Tiny home sought in Ely

Code changes needed to allow trend to take hold in town

by Tom Coombe
Might the tiny house trend make it all the way to Ely?
That may well be the case, following city council action earlier in the week.
After receiving a request from a local resident who wants to place a 200-to-300 square foot home on a city lot, the council voted unanimously to direct the city’s planning and zoning commission to study the issue.
Council member Paul Kess went a step further, saying he hopes that the city look at measures that now prohibit “tiny houses,” and “reexamine the issue and hopefully come to some support.”
Kess seemed to find some support at the council table, with member Al Forsman adding “I currently have no reason to be against it.”
Ely resident Amanda Block generated Tuesday’s discussion, by way of a written request to purchase a city lot at 1041 East Washington Street.
In her letter to the council, Block said “I have come to the realization that we need to simplify our lives” and added “simply put, we have too much stuff.”
Block is looking to join a growing number of people nationwide who have decided to downsize their homes significantly and move into what’s known as a “tiny house,” generally less than 400 square feet.
The tiny house movement has taken off with the help of television shows including Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters.
While many tiny homes are on wheels, Kess said “I don’t think that’s the type of structure we would allow... I would hope to have permanent structures with city utilities attached.”
Block provided a drawing of a two-level tiny home that would include two sleeping areas on a 145-square foot loft level, and a main level that would include living, dining, bedroom and bathroom areas, all within 210 square feet.
Block told council members that the move to a tiny home would require her family to be “choosy about possessions” and would allow her to spend more time and money within the community having experiences.
The Washington Street lot that Block wants to purchase is empty, but city officials said allowing a tiny home would require changes to current city code, including a minimum square foot requirement of about 760 square feet for a dwelling.
“It’s difficult within our existing code,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer and operations director. “Some of these are hard and fast requirements. How do you give a variance if you have a 22 feet minimum sidewall width now and you go down to eight feet?”
Council members said it was an issue appropriate for planning and zoning review.
“It came to the (city) project committee, and we recommended it go to planning and zoning,” said mayor Chuck Novak. “There were some questions asked, but there were no negative comments at projects.”
Forsman said “it would be nice to know some of the reasoning behind some of the (current city) minimums. Maybe planning and zoning can find some answers.
“When I think of our zoning ordinances, I think about what do I want next to my house, and what would other people want. Why would you be against it or for it? I’m not sure what the pros and cons are.”
Should city officials decide to change current minimums and allow for tiny homes, public hearings would take place before action to change city code.
Novak said there appear to be no obstacles associated with the property sought by Block, noting that the property owner directly to the west is the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
“I don’t see it coming on the HRA agenda at all,” said Novak.
Council member Angela Campbell, an HRA member, said there has been some talk of using that lot for HRA resident parking and asked that it be addressed by the board.