Add Housing Shortage To A List Of Challenges In Post-Flood Lyons

Sep 9, 2014

One of the hardest hit areas following the 2013 flood was the small 2,000-person town of Lyons. Key pieces of the town's infrastructure like sewer, water and gas lines were severely damaged. Fast forward a year, the town is working off a list of 87 projects ranging from park and river bank repair to bridge rebuilding.

Another challenge is replacing housing lost to the flood.

In the town's busiest corridor, you can barely see signs of the flood. But almost everyone in town has a story — including Connie Sullivan, owner of the St. Vrain Market.

"We essentially lost nearly 100 percent of our inventory," said Sullivan, who either lost or gave away food from the St. Vrain Market during the flood.

When the water receded, she found a foot of mud and debris inside her shop. With destroyed roads, water and sewer lines, many residents couldn't return home for about two months. Sullivan said it added a wrinkle on what was already a complicated recovery plan.

Inside the St. Vrain Market, it was a slow process rebuilding inventory. Today most of the shelves are full.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

"You didn't have electricity and then you had to figure out when your customer base is going to be returning and what types of products you would be able to sell even once they did return," she said.

Lyons lost about 20 percent of its housing stock in the flood. As a result, Sullivan said her business looks different now. Sandwich sales to tourists are up. Grocery sales through Colorado's Food Assistance Program are down.

"We served that niche of the community," said Sullivan. "It's sad to see that those customers are some of the ones that haven't returned."

'Replacement Plus' For Housing

The housing shortage in Lyons can be found a few short blocks from Main Street in the Confluence Neighborhood. Nearly every home on one block of Park Street is in the midst of repairs or demolition.

"We did not allow this gentleman right here to rebuild because when know when the next big flood comes, it's going to come right through here," said Lyons Mayor John O'Brien, pointing to a pile of rocks and debris.

Demolition is in progress at this mobile home park on Park Street.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

In the weeks immediately after the flood, the first priority was to repair downed sewer and water lines. But O'Brien said there are still dozens projects the town needs to complete — work that includes repairing parks, streams and bridges.

While there's a long list of repairs ahead, Lyons Mayor John O'Brien said a key concern is the lack of affordable housing. The town lost both of its two trailer parks, which held about 50 homes.

"We had a housing shortage even before the flood. So it's sort of replacement plus if you will," said O'Brien.

The low housing stock hasn't been an issue for Anthea Rice. She and her husband, John, moved into a newly purchased home a few blocks north of the Confluence Neighborhood after the bridge to their last home in the nearby U.S. 36 canyon was destroyed by the rampaging water.

"The process of building a bridge — a legal bridge that's permitted — they could not tell us when or if we could ever do that," said Rice.

Even though she's lived near Lyons for just a few years, Rice felt compelled to stay in the area.

"I feel like that has really been given to me here — to move into a new community, and to make community," said Rice.

Retaining just one household is a huge victory for Lyons. It's a small success in what will be a much longer battle in the years ahead.