It’s been 2 years since flood waters ravaged much of Northern Colorado. The recovery process has been arduous for many people, particularly those in Boulder County who are caught in a maze of bureaucracy as part of the federal buy out program.
It’s been described as bureaucracy on steroids. Federal money being administered by state officials liaising with county and then town officials and then finally homeowners whose properties were destroyed.
Abby Shannon is the long range planning manager for Boulder County, that means she is helping residents in unincorporated Boulder County who wish to avail of the federal buy out program. “The purpose of the buyout program is hazard mitigation, it’s to buy out private properties as a way to prevent development from ever happening there in the future.” Shannon says once the properties are bought out they become open space “they’re not used, they’re open in perpetuity, they’re not redeveloped.” Shannon is currently working with approximately 50-60 families in unincorporated Boulder County who are seeking a buy out from the federal government. She is NOT working with residents in Lyons though, the town has its own liaison with the state and federal agencies. There are almost 40 residents, in the Confluence area eligible for the buyout. Their homes lie between the South St. Vrain and North St. Vrain – both rivers burst their banks 2 years ago creating widespread damage and destroying many homes in this old part of the town. David Tiller’s home was one of those destroyed.
Tiller and his neighbors are eligible for the buyout program but despite being described as a real estate transaction, the seller in this case, is left with very little control over the situation. The sale value of the house is based on its value the day before the flood…before the house was destroyed, but homeowners here say they’re being offered much lower prices, and with house prices actually rising in Lyons in the past 2 years, they’re essentially being priced out of the market. “The reality is, even if we’re being offered this certain amount of money, none of us can actually buy another house for the price we’re being offered, in Lyons again. So that’s the whole reality we’re trying to contend with.”
Tiller’s Neighbor Michele Leonard is also frustrated with the buyout process, particularly in how the houses are being priced. “I’m hoping there can be scrutiny of the process, is it equitable, is it transparent and is it timely?”
Leonard recently received a letter saying that the State hired an appraiser to review the appraisals but their offer value will be an average of the three appraisals instead of an average of the two highest appraisals. The State essentially rejected the Town of Lyons methodology of averaging the highest two appraisals, that means if she accepts the states valuation she’ll end up with $11,000 less on an already low offer. “We had 3 certified appraisals, so why are the numbers going down? Why are the numbers going down? Wouldn’t you think if it was an objective process someone’s would have gone up, at least one?”
It’s not clear what the state is actually offering for the Michele Leonard’s home, making it difficult for her family to make a decision on whether to accept the buyout or try to rebuild. If they do negotiate a different price with the state and federal officials, her husband Thomas Bishop says, it has to be fair. “I’m not giving my land away so it’s going to have to be real and it’s going to have to be fair, and if it’s not you’re going to have to deal with us staying here.”
The Bishops are renting in North Boulder. Many of their neighbors are paying rent while still paying a mortgage on an uninhabitable house in Lyons. Compounding that, the displaced residents are also paying for utilities on the destroyed homes. The town is charging them a base rate. Lyons Mayor John O’Brien emailed KGNU to say “if they have been paying utilities during the time they been displaced, they will be reimbursed for those costs at closing.”
In the meantime, David Tiller and the other residents say they are stuck in a holding pattern and unable to move on “just waiting and waiting and not being able to have a real home until this is all figured out and settled.”