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Tiny house zoning revisions

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By Saturday, Jan 12, 2019 Letters 13

To the editor:

Thank you for posting the proposed Great Barrington zoning revisions (see below). The Edge, in making  available the new plan, the result of forward-thinking and much hard work, is a great service to the community. Here is what is proposed:

ARTICLE: Tiny Houses as Accessory Dwelling Units

Amend Section 11, Definitions, to add the following new definition:

Movable Tiny Houses (MTH): A structure intended for the separate, independent living quarters of one household for year-round residence that meets all of the following: (a) Is licensed and registered with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles; (b) Meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 119.5 requirements, and certified by a qualified third party inspector for ANSI compliance; (c) Cannot move under its own power; (d) Has not less than 150 and no more than 430 square feet of habitable living space, excluding lofts; (e) Is designed and built using conventional residential building materials for windows, roofing and exterior siding.

May I make a few suggestions? First, if you added to (b) “Or if constructed within the jurisdiction, meets the requirements of, and is certified by the Building Inspector.” The Building Inspector (with authority equal to ANSI within the town) could conduct his usual inspections. A resident could buy a frame and build the MTH in the driveway. Movable Tiny Houses could also be constructed by students at the high school, inspected and sold locally. Second, if you changed the minimum area in (d) to 115 square feet, you could use the 16 foot MTH trailer as a bedroom or playroom for summer guests or children. Third, placing the MTH in the Accessory Dwelling Unit zoning category would require a sewer or septic connection. Unless I’m missing something, this would require a small shallow basement under the trailer extending to below the frost line which is neither easy nor practical. For full-time living, a composting  toilet would be sufficient. The bathroom in the main house, battery-powered lights, a window with a screen and a propane heater in the winter would provide bedroom luxury undreamed of by the people who lived here less than a century ago.

As an example, the trailer frame shown is made by Heavy Hauler near Albany. It is 16 feet by 100 inches, rated at 7,000 lbs, and cost $3,195. This seems to be the closest location and a good design.

I would be happy to help the Building Inspector write a specification with illustrations of what he would accept for a do-it-yourself MTH. Allowing the Building Inspector to use his jurisdiction keeps the manufacturing business and capital within Great Barrington. Movable Tiny Homes should be built locally. Thanks again!

Leif M. Steinert

Stockbridge



13 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jonathan Hankin says:

    The building inspector inspects for conformance with the Mass building code. The International Residential Code has drafted an Appendix Q to address tiny houses which Mass may adopt in the next three years. Nothing in the proposed bylaw would prevent a home built MTH as long as it is inspected by a qualified inspector.

    1. Leif Steinert says:

      Thank you. Requiring that trailer houses be hooked up to town sewer, water and electric seems to defeat the economic purpose. Unless you build a foundation underneath, how could you hook up a trailer to sewer and water without the pipes freezing? The trailer is personal property and the foundation is real estate. Why would anyone do this?

      1. Amy L Turnbull says:

        Hi, Leif

        Many conversations abound on tiny house social platforms to address protecting pipes from freezing. I recommend joining Tiny House People Facebook group.

        In answer to your question about trailer vs. foundation, “why would anyone do this?” I assume you are looking at the choice from a homeowner’s point of view: why would a homeowner site a movable tiny house on their property instead of just building one on a foundation?

        To give you an example of why siting a movable tiny house makes sense for some, I’ll explain my particular conundrum. I am a Great Barrington homeowner who wants to build a tiny ADU on a foundation in R1B. It may not be cost effective for me to build a tiny ADU on a foundation, therefore my alternative will be to host a movable tiny as an ADU. For significantly less money than a build, I can install electric and sewer hookups on my property and host a young person or two who may live and work in Great Barrington–a young couple who want a home to call their own, a garden and a short commute. The going rate for a movable tiny as an ADU is $500 a month. This is below fair market rent for the area. And since I wouldn’t be paying back a loan, I can pass that savings on to the host family. It’s a win win!

        I hope this answers your question! I appreciate your effort in reaching out to the Editor and for your input here!

    2. Leif Steinert says:

      Mr. Hankin, a question please: what if someone wants to set up a trailer house as an ADU in the side yard setback (which you are increasing from ten to twenty feet)? Will a trailer house be allowed a certificate of occupancy when parked in an area where normal residential construction is prohibited? Right now, you could park a trailer, camper or RV in the side or rear setback and with “hardship” and approval from BOS live in it. The entire town has housing “hardship”. Thank you for all your hard work on revising the zoning.

    3. Leif Steinert says:

      My understanding is that if the trailer house becomes an ADU, it changes from personal property into real estate which allows the owner to get a mortgage. Then the manufacturers are shipping real estate on trailers which would be very profitable and not necessarily of benefit to the local economy. Many years ago I worked for a modular home company near Poughkeepsie. Every day a bus would arrive with workers from the prison across the river. The homes shipped to Berkshire County and elsewhere were built with some prison labor. Also in the proposed zoning, a standard door is not specified. Do they use a smaller door than 36″ which is required by local code? The building inspector requires a 36″ door and when he is asked to issue a certificate of occupancy and sees a smaller door and objects and the owner points to the certification from the trailer house builder, well then, “That’s when your heartaches begin.” I’m one hundred percent behind the concept of a trailer house in the driveway, but think the proposed zoning revision to make it into an ADU is a big mistake that works to the trailer house manufacturers rather than the property owner.

  2. Sage Radachowsky says:

    Although honestly, as with the legalization of weed lately, i just think it’s so much ado about nothing and making mountains out of molehills but ok that’s how our stupid society works. They’ll stop persecuting people who do things that make sense then they’ll over-regulate the shit out of it until they choke the real beauty and spark of life out of it, it’s sad. By the way, I can design them much better than this one. This is a box with beds. I can also draw using Sketchup. Anyone want a great tiny house? I can build it for you! Very experienced, the most experience tiny house carpenter in Berkshire County.

    So… first they persecute you for building a tiny house, then they adopt and co-opt your ideas and the rich profit from it.

    But anyway, remember my name. I have built and lived in tiny houses for many years now, even hiding from the inspectors in Boston, and reported by the police… and forced to move. But then they suddenly think it’s alright and then the rich invest in their “tiny house company” and it becomes 3X more expensive than it needs to be and regulated to heck… the spark of creativity largely gone from it, and it becomes another trendy thing for the well off hipsters to get…

    But anyway, hire me. I am the best and crankiest tiny house carpenter in the county, with the most experience, and i wrote the book on it, the one that nobody reads.

    1. Tom Warner says:

      I can say for sure Sage is the man to call to make a tiny house!
      He has the skills and the imagination to make a project work.

      1. Sage Radachowsky says:

        Thank you, Tom. I appreciate the vote of confidence. I was fairly cranky when i wrote that comment, as is surely evident in my text. I know the picture was merely a visual for the letter, and not anyone’s masterpiece design. I also know that other people are fully able to build good tiny houses (although i’ve seen a fair number of tiny houses very poorly designed and/or constructed as well, so it IS very important to have a good design and build person or team).

    2. Brenda Charrier says:

      Sage, would love more information about your builds, including how long it takes, cost, etc. Currently talking to B&B Construction, but only because they were the only MA builder I found (that builds insurable, RVIA tiny houses). How can you be reached??

  3. Amy L Turnbull says:

    I support the pending movable tiny house language for inclusion in the Great Barrington accessory dwelling unit bylaws. I applaud the forward-thinking members of the planning commission and appreciate the work they are doing to create more housing choices in Great Barrington.

    Conventional housing is extremely costly to build and impacts the environment. New home builds average more than $300 per square foot for fully-finished, upgraded designs. Movable tiny houses can be purchased and sited for a fraction of the cost of a new build, and in less time. Movable tiny houses can be sited within existing residential neighborhoods, effectively increasing the supply of single family housing without the cost of new construction and the burden a new build places on the environment.

    Movable tiny houses have the potential to be affordable by design. Most rental housing in Great Barrington is out of the reach of our local, living wage earners, young single-parent households and the elderly on fixed incomes. The young are moving away at an alarming rate; fixed-income homeowners are struggling to make ends meet. Movable tiny houses offer the perfect solution: homeowners, especially those without the equity required for a new build, can rent space on their property to movable tiny house owners. Similar to any rental relationship, long-term leases effectively ensure the viability and integrity of the host/tiny relationship.

    Movable tiny houses as ADUs will blend in with existing residential neighborhoods. The language of the new amendment ensures that movable tiny houses will have pitched roofs and will use conventional building materials.

    To help ensure movable tiny houses meet the health, safety and welfare of existing codes, movable tiny houses will connect to sewer and electricity and will be inspected according to strict guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute.

    Other cities are beginning to amend their ordinances to include movable tiny houses as ADUs in response to the extreme lack of affordable housing. Congratulations, Great Barrington, in joining the movement to create more housing choices and for your forward-thinking efforts to help keep your town vital!

    Amy Turnbull
    Property Owner in Great Barrington
    Director, American Tiny House Association

    1. Leif Steinert says:

      “AFTER APPROVAL AND THEREAFTER SUBJECT TO ANNUAL INSPECTION BY THE BUILDING INSPECTOR, ONE TRAILER, RECREATIONAL VEHICLE, OR MOBILE HOME MAY BE PERMITTED AND USED AS A DWELLING ON ANY STANDARD LOT”.

      Thanks, you make a lot of good points. We agree that the purpose is to provide low-cost housing. A home, built on a trailer can be great in many places. However, the proposed zoning revisions require a connection to town sewer or a septic tank. A $30,000 septic tank or a 5′ trench to for connection to town sewer means you might as well stick-build an ADU on a slab on grade. Also is there a diagram of a sewer/water/electric hookup certified for cold weather down to -30 F and approved by a building inspector?

      Another approach might be to leave the tiny house on wheels as a trailer and not try to redefine it as an ADU. The present situation is:
      8.6
      TRAILERS OR MOBILE HOMES
      8.6.1 General.
      As a temporary dwelling, one trailer, recreational vehicle, or mobile home may be permitted and used as a dwelling on any standard lot for not more than 60 days in any twelve month period. A permit from the Building Inspector is required. The Board of Selectmen may, however, allow such use for a longer period of time by special permit in hardship cases, provided that a time limit of 12 months is imposed as part of the authorization.

      This could be changed to “AFTER APPROVAL AND THEREAFTER SUBJECT TO ANNUAL INSPECTION BY THE BUILDING INSPECTOR, ONE TRAILER, RECREATIONAL VEHICLE, OR MOBILE HOME MAY BE PERMITTED AND USED AS A DWELLING ON ANY STANDARD LOT”.

      1. Amy L Turnbull says:

        The idea is to distinguish a movable tiny home as a code compliant dwelling that meets the building code for a full time habitation and resembles a conventional residential structure. Guidelines will need to be addressed through ANSI in combination with existing IRC requirements for plumbing and electrical.

    2. Leif Steinert says:

      That may be the “idea’ of the American Tiny House Association, but the goal of the proposed zoning revisions are to ease the affordable housing crisis.

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