Living with the Saint Vrain: A Report from the Lyons CPAT

Living with the Saint Vrain: A Report from the Lyons CPAT

Darrin Punchard, AICP, CFM – Principal Consultant, MWH Global

"The Town of Lyons is so very appreciative of the timely support of APA and the extremely helpful efforts of the CPAT. The team was very responsive to the community's needs and very professional in every aspect of their work here. They helped us focus our efforts on recovery at a very challenging time and were extremely patient with us as we struggled with the daunting tasks ahead of us. The CPAT produced professional maps and documents that our small town does not have the resources to produce, and they developed useful and applicable recommendations that will assist us in our recovery efforts."
- Victoria Simonsen, Lyons Town Administrator

The town of Lyons was one of the communities most drastically affected by the historic floods in September 2013. The event severely altered the landscape, particularly the Confluence area where the north and south tributaries of the Saint Vrain River merge. Lyons suffered major damage to homes, infrastructure, parks, and the river corridor, and it will take many years to fully recover.

In February 2014, in response to a proposal from the Town in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, APA organized a Community Planning Assistance Team (CPAT) to support Lyons with an advisory flood hazard mitigation and recovery planning project. CPATs are multidisciplinary teams of subject matter experts assembled by APA from around the country to provide quick turnaround, pro bono services to communities on a range of challenging planning issues. The CPAT for Lyons was charged with providing technical assistance to the Town as it contemplated many difficult decisions on how to guide post-disaster redevelopment efforts in a way that supported the community's goals for sustainable neighborhood design, affordable housing, environmental preservation, resilience, and economic sustainability.

Following a preliminary site visit in February by team leader Gavin Smith, AICP and APA staff member Ryan Scherzinger, the team refined the scope of work to more specifically focus on the Town’s immediate recovery priorities, including options available for rebuilding and reducing risk in the Confluence area while also fostering future hazard resilience for the whole community. Key tasks included a review of existing plans, policies and development regulations; recommendation of actionable mitigation measures and recovery strategies to operationalize resilience to current and future flood hazards; and visual depiction of various redevelopment scenarios for the most heavily damaged areas of the river corridor, including various combinations of land acquisition and on-site housing repair and rebuilding. In completing these tasks, the CPAT would leverage and build upon much of the work already completed in Lyons, including a series of successful community engagement and planning activities performed before and after the flood such as the development and adoption of the Lyons Comprehensive Plan in 2010. Grounding the team’s eventual recommendations in recognition of these earlier efforts was deemed critical to success.

The CPAT visited Lyons from May 12-16, 2014. Prior to arriving the team reviewed existing plans, policies and reports of ongoing disaster recovery efforts – including the draft Lyons Recovery Action Plan released in March. The team’s on-site schedule included a tour of the town and multiple meetings with Lyons residents, Confluence area neighbors, Town staff, and State and Federal government officials. In between and after all of these stakeholder meetings, the CPAT members gathered to review and discuss their observations and to work toward their eventual findings and draft recommendations, which were shared in a public presentation for additional community input prior to leaving town. Yes, it was an intense week!

The CPAT members prepared a final report in the months following which became officially released by APA in October 2014. The report describes the flood event, the initiation of the recovery process and key challenges, and the results of the local plan and policy review. It also includes some of the architectural and landscape design renderings used to help convey the range of options and/or implications of various recovery planning decisions based on the team’s observations and final recommendations as outlined below.

In summary the report includes the following key observations:
• Lyons can achieve a prosperous and balanced future in living with the Saint Vrain River, including its natural assets and risks, through thoughtful planning and design approaches that are tied to a vision that embraces sustainability and disaster resilience principles.
• Rebuilding and living safely within and adjacent to known flood hazard areas will require informed decision-making and constant communication between the Town and private property owners with regard to the benefits, costs and implications of various redevelopment alternatives. This includes promoting resilient housing design in the floodplain and the provision of suitable replacement housing elsewhere.
• Although a devastating event, the flood provided Lyons with significant opportunities and resources to restore and enhance the river landscape, public trails and riparian access, and to expand and redefine the town’s legacy of parks and open space – including a range of compatible uses for acquired/vacant lots in the floodplain, and better connections with improved wayfinding between parks and downtown Lyons.

The final report identifies and describes the following policy recommendations for the Town of Lyons to consider as it continues to move down the path of long-term community recovery:
1. Improve the mapping of flood hazard areas
2. Adopt procedures for post-disaster building moratoria
3. Provide disaster reconstruction guidance
4. Prepare a post-disaster redevelopment plan and recovery ordinance
5. Adopt higher floodplain management standards: strategic disinvestments in the floodplain
6. Consider joining the Community Rating System and adopting No Adverse Impact approaches to floodplain management
7. Improve flood risk communication and the ability to describe the implications of development choices
8. Apply mediation and other dispute resolution techniques to resolve recovery policy issues
9. Enhance existing plans to improve resilience

The CPAT used a variety of illustrations to depict its design recommendations and the range of redevelopment scenarios available to the Town of Lyons.









The Lyons CPAT played a small but important role in advancing the community’s understanding and consideration of the many planning issues and decisions it has been forced to confront as a result of the flood. Although more than a year has passed since the event, the people of Lyons continue to show tremendous perseverance in responding to inconceivable challenges that lie in its wake, particularly with regard to long-term housing recovery.

As stated in the final report, the CPAT team hopes its recommendations, coupled with the Town’s strong and enduring community spirit, dedicated staff and citizenry, and commitment to a participatory decision-making process will help to ensure that Lyons remains what makes it such a special place while also taking steps to reduce flood risk and increase its overall resilience.

More information on the CPAT project including the team’s public presentation and final report can be found at:

To learn more about the CPAT program in general and how communities and volunteer planners can participate, please visit:



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