Following the 2013 flooding in Colorado, the Town of Lyons continues to navigate the complex world of disaster recovery. The Town is continuously aiming at transparency and public outreach in their efforts to rebuild stronger and smarter. In a landlocked community, the issue of where and how to rebuild housing has been a challenging process. Refer to our November 2014 post, Resilience Planning in Lyons, CO, for a map and additional background on the flood recovery process.
Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative, PlaceMatters was able to assist the Trestle Strategy Group and enhance their community engagement strategy by bringing high- and low-tech solutions to the process. In October of 2014 the Town had tasked Trestle to conduct additional site analysis for Lyons residents to vote on a site for replacement housing. They had only four months to complete their analysis, with robust engagement for stakeholders, who would ultimately decide if the proposed site was acceptable through a vote.
The first issue that arose was the need to get accurate information to the community on the immense amount of work that had been going on since the flood to determine where housing should go and how it would be paid for. Between the fast pace of disaster recovery, the numerous other concerns of residents, and wide range of ongoing projects, much of the current work on housing recovery was not known to residents. Several different websites hosted relevant flood recovery information and it took searching to find all of the plans, meeting minutes, and analysis that had been performed.
In an attempt to centralize all information in one place in a visually engaging manner, PlaceMatters created an interactive Tiki-Toki timeline. The timeline displays events that happened in Lyons since the floods; it is searchable and allows for colored content bands to help the user navigate the information; and it links back to the original documents they referenced. The Town of Lyons embedded the timeline on the main page of the housing recovery website allowing for residents to more easily navigate information. Residents were then able to easily access the Recovery Action Plan, Housing Recovery Plan, numerous meeting minutes, Board of Trustees deadline information, and recovery videos in one location.
As more residents became aware of housing efforts, concerns also peaked. A primary concern for residents was to not have a clear understanding of what the future held for this process and when they would be heard. We created a simple infographic timeline that gave residents a better understanding of how they would be involved throughout the planning process, what the time frame was, and what the next steps would be.
Another key concern was the location of housing. A group named SOPOS, or Save Our Parks and Open Space, formed to voice their opinion against placing recovery housing in Bohn Park, or any other park space. Lyons, CO is a landlocked community, surrounded by open space. This leaves very little space for development within the town limits. Bohn Park was one location being considered for recovery housing.In Lyons, CO any resident can bring any issue to a full town vote with 50 petition signatures. Those working on identifying sites were aware that if they selected Bohn Park for housing, SOPOS would most likely circulate a petition and bring the issue to a town vote.
On January 5, 2015 the BoT voted to use Bohn Park for a future housing project and the design process began. As expected, SOPOS managed to get enough signatures to bring the issue up for a town vote. The town then prepared for the vote, giving residents information on available funding that was related to the initial flood and the importance of timing, and continued to provide information on the site.
In February 2015, the Lyons Housing Collaborative was formed to conduct outreach to residents and provide education and solicit input on recovery housing. The team included the architecture firm Workshop8, the landscape architect DHM Design, the landscape consultant Urban Oasis, Trestle Strategy Group as the engagement consultant , Boulder County Housing Authority as the master developer, Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley, and Milender White Construction. PlaceMatters supported the overall process and the team. The team had a storefront in Lyons, open to answer residents questions on housing issues. They had an Internet presence, held public meetings, conducted weekly site visits and a visit to explore what affordable housing looks like in the area. The outreach was extensive. The architecture firm, Workshop8 gathered resident input in a workshop and then needed to refine and understand resident inclinations, by polling them on design preferences. PlaceMatters was able to support the Team through live keypad polling at the meeting. Keypad polling allows participants to rank or choose preferences with instant feedback, providing transparency and moving discussion forward on the nuances of why residents voiced the opinions they did. The polling is also anonymous, giving residents a safe venue for providing honest feedback without the worry of neighbor reactions.
Residents were pleased with the instant feedback and they were eager to discuss the pro and cons of their choices. The meeting was highly productive and architects were able to leave with a clear understanding of the residents top choice for site layout, construction materials and amenity preferences.
The Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) hired Janaki Jane to assist with communication to displaced residents. Over a year after the flooding, it has continued to be difficult to identify how many residents are still displaced and there is little understood about what, if any, information is being communicated to them. Janaki has taken video of potential types of housing for the displaced residents, but doesn’t have the capacity or tools to edit and share the video.
PlaceMatters supported communication with residents by assisting Janaki with editing and distributing footage she took of replacement housing examples. The product is an informational video on affordable housing typologies in Boulder County.
The Town voted on using 5-7 acres of Bohn Park for recovery housing on March 24, 2015. Emotions peaked leading up to the vote and you were hard pressed to find a resident who was unaware of the vote and hadn’t been in contact with some form of outreach.
The residents voted not to use this space for recovery housing. A local news outlet, the Longmont Timescall, reported that 614 voted against and 498 voted for using Bohn Park for housing. This is 55% of the voting population and the highest recorded turnout for voting in the town. PlaceMatters role was to provide support engagement and information sharing for replacement housing. Given the mission of the grant we were careful to stay out of political advocacy.
While finding homes for those displaced by disaster is something that we may believe on a personal level, the outcome of the vote does not discount the success in the high level of participation, conversation and engagement the the residents were part of leading up to it. Residents are now looking at a range of options that could still lead to some affordable housing units being built in town to help some of the displaced residents return. Without Federal recovery funding, however, we will mostly see fewer units built over a longer period of time.