COMMENTARY: What's the future for affordable housing in Lyons?

By Amy Reinholds
Registration or permitting policies for landlords renting out homes or accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their single-family home lots could be a nightmare to enforce in Lyons, but the right kind of program could increase safety for tenants, encourage more rental supply, and help

local homeowners, according to a Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) discussion.
PCDC Commissioners Neil Sullivan, Nick Angelo, and Seth Portner discussed concerns and strategies for both long-term and short-term vacation rentals of homes and ADUs in basements, garages, or outbuildings at a Monday, July 11, workshop with town planning staff Matt Manley, Rosi Dennett, Bob Joseph, and Board of Trustees liaison Barney Dreistadt.

I appreciated that everyone at the table for Monday night's workshop was thoughtful about the best route for the town to understand the current properties that have had unpermitted apartments or ADUs for years, and to move forward to encourage new permitted ADUs. Many current owners of homes with ADUs that were built without permits don't know they are doing anything illegal by continuing to use the buildings as they were used previously. No one at Monday's discussion proposed a draconian crackdown on ADUs, but instead a practical program to manage safe rentals that would be acceptable for Lyons landlords, renters, and neighbors.

The current ADU ordinance that the PCDC developed in 2013 was passed by the Board of Trustees later that year, following the September flood. However, there have been no new ADUs in town after the ADU ordinance was put in place. The existing policy hasn't encouraged homeowners to participate by building new rental apartments.

Why? PCDC commissioners identified the biggest issues as tap fees and connection costs for separate ADUs that aren't part of the original home. A Lyons rate and capital improvements study for Lyons water and wastewater systems is expected to be completed in late August or early September. Information from that study can be used to analyze appropriate connection fees and should guide the PCDC commissioners and the Board of Trustees on what incentives can be offered.

The Lyons Board of Trustees directed the PCDC to come up with a work plan that promotes affordable housing through rentals of accessory dwelling units, including tiny homes, referring to the Affordable Housing Resolution that the Board of Trustees passed on April 18 for possible incentives and policies to implement.

A list of strategy questions that Manley had compiled with Town Staff before the meeting highlighted long-term rentals and short-term vacation rental options. By the end of Monday's discussion, Commissioners and Town Staff determined it was best for Lyons to address each scenario for rental policies separately.

The 2013 ADU ordinance, allowing landowners to get permits to build accessory apartments on their current single-family home zoned lots, was specifically for long-term rentals. ADUs that are permitted and built through the ADU ordinance cannot be used for short-term vacation rentals.

Neighborhoods are affected differently when landlords rent out homes and apartments for short-term vacation rentals (for example, through AirBnB and VRBO websites). The town already allows bed and breakfasts, so renting out individuals rooms in a home on an online short-term vacation rental site is allowed, as long as it is owner-occupied. Also, situations where landlords who live elsewhere but rent out their homes entirely for short-term vacation rentals year-round would be required to rezone the land as a commercial property, because they are running a commercial business. The vacation rental situations in between are where the PCDC commissioners and Town Staff want to focus on defining: What should be allowed for owner-occupied homes with ADUs rented out for short-term lodging during some parts of the year?

There is one area of common concern, regardless of whether the tenants are long-term or short-term vacationers: safety issues related to ADUs. Because the Lyons Fire Department and the Boulder County Sheriff's Department need to know which structures have occupants, it's important to know where all ADUs are located in town. At Monday's workshop, the group talked about ideas for a permitting program, with a grace period for owners of existing unpermitted ADUs, as a place to start – regardless of whether the apartments are rented out for short-term vacation rentals or with long-term tenants. The permit program should have incentives for registering, be equitable and enforceable, and meet the needs of public safety officials.

The discussion acknowledged the result for both long-term and short-term rentals of apartments on residential lots in town will most likely be market rate, and wouldn't likely be guaranteed to remain affordable permanently. Instead, the goals of the ADU permitting would be increasing long-term rental housing, and making it safe for tenants in town who rent smaller apartments on the lower-end of the market. I see this approach aligning with goals from the Human Services and Aging Commission for tenant-landlord protections and education.
Other issues that the group highlighted to focus on included appropriate taxes for homeowners who rent short-term vacation rentals, how to work with homeowner associations in Lyons to allow ADUs in some circumstances where it makes sense for the neighborhood, and funding programs for landlords who need safety upgrades.

More PDCD workshops on this topic will be scheduled. Trustee Dreistadt suggested a combined meeting with the PCDC and the Lyons Utilities and Engineering Board.

Keep up with upcoming Board of Trustees and PCDC meetings and all town meetings, which are open to the public and posted on the town calendar at www.townoflyons.com/calendar.aspx. And keep following my columns in both Lyons papers for news about accomplishments to increase affordable housing stock in Lyons. For history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous Lyons Recorder columns at www.lyonsrecorder.com/index.php/opinions/40-housing. 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..

Amy Reinholds served on the Lyons Housing Recovery Task Force from December 2013 through its end in February 2015. She is currently a member of the Lyons Human Services and Aging Commission and served as a liaison to the Special Housing Committee in the past year. She has lived in Lyons since 2003 and in the surrounding Lyons area since 1995.

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