Published in the June 27, 2019, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
The Lyons Comprehensive Plan
by Amy Reinholds
The Lyons Comprehensive Plan (the overall planning document for the Town of Lyons), was last updated in 2010, although there have been two components added since the 2013 flood: The Lyons Recovery Action Plan in 2014 and the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan in 2016. In 2020, the town will update the Comprehensive Plan.
Town Planner Paul Glasgow’s agenda item at the June 24 meeting of Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC), described the Comprehensive Plan as “a vision for the future.”
“These documents were developed at different times and have some overlap,” he explained in the introduction to the agenda item. “As the demographics continued to change, it is once again time to update the comprehensive plan. The question is how to do this.”
A Comprehensive Plan is intended to capture broad community input about goals for land use, growth, housing, transportation, economic development, natural resources, and other issues, gathered over a year of community workshops, surveys, and public meetings. The 2010 Lyons Comprehensive Plan is available at www.townoflyons.com/DocumentCenter/View/155/2010-Comprehensive-Plan-PDF. The Lyons Recovery Action Plan component (added in 2014) is available at www.townoflyons.com/documentcenter/view/388, and the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan (added in 2016) is available at www.townoflyons.com/DocumentCenter/View/948/LPPA-Master-Plan-Final.
Before the Town of Lyons creates a request for proposals for a firm to run the public meetings and gather the data and input from community residents, the PCDC and Glasgow decided to spend the next several meetings reviewing the current documents. They will prepare an analysis of past implementation strategies and their current status.
At the June 24 meeting, the PCDC commissioners, Trustee Barney Dreistadt, and Glasgow also identified the following goals they wanted to focus on:
- integration of transportation and land use, and how they work together.
- safe pedestrian connectivity and from neighborhood to neighborhood.
- multi-modal transportation, traffic safety, and parking during events.
- economic stability of the town, to understand how to prepare if town revenue declines and taxes must be raised, or services cut.
- ways to support local businesses, based on policies successful in other municipalities.
- weed management and control of invasive weed species.
- the future of the eastern corridor of Lyons.
- affordable housing and preventing “losing the culture of the town,” as described by Commissioner David Hamrick.
- limiting the ability of merging lots to build large, mansion homes.
Descriptions of intentions about affordable housing in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan were general, such as “Housing Strategy 1.2.2: Work with nonprofit partners such as Boulder County Housing and Human Services, Colorado Division of Housing, Habitat for Humanity, interested landowners and developers to explore opportunities to integrate affordable housing units into proposed development and redevelopment projects, including commercial and market-rate housing projects.”
The follow-on Lyons Recovery Action Plan was slightly more specific with descriptions of strategies to create a live-work development that can provide affordable housing for artists to live and incubate their trade and business; to encourage constructing homes that are affordable because of lot size, regulatory incentives, construction methods and materials, density, financial subsidies, and volunteer organizations; to encourage manufactured housing (including prefabricated, modular, and mobile homes); and to encourage alternative and sustainable housing developments with different ownership models.
An outgoing Lyons Board of Trustees board in April 2016 passed a resolution that set a goal of 10 percent of affordable housing (www.townoflyons.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/220?fileID=323 ). It listed policy measures that future boards can consider to increase affordable housing, including (1) zoning changes that allow for denser development where it otherwise would not be permitted; (2) annexation conditions that favor affordable housing; (3) conditions on further market-rate, single family home construction; (4) deed restrictions, covenant controls and land leases; and (5) use of Lyons Urban Renewal Authority funds for projects combining commercial and residential development and placing as instruments of affordable housing.
In all of these documents, market-rate actions are mixed in with tax-payer subsidized actions to create affordable housing. Our town leaders, elected and appointed officials, and members of our community need to be careful to not view all these ideas as the same. Government or tax-payer-subsidized affordable housing, sometimes referred to as “permanent affordable housing” comes with requirements such as renting to households with specific low monthly incomes, or establishing deed restrictions for future sales prices. Unless limitations are added, other options like allowing more density or incentives to developers would only result in lower costs for the first tenant or purchaser, not to the ones that follow. These market-rate actions might help the developers save money, but to achieve long-lasting affordable housing, we can’t just rely on a trickle-down approach.
The encouraging news is that all community members have the opportunity to participate in the Lyons Comprehensive Plan update in the coming year. Those of us who participated in 2010 can remember the experience of sitting around tables with some neighbors we had never met before, talking about what we liked about living here, and sharing what we really wanted the Town of Lyons to be like in the future.
Lyons lost about 76 to 94 destroyed homes in the 2013 flood. In March 2015, a 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. However, $4 million of federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds were still set aside for affordable housing in Lyons, and the State Housing Board voted in February to approve Summit Housing Group’s application for those funds for building 11 single family homes and 29 homes in multifamily buildings on land the company plans to buy in Lyons Valley Park. Until Summit’s proposal, a few concepts for subsidized affordable rentals were pursued, but nothing got very far in the process.
The only post-flood, deed-restricted, permanently affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at 112, 114, and 116 Park Street Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building three duplexes (a total of six, for-sale homes) on six residential lots. The first duplex was completed in April 2019, and more volunteer help is needed to finish the other buldings. At www.stvrainhabitat.org/construction, after clicking FLOOD REBUILD-LYONS, volunteers can review all volunteer days with openings and sign up for one or more of the specific days they are available. Help is most needed on weekdays. For any questions, contact Rebecca Shannon, Community Engagement Manager, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, at 303-682-2485.
This column is a commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder. For a history, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com.