Published in the August 9, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Bringing vacation rentals and ADUs into compliance
by Amy Reinholds
Research from town staff found about 38 non-compliant accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the Town of Lyons, and another possible 17 more, Town Planner Paul Glasgow told the Lyons Board of Trustees on August 6.
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.
Glasgow gave an update about short-term rental and accessory dwelling unit compliance and enforcement issues during a staff report at Monday’s trustees meeting. He said staff looked at information at Town Hall about previously known ADUs, conducted an analysis of building permits for the last two years, and a visual inventory of all properties through a “windshield survey” (which looked for air conditioning or utilities on outbuildings that might indicate a separate building is used for a dwelling unit). Of those 38 identified ADUs, 19 are attached and 19 are separate buildings, Glasgow said. The other possible 17 are a combination of attached and detached.
To determine a path forward for compliance, including dealing with new construction of ADUs or renovated outbuildings, the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) is holding a public workshop next Monday, August 13, to address ADU compliance and permitting issues. Glasgow told the trustees that he plans to come back to the trustees on August 20 to report PCDC recommendations or at least next steps. PCDC meetings begin at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall. The public is encouraged to attend to share their input on what is appropriate for ADUs in their neighborhoods. For example, what would be acceptable on your block? Should parking be handled a specific way? Should there be a limit of a certain number of ADUs per block for neighborhoods that are zoned low-density, one house per lot?
Neighborhoods in Lyons are facing a future where there could be twice as many homes on a street if every homeowner builds an ADU, but homeowners bought their low-density, single-family home residential (R-1) properties in Lyons with the reasonable expectation that the permitted uses for the zoning would be stable. The trade-off of neighborhoods dealing with the changed use that allows ADUs is that there might be more beneficial options for aging family members, for caregivers, or for lower-cost, market-rate rentals for local employees or grown children. But forcing neighborhoods to deal with this change without enforcement just means that new property owners who ignore the rules and the neighborhood character might rent out both homes as short-term vacation rentals, treating the neighborhood as a profit generator, and not a community where people live.
Bringing existing ADUs into compliance, something that was discussed in early 2016, was a big reason why I supported waiving additional utility connection fees to allow ADUs. Lyons Fire Protection District and Boulder County Sheriff officials had been asking for several years to know which addresses in Lyons had additional dwelling units in case of emergency. Also, enforcement of the requirement that ADUs can only be rented to long-term tenants – and not used for short-term vacation rentals – was another reason I supported the change. I knew that the rents wouldn’t be permanently affordable, and they would go up with the rising rental market, but I wanted to see more, safe rentals available for long-term tenants, who struggle to find places to live in Lyons.
Until June, all that the Town of Lyons focused on was new construction of ADUs. In the 12 months between May 2017 and May 2018, conditional use reviews were completed and approved for four new detached ADUs that went under construction in Lyons. Then, in June 2018, a conditional use review was approved for an and ADU in a previously constructed large garage building built by homeowners who rebuilt after the 2013 flood.
Before the regular meeting on August 6, the Board of Trustees had a workshop with the Lyons Fire Protection District, and Chief JJ Hoffman. After discussing general building code updates, Lyons Fire reiterated some of the fire safety concerns about increasing residential density with ADUs. They said owners of ADUs need to contact the Fire Department and submit plans, whether the ADU is built or moved to the property, or is converted from another structure. The Fire Department reserves the right not approve the request and to impose additional requirements if there are no approved turnarounds or the distance from a fire hydrant is greater than 1,000 feet. The Fire Department has agreed with the Town that all occupied structures on the property must be identified with the designation ½ added to the existing address, displayed in front of the main structure and visible from the street. The Fire Department also needs verification that flows from fire hydrants have a minimum of 1,000 gallons per minute.
The fire officials at the Aug. 6 workshop mentioned that an ADU at 310 5th Ave. that was approved in June by the Board of Trustees (contingent on the approval by Lyons Fire) is still not able to be used as an ADU and rented to another household because it is not known that the fire hydrant has enough pressure. “Until we have better data, we can’t sign off on ADUs without having 1,000 gallons per minute,” Hoffman said. Two ADUs still in the application process at 408 Reese Street and 227 Park Street also are still responding to those requirements for the required fire hydrant flow to support the increased residential density. Homeowners who need Lyons Fire approval for ADUs can pursue contracting with independent companies to verify nearby fire hydrant flow of at least 1,000 gallons per minute, or they can look at installing sprinklers.
Expanding beyond ADUs, Glasgow also gave an update to the trustees about compliance to the Town of Lyons Short-term Rental License process. To date, the Town of Lyons has received eight complete applications and issued five Short-term Rental Licenses to homeowners at 450 Vasquez Ct., 204 Ewald Ave., 109 Noland Ct., 107 Longs Peak Dr., and 336 McConnell Dr. Glasgow reported that three applications are still under review. They also reported that four homeowners of short-term vacation properties were given notice that they cannot be licensed because they are in structures that are not allowed for short-term vacation rentals: RVs or campers, in ADUs, or in homes that are not their principal residences (including a Tree House on Indian Lookout Road). Staff have denied those applications and one applicant is currently appealing the staff decision. In July, staff sent out 22 letters to all other suspected short-term vacation rentals, alerting homeowners that they need to apply for a license, and so far they have had responses from four recipients.
Compliance of short-term vacation rentals 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 in ADUs. If space that could go to someone struggling to find a place to rent instead goes to tourists, our town stock of rentals goes down, increasing demand, and even increasing rental prices.
Owning a home on a residential lot in the Town of Lyons, whether you purchased it recently, 15 years ago, or you inherited it 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. However, running lodging businesses is perfectly acceptable on commercially zoned properties in Lyons. And now, with some limitations, renting out spaces for short-term vacation rentals in residential properties where the owners live is allowed for homeowners who get Town of Lyons Short-term Rental Licenses.
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. 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 some subsidized affordable rentals have been proposed in the past year, 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 land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. 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.