Published in the October 19, 2017, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Town considers incentives for affordable housing
by Amy Reinholds
The previous Board of Trustees for the Town of Lyons passed an affordable housing resolution in April 2016, specifying a goal of 10% affordable housing stock in Lyons with a list of possible housing policies and incentives that future boards can use to accomplish that goal.
Since then, the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, which describes the planning area where landowners can request to annex into the Town of Lyons if they want to be part of the town, and a request for proposals to purchase town-owned land on the eastern corridor both mention affordable housing as a goal. At their regular Monday meeting this week, trustees once again discussed the importance of affordable housing in Lyons, and possible ways to incentivize it as part of the annexation request process.
“We are losing businesses right and left, and one reason is there is no workforce,” Mayor Connie Sullivan said at the Oct. 16 meeting. “There is no place for the workforce to live.”
Trustee Juli Waugh said there may be push-back from Lyons residents who are “afraid of permanently affordable housing in their backyards.”
Trustee Wendy Miller supported incentives for annexations that include affordable housing, bringing attention to the need for rentals for local workers that far outweighs the available land for new housing. “I don’t think we’ll ever have a problem of too much housing in this town for the workforce,” she said.
Trustee Jim Kerr brought up the warning in the Primary Planning Area Master Plan that a mix of too much residential and not enough business in town could cause a net loss to the town budget. Trustees have agreed with this sentiment to maintain the right balance for financial stability, and they spoke about encouraging mixed-use (commercial and residential) development in annexation requests.
Some of the possible incentives Mayor Sullivan discussed informally were requiring a percentage of new development be affordable housing in exchange for easing some other annexation requirements for parcels under 10 acres.
The conversation about annexation requirements goes much deeper than incentivizing affordable housing, and no decisions on changes of any kind to the annexation process were made at the Oct. 16 meeting. The trustees expect to continue the public hearing on changes to annexation requirements to a Dec. 4 meeting, with a workshop to gather more information to be scheduled before then.
The trustees talked about how even if some requirements for applying to annex were changed, an annexation still goes through a complete process with the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Board of Trustees, and the trustees do not have to accept annexation proposals. When the annexation process gets to the trustees, they can think of affordable housing requirements as minimums and ask the applicants for more, Mayor Sullivan said.
Both the PCDC and the trustees will use the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan as a guide for annexation. You can read the final Master Plan, created with many months of input from neighbors and community members, at www.townoflyons.com/DocumentCenter/View/948. Also, to learn more about the Town of Lyons Affordable Housing Resolution see lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/outgoing-trustees-pass-affordable-housing-resolution and read the resolution itself at www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/220?fileID=323.
Easing some requirements for annexation applications in exchange for some affordable housing requirements “might help the town fully recover from the 2013 flood,” Mayor Sullivan said.
To get some perspective if you didn’t live in town before September 2013, consider that the Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park) and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). In March 2015, a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election. At the end of 2016, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley purchased six residential lots in Lyons to build three permanently affordable duplexes, beginning work this fall.
Other than those six homes that Habitat for Humanity will be building, no homes that are affordable to people who make less than 60 percent of the area median income are planned. (Affordable means that a household spends no more than a third of household income on housing costs – rent or mortgage.) None of those approximately 70 flood-destroyed homes have been added back into the housing stock of Lyons. So far, plans for three accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as carriage houses or mother-in-law apartments, have been approved for Lyons homeowners, although they have not been completed. These ADU apartment rentals would be market rate, although lower in cost because of size. So, if you want to count 9 new homes planned since the flood, that still leaves more than 60 homes that we are short in Lyons since the flood.
“I love the notion of enabling affordable housing,” Trustee Barney Dreistadt said about incentives in the annexation process. The board had talked about a previous citizen petition in years past related to annexation requests by developers of large, high-end residential neighborhoods. “What I would really love is to see a citizen petition come forward saying we want affordable housing in town,” he said, describing a situation where the registered voters of Lyons could demand town code require affordable housing, maybe as part of annexation or development proposals.
Anyone want to act on that challenge from Trustee Dreistadt?
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.