What Does “Public Engagement” Mean For Housing Recovery In Lyons?

By Amy Reinholds
Thanks to CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning graduate students and faculty, the Housing Recovery Task Force (HRTF) will have guidance about ways that the Town of Lyons can engage the public and work to reach agreement in the community so that the town’s trustees can move forward on housing recovery decisions.  

The HRTF presented an update about public engagement at the Lyons Board of Trustees meeting on July 21. Graduate students from a summer class with Carrie Makarewicz and Andrew Rumbach of the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver visited Lyons, met with the HRTF and researched Lyons recovery housing issues over the past two months. Carrie Makarewicz attended the Board of Trustees meeting and answered questions about the draft plans that the trustees reviewed: the introduction of a draft Lyons Replacement Housing Public Engagement Plan, including an engagement strategies document, a list of identified stakeholders, and other supporting documents.

At the July 21 meeting, the Board of Trustees unanimously passed a motion to authorize town staff to pursue funding from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for hiring a public engagement specialist to coordinate activities that will engage the public about new recovery housing. The CU Denver class had recommended to the HRTF and the board that a public engagement specialist can coordinate a housing recovery public engagement plan that addresses the following goals:

-Educating residents on problems, alternatives, opportunities, and solutions.

-Limiting rumors by using a transparent process.

-Encouraging and using creative ideas from community members.

-Limiting negative impacts by hearing concerns and finding solutions.

-Building energy and excitement for bringing displaced residents back home.

-Ensuring that community residents feel that their voices have been heard.

The Town of Lyons was already planning to hire a new communications specialist. A full-time or part-time public engagement specialist could work closely with the communications specialist, but focus specifically on getting information to and from the public about new recovery housing.

The Board also directed the HRTF to act as a liaison to Place Matters until staff positions are filled. Place Matters is non-profit based in Denver that works with communities that want to improve public process and make civic engagement a more valuable component of the planning process. Assistance from Place Matters is covered under a retainer with the State of Colorado to help with disaster recovery planning through the end of 2014, so assistance to the task force and to the town of Lyons would be free.

More information about Place Matters is available at www.placematters.org.

The CU Denver grad students will complete final reports for the Lyons Housing Recovery Public Engagement Plan and the Site Alternatives Analysis at the beginning of August. On Tuesday, Aug. 19, the CU Denver class will present both final plans at the HRTF meeting, 6-8 p.m. at Town Hall. On, Tuesday, Sept. 2 there will be a presentation of CU Denver class’s Site Alternatives Analysis to the Lyons Board of Trustees. The Site Alternatives Analysis is an additional, informal tool that can supplement the professional housing site study expected by the hired consultant team later in the summer. The analysis will illustrate potential housing configurations and access patterns on the proposed sites. The analysis will informally give some ideas of what the new replacement housing could look like in various locations that the Board of Trustees decided to consider, keeping in mind locations, access, and housing types that have the least impact on surrounding neighborhoods and other resident concerns.
As a prerequisite for the Town of Lyons requesting $2.4 million for the first round of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, which the Board of Trustees voted to pursue at a May 5 meeting, the town needed to have potential housing parcels under control. After the grants are distributed, whatever amount Lyons is granted for housing recovery must be spent within 2 years, or it is lost. The Board of Trustees directed the town staff to hire a team of professional consultants to conduct the necessary detailed pre-development analysis of parcels. The trustees voted to select parcels for the analysis that are currently owned by the town, focusing on the current dog park, the parcel south of the dog park, and other parts of Bohn Park that are not in the floodplain. The St. Vrain Valley School District-owned parcel where the practice ball fields are currently located was also listed as a possibility for a swap with other town-owned parcels. Several trustees expressed the need to have all of these parcels included in the analysis from the hired consultant team, in order to find the best options for locations of possible replacement housing with minimal impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, also considering road access. For more background on the housing recovery decisions made by the Board of Trustees, see www.lyonsrecovery.com/housing-task-force.html.