COMMENTARY: What's the Future for Affordable Housing inn Lyons
By Amy Reinholds
Of the three proposed Auxillary Dwelling Units (ADUs) before the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) at the June 25 meeting, two were postponed until the July 23 meeting, and one was narrowly approved as a recommendation to go before the Board of Trustees on July 2. A common thread is that all were conditional use reviews for proposals to create dwelling units in existing out-buildings, but when the outbuildings were constructed
ranged from the 1930s to 2003, to last year.
The 408 Reese Street conditional use review public hearing was continued (postponed) to July 23 at the request of the applicants, who were out of state. Two lots on Reese Street already have second buildings on single-family home residential lots that have not yet been brought into compliance with ADU code. Proposed parking is on the alley that is already narrow, and the building was originally a shed for rabbits for the Hutchinsons, who built the original home in the late 1930s. Current owners had permits to update the shed into a studio space for family use but were also interested in whether it could meet requirements for an ADU to rent out to a tenant. The building doesn't have the minimum required setbacks from the alley. The staff recommendation included in the June 25 meeting documents was to deny the use as an ADU because staff believes the intent of the non-conforming building code Section 16-7-50 of the Lyons Municipal Code is not to permit the conversion of non-conforming sheds into accessory dwelling units.
The 227 Park Street conditional use review public hearing for an ADU over a garage was also continued to July 23 to get more specific information from the Lyons Fire Protection District. A previous statement from the fire department was the alleyway access is greater than 150 feet and does not have an approved turn-around for fire vehicles as required by fire code. The fire department also indicated that it needs to review fire flow data (gallons per minute flow of the fire hydrant) before it will recommend approval. The main public safety issue is if the fire department can adequately protect this ADU home and surrounding homes in time of fire. In the 1990s and 2000s Lyons had a fire department, yet several single-family homes off that same alley were allowed to be built. Commissioners asked if maybe access to the ADU could be from the front of the property or if nearby 404 buyout properties could be used for a turn-around for fire safety vehicles.
The 310 5th Ave. conditional use review public hearing included comments from four neighbors who had concerns with the applicants bringing the conditional use review forward for an ADU now, a year after the living space above the garage was permitted and built. It appeared to the neighbors that the applicants used the process to apply for a family living space above the garage to bypass the conditional use review process for an ADU.
The large size and height still meet requirements of a maximum 30-foot height allowed under Town of Lyons building code for buildings that are part of a single-family home residential lot. However neighbors within 300 feet are not involved in the approval process for building a structure unless it is designated as an ADU, which has a conditional use process that includes public input to both the PCDC and the Trustees. Adjacent neighbor Joe Meckle said “Common knowledge in the neighborhood was that they wanted a rental. If we would have had a conditional use review before it was built, maybe the roof line could have come down five feet.”
“The permitting process was a nightmare to rebuild after the flood,” said Charlie and Susan Corson. “We ran our plans by our neighbors to get feedback and input. This common courtesy has not been returned.”
Rick DiSalvo noted that according to photographs included in the application materials the already built unit “appears to already have a full kitchen. Was that in the building permit to begin with? My understanding was you are not supposed to have a full kitchen until you get conditional use review approval.” An attorney for the owners, Randy and Georgie Pollard, stated that there was no stove in the current kitchen.
Of the five members of the PCDC who were present at the meeting, three voted to approve the conditional use review and recommend it to the trustees for a July 2 public hearing, and two voted against it. The PCDC serves as an advisory role to the elected Board of Trustees, which makes a final decision on all conditional use reviews.
Building the garage structure that size and height was allowed as a use by right, and commissioners Gregg Oetting, Neil Sullivan, and Josh Schnabel voted to approve the recommendation for the ADU based on town code that allows that size for a structure above a garage. Although Sullivan said “Building codes have in this case failed the neighborhood and failed the community. Given where this is taking place in the process, there are few options for us.”
“This is extremely uncomfortable for all of us,” Oetting said. “For the last 50 years, they had the right to build a garage to this size. We've got to be careful in the future, because as Boulder County becomes more affluent, [our town code] allows people to build bigger to make more money. We should revisit what people can do as use by right.”
PCDC members Clay Dusel and Dave Neufield voted against approving the ADU. “This is the first ADU where we've heard such adamant disapproval from neighbors, and we ought to take this very seriously,” Dusel said. “Tonight we have a lot of people voicing their opinion, and that's very important to me. Looking at the pictures [on satellite imagery], the garage pre-flood was very small.”
“If this was a new proposal, we could gather input from the neighborhood, and make adjustments to the plan,” Neufield said. “Typically, if you're building above your garage, office space is less than if it's a dwelling – you don't need space for bathrooms and bedrooms. I have a concern that this is setting a precedent for the town that there is a back door to an ADU, without getting public input. We're essentially increasing density. I'm not sure this is the right process to get us to this point. Let's have a process to determine where we want the density.”
Next Monday, July 2, is also a time when the public can give input to the trustees about ADUs, too. In addition to this specific public hearing for the 310 5th Ave. garage apartment, the public can also speak during audience business about any more general topics, including the current ADU policy. What do you find acceptable about ADUs on your block that are appropriate and would work for you as a neighbor? Should parking be handled a specific way? Should there be a limit of a certain number of ADUs per block so we don’t see the number of homes double on a residential block that used to be low-density, one house per lot?
Here's what I shared in general about ADUs at the June 25 PCDC meeting:
1) I support a moratorium on these kinds of ADUs in existing buildings until all the older cottage houses/additional detached rental units (going on for years on single-family home residential lots) are brought into compliance with the ADU policy. Last year, Town of Lyons staff knew of 21 accessory units that were used as dwelling units, but were not yet brought into compliance. That number might be higher now, and I understand that town staff are compiling a current list.
2) The PCDC and the Board of Trustees should consider some standards of the maximum number of ADUs allowed per block in Town of Lyons, which should be evaluated with neighborhoods after all the existing ADUs are also counted and brought into compliance.
3) Finally, I'm adamant that our town code about short-term vacation rentals needs to be enforced in all ADUs – and the separate buildings that don't become ADUs, like just a shed or a studio – on all our single-family home residential lots in the Town the Lyons. I got verbal confirmation Monday from Ian Greer, the new Town of Lyons enforcement officer, that short term vacation rentals are not allowed in ADUs, and they are also not allowed in a garage or shed or separate workshop building that is just for family use and doesn't become an official ADU. He said that Town code on those uses will be enforced.
I really appreciate this process that is available to town residents to contribute input to the volunteer planning commission and the elected trustees. It's best if we speak up and give some constructive information about what we would like to see to preserve the character of our neighborhoods. There are a lot of us who like the positive aspects of ADUs (options for aging family members or caregivers for aging in place, or lower-cost rentals for local employees or grown children), but we know there are trade-offs with increased density, and there needs to be enforcement to respect the existing neighbors who bought homes in a low-density residential zone and don’t want to see a conversion of a residential neighborhood to a hotel/lodging businesses district. We can encourage the Town to make decisions that will be helpful for all neighborhoods going forward.
The original Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, established in 2013 after the flood, allowed ADUs to be permitted on single-family home residential lots, but no homeowners in Lyons applied to participate in the program for those three years. With the goal of encouraging more lower-cost (although market-rate) rentals in town for employees of Lyons businesses, seniors, and others who need affordable housing, the Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC in early 2016 to work with the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board to look for approaches that could help encourage ADUs. At the end of 2016, the PCDC and the Board of Trustees voted to change Town code, removing the additional utility connection fees for “detached” ADUs in separate buildings on single-family home residential lots in town (saving homeowners $20,000-$40,000 in construction costs). Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house don’t require conditional reviews but do require permits. You can read the ADU ordinance at www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.
Until now, all that the Town of Lyons has focused on is 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 under construction in Lyons.
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.