Published in the July 12, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Updates on both subsidized affordable and market-rate rental proposals in Lyons
by Amy Reinholds
The July 2 Lyons Board of Trustees meeting included updates about subsidized affordable rental proposals for Lyons Valley Park and 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive, and a decision about a market-rate rental in an accessory dwelling unit.
During a staff report, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen told the trustees that Summit Housing Group, which has an agreement to purchase Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, is creating a new concept design proposing to build 29 affordable rentals on that parcel. She said that Summit is also pursuing a purchase agreement for 19617 N. St. Vrain Drive and a concept plan that proposes 20 to 24 affordable townhomes there.
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 percent of the area median incomes or less. The latest homes in Colorado are at 1205 Pace St. in Longmont. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program is a source of funding that helps developers build rental homes at lower cost. The LIHTC gives investors a reduction in their federal tax liability for every dollar they invest in financing to develop affordable rental housing. The investors’ equity contribution subsidizes the development, allowing housing units to rent at below-market rates.
On Jan. 29, the trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement with current owner Keith Bell, for an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8. The town signed a joint letter of intent between Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and David Wickum of Wickum Properties and Realty, based in Lyons. The letter stated that the Town of Lyons intended to purchase Tract A and work with public and private sectors to replace some of the housing lost in the 2013 flood, and that Wickum intended to purchase Lots 15-32 of Block 2 to develop single-family housing. A request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developers interested in partnering with the town for that Lyons Valley Park Tract A parcel went out in February. A selection committee (including representatives from the Lyons Valley Park Homeowners Association and the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission) brought forward two finalists who presented to the Lyons Board of Trustees, and Summit Housing Group was selected by the trustees in March. The purchase and sale agreement with Keith Bell was then assigned from the Town of Lyons to Summit Housing Group, who will work directly with the seller.
Simonsen told the trustees on July 2 that Summit plans to hold another community meeting in July about the updated proposal for building affordable rental homes in Lyons. At a previous community meeting in May, input from several homeowners in the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood encouraged Sam Long, Summit senior project manager, to consider building only 29 homes instead of the 43 homes that Summit was originally planning for Tract A of Lyons Valley Park. Long said at that meeting that Summit determined that the Lyons Valley Park subdivision agreement allows for multifamily density on 3.82 acres of Tract A of Filing 8, allowing about 27-29 homes (whether built by Summit or someone else). Summit proposed rentals affordable to people who make about 60 percent of the area median income (or possibly less, depending on funding sources and investments like LIHTC).
Also at the July 2 meeting, the trustees heard a public hearing for a conditional use review for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a single-family-home lot at 310 5th Ave., owned by Randy and Georgie Pollard. The trustees voted 4-2 to approve the conditional use for the ADU, which had been previously built above a new garage that was constructed after the flood. This approval allows the homeowners of the single-family zoned lot to now rent the additional dwelling unit out to long-term tenants for a market-rate rent, instead of using it just for their own family. It also allows them to put in a full kitchen. The week before, the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) approved the conditional user review more narrowly, 3-2.
The difference between the public comment from the June 25 PCDC meeting and the July 2 Board of Trustees meeting was striking. However, the Board of Trustees did not know exactly how big the difference was in public comment – other than an overview in the PCDC minutes and a brief staff report – and the “Open & Closed Case for BOT” article in last week’s Lyons Recorder did not mention the difference in the public comment at the two meetings, either.
At the June 25 PCDC meeting, the conditional use review public hearing for the 310 5th Ave. ADU included comments from four neighbors who had concerns with the applicants bringing the conditional use review forward for an ADU now, a year after the living space above the garage was permitted and built. It appeared to the neighbors that the applicants used the process to apply for a family living space above the garage to bypass the conditional use review process for an ADU. Comments also centered around how hard it was for everyone to rebuild after the 2013 flood, although the neighbors who spoke said they shared their rebuild plans with neighbors for input and had expected the same from others.
At the July 2 trustees meeting, four friends of the applicants, and a contractor who built the garage with the living space above, all spoke in favor of the proposal and said the homeowners were good people who weren’t “devious about anything” as one friend described it. Adjacent neighbor Joe Meckle was the only close-proximity neighbor who spoke before the trustees on July 2, and he opposed the conditional use as an ADU, which allows renting the unit to tenants outside the family. He reiterated the same concerns that he communicated at the June 25 PCDC meeting that if it was known that the space would be used for a market-rate rental (not just for the homeowners’ family use), when the garage structure was planned, the neighbors would have had input in a conditional use review at that time, instead of after the building was already completed, when it was too late to modify the footprint of the building or make other changes to ease the impact on immediate neighbors.
Despite the differences in public input from June 25 to July 2, the same facts remained at the July 2 public hearing: building the garage building was within current Town of Lyons code. The large size and height of the garage with the living space above met the requirements of a maximum 30-foot height allowed under Town of Lyons building code for buildings, including garages that are part of a single-family home residential lot. The four trustees who voted in favor of this conditional use as an ADU, allowing the homeowners to now rent the second building out to long-term tenants, said they voted that way because the building was allowed under town code.
Town code that meets the goals of fairness and equity for all single-family, residential property owners within town limits is what is at stake for Lyons, not whether applicants are good people. In my opinion, these applicants are good people, as are all the property owners who have applied for ADUs. It’s unfortunate that loopholes existed that allowed this large living space, including a high-end kitchen area with a refrigerator, sink, and a dishwasher – but not a stove, an attorney for the owners stated – to be permitted and built for family use only, without the required conditional use review for an ADU. A conditional use review would have allowed public input to both the PCDC and the trustees and notified neighbors within 300 feet – before the building was constructed. When I walked by the neighborhood recently, I thought the lot at 310 5th Ave. looks like an R-2 residential lot with two single family homes on it. The two structures, one the detached garage, look like two homes of similar size on one lot, yet it is still an R-1 lot.
All the trustees at the July 2 meeting (regardless of how they voted on the 310 5th Ave. conditional use review) said that fixing town code to eliminate this kind of loophole is once again their priority, as trustees have said before. “We do need to do something about the loophole in the town ordinance,” Trustee Juli Waugh said. “I’m concerned about density in old town. I’d like to see us start to address this at our July 16 meeting.”
Trustee Mark Browning, who had advocated for fixing this problem in the town code when he was on the PCDC before being elected to the Board of Trustees said, “This is a problem that the town created. I’d like to see this ordinance fixed before we grant any other ADU approvals.”
Mayor Connie Sullivan said “The board has set into motion a zoning code review to the PCDC that might have prevented a loophole.” She also addressed broader issue of legacy non-conforming ADUs (town staff knew of 21 a year ago). “We need to get the current ADUs that are already out there approved and know what steps will be taken to get those into compliance. I know town staff has been working on this,” she said, suggesting that an update of next steps could published as a staff report at an upcoming meeting.
I’m glad to hear this from the trustees. Here’s why I think compliance with the Town of Lyons ADU code is important to affordable housing and fairness for all residents of Lyons, both homeowners and renters.
This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about 76 to 94 flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 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. Although other affordable homes have been proposed in the past year, so far, the only post-flood 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 6 homes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. 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.