Published in the Nov. 15, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Planning Commission recommends neighborhood notification for large accessory buildings in residential zones
by Amy Reinholds
If your neighbor plans to build a garage or other accessory building that is two stories or bigger, would you want to be notified and have the opportunity to give your input? The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) voted on Nov. 12 to recommend that town code change to require a conditional use review and notify neighbors for any accessory buildings that are two stories or more in residential lots in town.
The next step is before the Lyons Board of Trustees at an upcoming meeting.
This change in town process for residential zones was prompted by concerns the PCDC heard from neighbors about applicants bringing the conditional use review forward for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) a year after the living space above the garage was permitted and built “by right” as an accessory building (garage) under Town of Lyons code. The neighbors expressed concern about the size of the structure, which looks like an R-2 zoned property with two townhomes on the lot. However, the town code had allowed that size of garage to be added to the property.
A process for adding ADUs (small carriage houses or mother-in-law apartments) to single family home residential lots was created and modified in the Town of Lyons during the past few years, aiming to encourage more available rentals in town at lower costs because of the size, but still at market rate. The Lyons ADU ordinance (see www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units) allows small carriage houses to share utility connection fees with the main house, which saves homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs. 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. Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house (for example, basement apartments) don’t require conditional reviews like detached ADUs (for example, carriage houses), but they do require permits.
Whenever homeowners want to build accessory buildings, such as garages, that are two stories or greater, or have services (sewer and water) connected to the additional building, this change in town code would now require that neighbors be notified and public hearings scheduled for the public to give comments. The conditional use review would be required for all large accessory units, regardless of whether the owners intend them to be dwelling units that are rented out or not. Conditional use review public hearings are held before both the PCDC and the Lyons Board of Trustees.
There were four members of the public in the audience, but no one gave comments to the PCDC during this public hearing. Commissioners discussed past comments they have heard about character of neighborhoods, increased density, and complaints they have heard about large buildings in R-1 zoned (single family home) zoned parts of town.
The PCDC commissioners also talked about how it’s not common for zoning codes in other municipalities to allow homeowners in residential zones the automatic right to build accessory buildings as tall or as large as the primary house on the lot. This change for Lyons would require a conditional use review for homeowners who want to do build the accessory buildings two stories or higher.
The commissioners voted 7-0 for the change to Lyons Town Code.
ADUs on R-1 residential lots in town are often pointed to as a solution for affordable housing, but it’s important to consider that town code does not limit what the homeowners can charge for rent. These additional dwelling units might provide some more rental options in town, but they won’t be the sole solution to replace what was lost in the 2013 flood. The rent for these ADUs, carriage houses, or whatever someone calls them, will still be whatever the market will bear. In contrast, Summit Housing Group is proposing a total of 40 rental homes in the Lyons Valley Park subdivision with rents that are affordable for people who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less. Summit is applying for Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds, available at a maximum of $100,000 per rental home, up to $4 million for the proposed total 40 residences (29 homes in duplexes and triplexes, and 11 single-family homes). This funding, as well as federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits helps subsidize the rents to be affordable.
Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes. 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 (including 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.
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 disaster recover funds were still set aside for affordable housing in Lyons. After that vote, a few concepts for subsidized affordable rentals have been pursued, but Summit’s plan to purchase of the land in Lyons Valley Park is the first step toward that building process. So far, the only post-flood, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112 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. To volunteer or to donate to Habitat for Humanity construction costs in Lyons, go to www.stvrainhabitat.org.
Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission and served as a liaison to the Special Housing Committee during its existence from April 2015-April 2016. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on her blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact her directly at areinholds @hotmail.com