Published in the Dec. 6, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Neighbors now have a say about large accessory buildings
by Amy Reinholds
The Lyons Board of Trustees voted on Dec. 3 to close a loophole that allowed residential property owners to build large accessory buildings like two-story garages “by right,” without conditional-use reviews that give neighbors a chance to comment.
Now, if your Lyons neighbor plans to build a garage or other accessory building that is two stories or bigger, or has sewer or water connections to it, you will be notified and have the opportunity to give your input to town decision-makers. This change in town code requires that neighbors are notified and public hearings scheduled for the public to give comments about the proposed building. The conditional use is now required for all large accessory units, regardless of whether the owners currently intend them to be dwelling units that are rented out or not. Conditional use review public hearings are held before both the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Board of Trustees.
This change in town process for residential zones was prompted by concerns heard from neighbors about applicants bringing a 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 R-1 zoned lot. However, the town code had allowed that size of garage to be added to the property. The PCDC, and Town Planner Paul Glasgow, had recommended that the town code change to allow neighbors of these accessory buildings to have a say in the use review. The PCDC passed the recommendation on Nov. 12 to change Town of Lyons code.
The policy for building ADUs (small carriage houses or mother-in-law apartments) on 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. Research that town staff gave Lyons Board of Trustees in August found approximately 55 non-compliant ADUs in the Town of Lyons (including allowed historically non-compliant ADUs built before some areas had town zoning). And since May 2017, conditional use reviews were completed and approved under the new ADU policy for five new detached ADU buildings. That’s a total of 60 current ADUs in town limits.
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.
“We’ve seen [previous town code that allowed large garage buildings by right] taken advantage of at least twice,” Trustee Mark Browning said. He said a conditional use-review requires “proper notice to neighbors to they have a chance to appear before the PCDC and the board of trustees. We had neighbors coming to us saying, ‘We should have been notified.’”
Trustees schedule workshop, postpone decision on tiny homes on wheels RVs as ADUs
Another issue related to ADUs also came before the trustees on first reading on Dec. 3. The trustees voted to pass at first reading an ordinance that would allow homeowners to bring in tiny homes on wheels (registered as RVs) as ADUs. But instead of keeping the scheduled second reading and public hearing for a final vote on Dec. 17, the trustees scheduled a workshop to discuss the proposed ordinance further. After the Dec. 17 workshop, they will have the option to “continue” or postpone the second reading and public hearing until a later meeting, if they needed more information or changes from town staff. [Trustee Mark Browning has since reported that he expects the public hearing will be Jan. 7, 2019.]
On Nov. 26, four members of the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) approved recommending that the Town of Lyons Board of Trustees adopt an ordinance amending town code to allow tiny homes on wheels as accessory dwelling units in town residential zones.
This proposed change to the ADU ordinance would allow homeowners in residential neighborhoods in the Town of Lyons to bring in tiny homes on wheels, built off-site, treating them the same as the ADUs that are built on site. The term “tiny homes on wheels” or sometimes just “tiny homes” describes a trend that started in the early 2000s of small constructed homes that are on built on a trailer frame with axles and wheels, registered like RVs. I’ve heard people describe tiny homes as “gentrified RVs.” Tiny homes on wheels don’t fit into either the International Building Code (IRC) that building inspection companies use or the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes). Instead of requiring the IRC, the proposed changes to the Town of Lyons code would allow tiny homes on wheels that are built according to recreational vehicle (RV) standards like American National Standards Institute Park Model Recreational Vehicle Standard 119.5, National Electrical Code Standards 551 and 552, and National Fire Protection Association Standard 1192.
Under the proposed ordinance change, the Town of Lyons would require tiny homes on wheels, like all ADUs, to be attached to all Town of Lyons utilities. The tiny homes on wheels would be required to be anchored and secured and attached to all utilities. Also, occupancy of these tiny homes on wheels are limited to a maximum of four people, based on direction of the trustees to prevent large families or groups of singles jammed into small homes. All the other same requirements for ADUs would apply, including renting to long-term tenants (at least month to month) instead of to short-term tourists.
The proposed additions to town code state that no more than 10 tiny homes on wheels can be used as ADUs within Lyons town limits. After 10 are approved, the Lyons Board of Trustees “can review the effects of tiny homes on Lyons’s affordable housing inventory and may, in its discretion, increase the total allowable number of tiny homes.”
It is not clear what “the effects of tiny homes on Lyons’s affordable housing inventory” means. Will there be data that measures affordability of these market-rate homes? Will it only be affordable to the property owners, or will it be affordable to people struggling to find places to rent?
“We have heard it makes the property that someone owns affordable (to them),” Glasgow said to the PCDC commissioners when they voted on Nov. 26 to recommend the current proposal. And PCDC chair Gregg Oetting said that the PCDC heard from “people who were angling for retirement and this is how they were going to supplement it.”
The PCDC and the trustees have been discussing whether tiny homes on wheels would work as ADUs in the Town of Lyons for more than a year. At a Feb. 26 PCDC meeting, there was not consensus among the PCDC commissioners on how adding tiny homes on wheels as ADUs would help homeowners save money, and therefore encourage more ADUs as rentals in town. At a March 5 Board of Trustees meeting, town staff, PCDC commissioners, and trustees weren’t sure if tiny homes on wheels as ADUs would really be a lower-cost option for rentals. “Are we really creating a cheaper housing option? That’s not clear,” Glasgow said at that meeting.
ADUs on 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 ADUs is 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 families 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.
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. (Ironically, the lodging at the former Riverbend Mobile Home Park is in tiny homes on wheels RVs.)
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.