By Mayor Julie Van Domelen
LYONS – In the late 1990s, one of the main land-use issues facing Lyons was how to control growth and in particular limit the expansion of residential growth.
The 1998 Comprehensive Plan called for the establishment of open space buffers around Lyons and emphasized the risks of sprawl. In that time period, there were several additional housing developments wanting to annex into Lyons, including upper Stone Canyon, other hillside developments and the potential for 500 new homes on the Olson property on Red Gulch Road. There were very few zoning and regulatory tools in place to provide safeguards. In response to an advisory question asked to the voters, in 2000 the Board of Trustees, BOT, put in place a restriction that any annexation over 5 acres would need to be subject to a vote, except for town-owned land.
Even with limits on expanded residential growth, the build-out of planned neighborhoods increased town’s population from 1,585 in 2000 to 2,035 in 2010. However, there was little employment or commercial expansion to match the residential growth. This has left Lyons essentially a bedroom community where over three-quarters of the workforce leaves every day to commute to jobs outside of town. The sales tax base, a key source of local government revenues, is one of the lowest in Boulder County in per capita terms and far below the median values for towns of similar size. This calls into question the economic sustainability of our community and the ability to meet citizens’ expectations for local government services and amenities.
The 2010 Comprehensive Plan reflects the changes that have occurred in Lyons over the last 10 years and, based on extensive citizen input, charts a course for the future. The Comp Plan presents a strong vision for economic sustainability, with a view to providing enough revenue for the town to provide the quality of services desired by residents and businesses and to promote commercial and job growth in order to transition from a residential development-based economy to a commercial-based, localized economy.
As part of building a stronger local economic base, the Comp Plan prioritizes coordination with local landowners including the City of Longmont and developers to encourage the annexation and development of properties along the eastern U.S. Highway 36 corridor. In looking at constraints to this, the Comp Plan calls upon the BOT to evaluate the feasibility of and public support for changing the requirement that all private annexations that exceed 5 acres must be approved by a vote.
What have been the effects of having the vote requirement? People thought that if larger annexations must be approved by a vote of the citizens, we would get better and more appropriate annexations. However, Lyons has had no annexations over 5 acres in the more than 10 years since the ordinance was put in place. Instead of a filter, the ordinance appears to act as a wall. The experience has been similar in other municipalities that enacted voter requirements for annexations. There have been six municipalities in Colorado that have experimented with similar annexation restrictions – Buena Vista, Erie, Mead, Manitou Springs, Lyons and Eaton. In all cases except Lyons and Manitou Springs, the regulations were subsequently rescinded because they made it impossible to attract desirable growth and business development.
A further reason for striking the vote requirement in these other towns was that more appropriate types of land-use regulations were put in place, like inter-government agreements, comprehensive plans, and more rigorous zoning and land-use requirements, that made it less important to attempt zoning via the ballot box. And, there was the recognition that residents would still have input to and ultimately, control over annexations via public hearings throughout the annexation process as well as the potential to circulate a petition to nullify an annexation.
Does Lyons have sufficient safeguards in place to make sure that any future annexations are beneficial to the community in all aspects (economic, social, environmental, etc.)? Certainly, the regulatory framework is quite different than when the annexation vote ordinance was put in effect. The Intergovernmental agreement with Boulder County greatly constrains the potential for Lyons to grow. Revised zoning regulations require that annexation proposals contain assessments of environmental impacts, impacts on schools and other services, fiscal impacts, and so forth. Currently in the works is the revised Commercial Eastern Corridor, CEC, zone which would require that any businesses in that zone adhere to strict conditions of local benefit and fit, as well as the first set of comprehensive design standards for Lyons.
Given the experience over the last 10+ years with the annexation vote requirement, the changing economic and demographic circumstances in Lyons over the last decade, and the added planning and zoning tools now in place or in development, the Board of Trustees determined that it is appropriate to revisit the effectiveness of the annexation vote requirement. The BOT has three options: (1) do nothing – leave the ordinance as is, (2) consider changing the ordinance with a view to easing the restrictions on non-residential properties to enable employment and economic expansion but leaving the annexation vote requirement on residential properties over 5 acres to address continued concerns over residential sprawl, or (3) put the question to the voters. Over the next two weeks, the BOT will be seeking input from various concerned boards and commissions and citizens prior to making a decision.
Julie Van Domelen was elected mayor of Lyons in 2009 in a special election. She was re-elected mayor in April 2010. Mayor Van Domelen works part time as an economist for the World Bank. She lives with her family in Lyons and can be reached at email@example.com.Back to Top