Published in the March 8, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Trustees get updates on two housing issues: Lyons Valley Park proposals and options for tiny homes as ADUs
by Amy Reinholds
The March 5 Lyons Board of Trustees meeting included updates on both the proposals for affordable housing on Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8 and the concept of tiny homes on wheels as market-rate accessory dwelling units.
Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen reported at the March 5 meeting about the request for proposals (RFP) process for affordable housing developers who are interested in partnering with the Town of Lyons on the parcel in Lyons Valley Park that is previously intended for market-rate multi-family housing. Simonsen said that four complete proposals were received by the March 5 deadline, and a selection committee will be interviewing the applicants this Thursday.
A special Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for next week. On Monday, March 12, at 5:30 p.m., the selection committee will bring forward proposals, and the trustees will have a chance to interview candidates and direct next steps. The public can also attend this meeting to learn more about proposals for affordable homes for renters who earn less than the area median income. Proposals will include more details about numbers of homes and what levels of income they are affordable for. The workshop discussion starts at 5:30 p.m., and the special meeting of the Board of Trustees, where they can vote on specific actions, begins at 7 p.m. at Lyons Town Hall.
The selection committee includes representatives from the Lyons Valley Park Homeowner’s Association, the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC), and the State of Colorado Division of Housing, as well as Simonsen, Lyons Director of Community Development Paul Glasgow, and David Wickum, the market-rate developer who also has an option to buy land from Keith Bell in that area of the Lyons Valley Park neighborhood.
At the end of January, the Lyons Board of Trustees approved a resolution authorizing a purchase and sale agreement that gives the Town of Lyons an option to buy Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8, already intended for 43 multifamily units. Instead of just market-rate multifamily housing sometime in the future, the Town of Lyons might be able to leverage federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) disaster recovery funds to purchase Tract A of Lyons Valley Park Filing 8 and partner with an affordable housing developer to build homes that are affordable to households that earn 60 percent of the area-median income or less.
In the past year and half, the Lyons Board of Trustees has been trying to find land for affordable housing, to not lose $4 million in federal CDBG funds set aside for Lyons. Lyons can receive a maximum of $40,000 in CDBG-DR funds per each new affordable housing unit (up to $4 million total if a maximum of 100 new affordable housing units are built somewhere in town). Lyons could be close to getting that full funding, if all proposed projects happen. The Lyons Valley Park Tract A allows 43 multifamily units. On the eastern corridor of Lyons, a partnership has submitted a proposal to purchase town-owned land that includes 45 affordable homes built and managed by Thistle, a community non-profit, although the trustees are still requesting more information on that proposal.
The town signed a joint letter of intent between Keith Bell, president of Lyons Valley Park, Inc., who lives in Kansas, and Wickum Properties and Realty, authorized by the trustees on Jan. 29. It states the Town of Lyons intends 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 intends to purchase Lots 15-32 of Block 2 to develop single-family housing.
If either Wickum or the Town of Lyons discontinues pursuing an intended purchase, Bell and Lyons Valley Park, Inc., will negotiate with the other party for a possible purchase. For example, if Wickum discontinues purchasing the Block 2 lots, the Town of Lyons could negotiate to purchase those as well. A price for all the tracts and lots won’t be negotiated until an appraisal is conducted, per Bell’s request. According to the agreement, Wickum and the Town of Lyons also plan to work in good faith to share infrastructure costs.
Also on March 5, the trustees heard a workshop presentation about tiny homes on wheels from the PCDC commissioners Gregg Oetting and Mark Browning, with Glasgow (town planner and liaison to the PCDC). The presentation started broadly but then narrowed down to the focus of whether tiny homes on wheels could fit in to the Town of Lyons accessory dwelling unit ordinance. Later, during the regular part of the meeting, the trustees discussed possible direction with Oetting, Browning, and Glasgow, directing the PCDC and town staff to continue research in how tiny homes on wheels could be accessory dwelling units on Town of Lyons residential lots, if they were connected to all Town of Lyons utilities, and looked like houses, not recreation vehicles (RVs).
A process for adding accessory dwelling units (ADUs), small carriage houses, mother-in-law apartments, or garage apartments to single family home residential lots has been shaped in the Town of Lyons during the past few years, aiming to encourage more rentals in town at lower costs because of the size, but still market rate. So far, three homeowners had plans approved by the town to build legal ADUs in 2017, and Glasgow said that four other homeowners are currently in the process for bringing forth conditional use reviews, which will start with PCDC public hearings.
The Lyons ADU ordinance allows small apartments or carriage houses to share utility connection fees with the main house (saving homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs). You can read the ordinance at http://www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units. 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.
Mayor Connie Sullivan says she hears some homeowners say they’d like to try building ADUs on their single family home lots in Lyons, but they don’t want to spend $75,000 on constructing an ADU, and she wanted to know if allowing tiny homes on wheels as ADUs could be keep the building costs down. It wasn’t clear the costs of purchasing tiny homes on wheels (which can be costly) and connecting them to utilities would keep costs much lower. More research is needed.
Trustee Barney Dreistadt asked what can be done under current ADU policy – if a homeowner can bring in a modular home constructed off-site, as long as it fits in the size requirements. The answer is yes, as long as it meets the size requirements of the Lyons ADU ordinance (dependent on size of the main house, but no larger than 800 square feet). And most importantly, modular homes, which arrive to the site in pieces and are constructed on residential lots, meet the International Residential Code (IRC) that building inspection companies like Town of Lyons contracting company Charles Abbott Associates use.
The PCDC commissioners described the difference between houses that are small and the term tiny homes. “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. These tiny homes on wheels, which have a vehicle license like RVs, don’t fit into either the IRC that building inspection companies use or the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes). There is a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192 Standard on Recreational Vehicles, which currently applies to any RV, but it is not intended for homes people live in year-round in municipal neighborhoods.
The tiny home industry is working on standards that are more stringent than the RV standards, but nothing has been established nationwide yet that standard building inspection companies work with. PCDC commissioner Browning said that work would probably take 2-5 years. Byron Fears of SimBLISSity Tiny Homes, told the trustees several times that he builds homes at a higher quality than both RV and mobile home standards. But each time, PCDC commissioners and town staff asked him to clarify if he knew the standards of other tiny home builders other than his own company. He could only speak for his own company, illustrating the problem if there are no building standards like IRC that currently apply to tiny homes.
If Lyons does arrive at its own building code standards for tiny homes, issues remain, such as finding manufacturers who will follow those standards, and getting an inspection process in place. The town’s current inspectors aren’t trained in tiny homes and don’t want to inspect anything that is not using the IRC standards.
The PCDC also brought up where ADUs – and tiny home ADUs if included in the ordinance – will go in the Town of Lyons. They will not be in the subdivisions with homeowners associations that will restrict ADUs. Instead, it will be in the old town residential neighborhoods that don’t have homeowners associations. The PCDC commissioners asked the trustees how much they wanted the people in those neighborhoods to take on the housing needs of the whole town with this new initiative.
Glasgow and the PCDC left the meeting with direction to keep investigating particular issues of building inspection standards and taxes, and what it would take to have tiny homes on wheels as ADUs in addition to stick-built or modular small houses as ADUs. Based on what the trustees said, we know the Town of Lyons won’t allow ADUs to include property owners building an RV pad in backyards for tiny home owners to pull into residential backyards like an RV park. We know the Town of Lyons will require these homes like all ADUs to be attached to all Town of Lyons utilities. We also know the trustees expressed they want a reasonable maximum occupancy so that large families are not jammed into small homes or that a group of singles with a least one car each aren’t camping out in backyards and clogging parking in neighborhoods.
Finally, 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.
Trustee Dan Greenberg said “One of the reasons we tackled ADUs in the first place was for lower-cost rentals (although still market-rate). If we just end up with something that causes expensive rentals, it’s not meeting that.” He said the PCDC should keep the low-cost goal in the forefront of continuing discussions.
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.