their behalf. They also must pay a $2 per night Town of Lyons occupancy fee.

Compliance to the short-term vacation rental policy is important because it helps keep the stock of residential rentals for long-term renters who work in town and are looking for lower-cost options in smaller spaces, like roommate situations or accessory dwelling units. If space that could go to someone struggling to find a place to rent instead goes to tourists, our town stock of residential rentals goes down, increasing demand, and even increasing rental prices.

I see this concern about reduced long-term rentals as very real in small tourist towns in Colorado like Lyons, Salida, or Crested Butte, or in large cities like Denver, San Francisco, and Vancouver. Recently, a study from McGill University’s School of Urban Planning, found that Airbnb took 31,000 homes and apartments out of Canada’s long-term rental market in the past year. The study used a comprehensive dataset of all Airbnb activity in Canada from September 2016 to December 2018, compiled by the consulting firm AirDNA, and based on daily “scrapes” of Airbnb’s public website. You can read the entire study at http://upgo.lab.mcgill.ca/2019/06/20/short-term-rentals-in-canada-paper/.

“While current Airbnb activity is concentrated in major cities, active listings, total revenue, hosts with multiple listings, and frequently rented entire-home listings are all growing at substantially higher rates in small towns and rural areas,” according to the summary of the study.

Lyons lost about 76 to 94 destroyed homes in the 2013 flood. In March 2015, 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 homes) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. However, $4 million of federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds were still set aside for affordable housing in Lyons, and the State Housing Board voted in February to approve Summit Housing Group’s application for those funds for building 11 single family homes and 29 homes in multifamily buildings on land the company plans to buy in Lyons Valley Park. Until Summit’s proposal, a few concepts for subsidized affordable rentals were pursued, but nothing got very far in the process.

The only post-flood, deed-restricted, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112, 114, and 116 Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on six residential lots. The first duplex was completed in April 2019, and more volunteer help is needed to finish the other buildings. At www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction, after clicking FLOOD REBUILD-LYONS, volunteers can review all volunteer days with openings and sign up for one or more of the specific days they are available. Help is most needed on weekdays. For any questions, contact Rebecca Shannon, Community Engagement Manager, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, at 303-682-2485.


This column is a commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.