COMMENTARY: What's the future for affordable housing?

By Amy Reinholds
Three of the most-popularly discussed possible options for affordable housing in Lyons were all represented on the packed agenda for the March 1 meeting of the Lyons Board of Trustees.

The trustees approved the first and only application for detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Lyons, under a policy

revamped last year. They also voted for annexation of former City of Longmont water treatment plant land the Town of Lyons purchased east of town (some which will be used for a public works building, but might contain options for residential and mixed-use development). Finally, they voted on and discussed some details related to 6 Habitat for Humanity homes underway at 2nd and Park Streets.

The first official detached accessory dwelling unit in Lyons

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution to conditionally approve a detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on property located in the R-1 residential zoned district at 327 Seward Street. The ADU will be in an existing garage that is currently 520 square feet, expanded to be a total of 600 square feet. It will be adjoining a separate recording studio building.

The Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) approved the conditional use review for this ADU on April 24, stating that Board of Trustees should consider input from the Lyons Fire Protection District. The additional conditions were agreed-upon and approved on May 1: No parking on the alley, and the address should have a ½, designating it as a separate ADU (327 ½ Seward Street).

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 3 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 Board of Trustees 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 a great step forward for something that has been worked on before the flood,” said Trustee Barney Dreistadt. “I also commend the applicants.”

“We hope it’s the first of many successful ADU applications,” said Mayor Connie Sullivan. “Thank you to staff for working with the application and for helping create the application process.”

No member of the public spoke during the public comment period. The owners plan to move into one of the buildings, which is required. You can read more about ADU requirements in the Town of Lyons code at http://www.townoflyons.com/566/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.

I would like to see more rental housing stock in Lyons, and I recognize ADUs as a market-rate solution that might help. I'm glad that ADUs, if rented, must be at least month-to-month rentals, and cannot be used for short-term vacation rentals. But I don’t think it is a magic solution that fixes all our affordable housing issues. Except for benevolent landlords who charge below the going rental rates in Lyons, most homeowners will charge what the market can bear, which we have seen to continually rise here in Lyons.

Annexing the former Longmont water treatment plant land, now owned by Town of Lyons

The Town of Lyons closed April 25 on purchasing the former Longmont water treatment plant land east of town from the City of Longmont, and at the May 1 meeting, the Board of Trustees adopted an ordinance on first reading that annexes the 9.88 acres into town. A second reading will be scheduled for May 15.

During the staff report at the May 1 meeting, Kathie Guckenberger, consulting attorney for Town of Lyons, stated that she has the quick claim deeds. The Town of Lyons now officially owns that property, and the purchase has been recorded. The April 25 closing happened quietly. There were no press releases from the Town of Lyons or news stories from Longmont or Boulder newspapers.

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 2 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 the 2013 flood.

At the May 1 meeting, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen reported that FEMA has said there will be no more extensions on the public works building timeline. The building must be in progress, “and significantly moving forward,” by September.
According to attorney reports to the Lyons PCDC and Board of Trustees, 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 90 days after the annexation. Although not required for this annexation step, the trustees were expected to hold a public hearing (for members of the public to comment) at the second reading of the annexation ordinance 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).

After the Town of Lyons has the land, The Board of Trustees can determine the best path forward for the remainder of the land, 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.

Habitat for Humanity updates

Some clarifying paperwork for the 2nd and Park Habitat for Humanity homes was approved under the consent agenda at the May 1 meeting. This is another step closer to Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley building 6 homes in Lyons. Also, engineering documents are close to being finalized for work that Habitat needs to do to get the lots ready for development.
Dave Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, also spoke to the trustees about more flexibility on area-median-income percentages for applicants in the development agreement for the three duplexes. He said income levels up to 80% of the area median income are allowed by Habitat for Humanity in special circumstances, and it would help the Town of Lyons get more applicants in the primary preference group of people who were living in Lyons at the time of the flood and were displaced.

The trustees agreed. They approved a resolution to adjust the area-median-income target in the development agreement and affordable housing covenant so that households that make 80% of the area median income can also be included, although preference will be for applicants 60% of area median income or below. Although the median income of an area (Boulder County, in our case) changes every year, you can get an idea by going to the Boulder County Area Median Income Table at www.leaflyons.org/resources.html. For example, the area median income for a household of two people is about $75,900, so 60% is $45,540, and 80% is $60,720. Area median income is measured by family/household size.
Second reading for the resolution to change the development agreement with Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is expected May 15.

Emerson said that Habitat for Humanity has accepted 2 applicants in the first round who lived in Lyons and were displaced by the flood and were in the 60 % or lower category of area median income. He said that in the first round of applicants, 7 households applied, but some did not move forward. However applicants who lived in Lyons and were displaced in the flood will still have preference as they reapply in other rounds. Habitat is considering 2 more applicants from the second round, and there will be a month or two before opening a third round.

Applicants must meet other requirements for mortgages. For example, they must have a debt-to-income ratio of 43% or lower (more flexible than what traditional lenders require) and have credit reports that meet specific requirements. As with any mortgage application, the most common issues with qualifying are related to debt-to-income ratio and credit reports. St. Vrain Habitat mortgages are usually about $150,000, and have no interest. Monthly mortgage payments, including escrow are set at 27% of the household gross monthly income. You can read more about the application process at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/steps-for-potential-habitat-for-humanity-homeowners-2/ and www.stvrainhabitat.org/lyons. Applicants from the earlier rounds whose applications weren’t accepted can meet with Habitat staff to discuss needed steps to take.

Trustee Dan Greenberg brought up an issue that I have observed in post-flood affordable housing work over the past 3 ½ years: Home ownership isn't the only solution. Just like I said ADUs aren't the magic solution to our affordable housing problems in Lyons, neither is a Habitat for Humanity home-ownership model.

“Home ownership does not work for everyone, some by choice and some for economic reasons,” Greenberg said. “It is not the only answer to our affordable housing needs. Habitat is a great partner. But it’s only one piece in the puzzle. We need to be open for affordable rentals.”

The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park buyout, closing was 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 50-70 units) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in a special election.

The town has a total of 26 permanently affordable rentals (already in Lyons before the September 2013 flood), according to the Boulder County Housing and Human Services department: 8 apartments at Bloomfield Place, 12 apartments at Walter Self Senior Housing, and 6 apartments at Mountain Gate. Also, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley plans to build 6 permanently affordable homes (3 duplexes) at 2nd and Park Streets on residential lots purchased in 2016.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) about affordable housing in the Lyons Recorder. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 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.

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