At the April 6 Lyons Board of Trustees meeting, two more accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs, mother-in-law apartments, or carriage houses, were approved for residential lots in Lyons that already have a main house.
The process for adding ADUs to single-family-home residential lots was created and modified over the past seven years. According to the Town of Lyons ADU ordinance, applicants for all detached ADUs (including tiny homes on wheels) must go through a conditional use review process, including a public hearing for their immediate neighbors and the general public to comment. Homeowners of ADU properties must rent for periods of 30 days or longer (for example, at least a month-to-month lease), and cannot use their properties for short-term vacation rentals. With the two new ADUs approved, there have now been eight new-construction ADUs approved under the town policy since the 2013 flood, and approximately 55 non-compliant ADUs in the Town of Lyons (including allowed historically non-compliant ADUs built before some areas had town zoning) for a total of 63.
Of the two ADUs approved on April 6, one was for a traditional-style carriage house. The property owners of 306 Stickney Street, which is a R-1 zoned lot, applied for a detached ADU to be built in the back of the lot off of the alley. The proposed ADU would be 600 square feet. The application states that design, scale, and color will match the 1,442 square-foot main house on the property.
The Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) reviewed the conditional use application and recommended that the Board of Trustees approve it, with the condition that it add an extra parking space for the ADU. Town Planner Paul Glasgow reported that owners are extending the driveway for an additional parking space. The trustees unanimously approved the ADU.
The other ADU proposed is the first application for a tiny home on wheels ADU, more than a year after tiny homes on wheels were first allowed as ADUs in Town of Lyons code. The property owners of 225 Evans Street, which is an R-2A zoned lot, applied for conditional use review to allow a 275-square-foot tiny home on wheels as an ADU. (The application also included the owner of the tiny home on wheels, who would be a tenant of the property owners.) R-2A zoned lots allow either a second separate house built on the lot (which requires paying utility connection fees) or–as of November 2019–an ADU instead, which can share utilities with the main house.
The tiny home on wheels ADU on Evans Street would replace a barn building currently at the back of the property near the alley described several times in the application document as “dilapidated,” and it would have a much smaller footprint than the barn. According to the conditional use application, all lots on the 200 block of Evans Street are zoned R-2A, and many already have second houses on the lots. The PCDC reviewed the conditional use application and recommended that the Board of Trustees approve it. The PCDC recommended that if there was a need for a secondary electrical utility extension, the applicant would pay for the extension. The Board of Trustees approved this ADU with a 6-1 vote. Trustee Wendy Miller voted against the approval because of the possible historic significance of the barn that would be demolished.
If this plan is completed as described in the application, it will be the first tiny home on wheels used as an ADU in Lyons. Tiny homes on wheels were added to be allowed as ADUs in town code in January 2019, and R-2 and R-2A zones were added to the ADU ordinance in November 2019 (as an alternate choice to building second dwelling units).
January 2019 changes to the ADU ordinance allowed tiny homes on wheels that do not fit into the IRC code that building inspectors use, but are built according to recreational vehicle (RV) standards like American National Standards Institute Park Model Recreational Vehicle Standard 119.5, National Electrical Code Standards 551 and 552, and National Fire Protection Association Standard 1192. The term “tiny homes on wheels” or sometimes just “tiny homes” describes a trend that started in the early 2000s of small constructed homes that are on built on a trailer frame with axles and wheels, registered like RVs with VIN numbers. Tad Smith, the tenant who plans to move his tiny home on wheels to 225 Evans Street, said that do-it-yourself tiny homes on wheels cost about $15,000-$50,000, and professionally built tiny homes on wheels cost about $50,000-$100,000.
I’ve been following changes to the ADU ordinances in Lyons since the 2013 flood. Although an ADU ordinance was added to Town of Lyons code right before the 2013 flood, no property owners were applying for the conditional use review to add them, even during flood recovery. The Board of Trustees changed town code regarding ADUs in December 2016, hoping to inspire homeowners in residential neighborhoods to build more long-term rental units at the lower end of the market. Homeowners who want to build detached ADUs on R-1 lots (and also on R-2 lots added to the ordinance last fall) in Lyons now save up to $20,000-$40,000 in utility connection fees, because even detached ADUs can share the utilities with the main house. Homeowners must still complete a conditional use review application (which includes notification of neighbors and gathering public comments before the PCDC and Board of Trustees), live on the property (in either the main house or in the ADU), and cannot use any of the property for short-term vacation rentals. The trustees approved the town code changes with the stated purpose of encouraging more long-term rentals in town.
Even after the changes were made to allow sharing utilities with the main house, there have been only six other ADUs approved in those past four years. In the 12 months between May 2017 and May 2018, conditional use reviews were completed and approved for four new detached ADUs that went under construction in Lyons: a garage apartment at 427 Stickney Street, an apartment in a separate building at 327 Seward Street, an apartment above a garage for a new home under construction at 1024 4th Ave, and a separate 600 square-foot one bedroom apartment at 600 Indian Lookout Road, approved for an undeveloped parcel where a new home was planned to be built. Then, in June 2018, a conditional use review was approved for an apartment already built above an already-constructed large garage building (rebuilt after the 2013 flood) at 310 Fifth Avenue. Despite concerns from four neighbors, the ADU was approved by a majority of the PCDC commissioners and the Board of Trustees. After June 2018, no additional ADUs came through the conditional use process until April 2019. In May 2019, a conditional use review to build an apartment above a garage at 406 Prospect was approved. A proposal for 227 Park Street application for an existing building seemed to have stalled in the process. In January 2019, five members of the Board of Trustees approved allowing tiny homes on wheels RVs, in addition to modular homes and stick-built homes, as detached ADUs, but no tiny homes on wheels applications went through the process until the one approved for Evans street this week.
There are two future changes that we need to see related to the ADU policy that will support safe and affordable rentals in the Town of Lyons. Adding eight new market-rate but smaller long-term rental units to Lyons in the six and a half years since the flood is helpful, but it is not an overwhelming success. Our town can do more to ease the affordable rental problem.
First, as intended in 2016 with the changed policy that waived the additional utility connect costs, the now estimated 55 non-compliant ADUs in the Town of Lyons need to be brought into the program. This was a need public safety officials expressed so they would know which single family home lots have other households living in the back, to respond appropriately when there are emergencies. Also, it would prevent these legacy and assumed to be “grandfathered” dwelling units from being rented out as short-term vacation rentals when there are renters struggling to find places to live long-term.
Secondly, I would like to see incentives to property owners who build ADUs to rent at below market rate. Hollie Rogin, elected to the new Board of Trustees in this week’s election, has suggested swapping increased allowable square footage on ADUs for guaranteed limits on rent increases. Over the past two terms, Trustee Miller has stated that she wanted a way for ADU property owners to commit to lower rents, make ADUs affordable to lower-income renters, or agree to take tenants with housing vouchers. However, there was not enough support from other trustees, or implementation ideas from town staff at that time to pursue those requirements. Now that Miller has been reelected to the Board of Trustees in this week’s election, and Rogin is also speaking out in favor of affordability requirements for ADUs, there might be enough momentum for the future board to take this up. I hope to see Miller’s and Rogin’s ideas supported by the next board.