COMMENTARY: What's the future for affordable housing in Lyons?
By Amy Reinhold
Ever since the 2013 flood, and even earlier, Town of Lyons leaders, homeowners, and the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) have been talking about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a possible solution to provide more options for affordable rentals in town. As of Monday night, the first homeowners to participate in the Town of Lyons ADU process got the first step of approval from the PCDC. Next it will go to the Board of Trustees (BOT) on May 1.
All five members of the PCDC present at the April 24 meeting voted to approve the conditional use review for a detached ADU (an apartment in a separate building) at 327 Seward Avenue. No members of the public gave input at the public hearing for the conditional use review. The conditional use review was passed with a recommendation that the Lyons Fire Protection District give input at the next step before the BOT, and a statement clarifying that Town of Lyons municipal codes about home businesses apply to a recording studio in the building.
Also known as mother-in-law apartments or carriage houses, ADUs are small apartments in either the existing house, a garage, or a separate outbuilding. The original Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, established in 2013 after the flood, allowed small apartments to be permitted on single-family 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, 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 BOT voted to change Town code, removing the additional utility connection fees for “detached” ADUs in separate buildings from the main house on single-family residential lots in town limits. Attached ADUs within the same structure as the main house don’t require conditional reviews, but do require permits.
“This is the first ADU to come before the PCDC,” said Chair Gregg Oetting, who was on the commission when the original ADU policy was created but had no response from homeowners. “I hope the reconciliation of the tap fees that we did last year helped encourage this.”
Now that a barrier that many have said made building ADUs financially prohibitive is removed, our community will see how many Lyons homeowners can and do move forward to build ADUs to provide more rental opportunities. ADUs probably won’t be added in all parts of town with R-1 zoning. Some neighborhoods with homeowners associations are likely to prohibit ADUs.
I would like to see more rental housing stock in Lyons, and I recognize ADUs as a market-rate solution that might help. But I don’t think it is a magic solution that fixes all our affordable housing issues. Except for the mysterious creatures that I call “benevolent landlords,” most homeowners will charge market-rate rents, which we have seen continually rise here in Lyons.
The town has a total of twenty-six permanently affordable rentals (already in Lyons before the September 2013 flood), according to the Boulder County Housing and Human Services department: eight apartments at Bloomfield Place, twelve apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing, and six apartments at Mountain Gate. Also, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley plans to build six permanently affordable homes (three duplexes) at Second and Park Streets on residential lots purchased in 2016.
The Town of Lyons lost a total of about seventy flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including the sixteen homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park buyout, closing on April 28) and to the changed use of the Riverbend mobile home park property to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). In March 2015, a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of fifty to seventy units) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election.
Also, on Tuesday, April 25, it was expected the Town of Lyons would complete a closing to purchase the former Longmont water treatment plant land east of town from the City of Longmont.
In March, the Town of Lyons and the City of Longmont agreed on a sales price of $925,000 for the land, east of U.S. 36: 6.45 acres on the north side of Colo. Hwy. 66 at 4651 Ute Hwy and 3.43 acres on south side at 4652 Ute Hwy. FEMA will pay for the part of the land where the Lyons public works building will be relocated, on two acres in the furthest northeast corner of the northern parcel. Insurance funds from the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) will pay for the new public works building, which was damaged in 2013 flood. On March 20, the Lyons Board of Trustees unanimously approved both purchasing the Longmont water treatment plant land and ratifying the Lyons Primary Planning Area Master Plan, an amendment to the Lyons Comprehensive Plan to guide decisions about future annexation requests.
According to attorney reports to the Lyons PCDC and BOT, state law has different requirements for Town-owned land, which can be annexed into town limits directly without assigning zoning, but the property must be zoned by ninety days after the annexation. The plan for annexing the 9.88 acres is for the Trustees to hold two readings of an annexation ordinance on May 1 and May 15. Although not required for this annexation step, the trustees expect to hold a public hearing (for members of the public to comment) at the second reading on May 15. Then the Town of Lyons officials and staff will come up with a schedule for subdivision and zoning and will bring it back to the PCDC for the zoning process when the final plat is ready (before July 25, to meet the 90-day requirement).
In 2015, Lyons was awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency as matching funds to extend the sewer and water to this site in order to increase the likelihood of development and increase the employment base in Lyons. The utilities expansion work must begin by mid-June to not lose the funding. Then the next priority is to zone the two acres where the Lyons public works building will be located for municipal use.
After the Town of Lyons has the land, The Trustees can determine the best path forward for the remainder of the parcels, and when sold, reimburse the town water enterprise fund. The land is determined as acceptable for mixed use, residential, and commercial development, including light industrial. The Town might also consider offering incentives for light-industrial businesses to swap land near the center of town that could be residential for land on the eastern corridor.
The parcels have been considered as a possible area for affordable housing, discussed in past years when the Town applied for a national resiliency grant that it did not receive. Also, if light-industrial businesses move from central areas of town to this eastern corridor area, land could open up for future affordable housing in more centrally located areas.