tiny house

The Cypress is the most popular model produced by Tumbleweed Tiny Houses Company with 188-square-feet of space and priced at $63,000. But it is unlikely to get approved in Sebastopol as a permanent dwelling unit. Photo provided.

Sonoma County may have been an incubator for the tiny house movement, but Sebastopol isn’t likely to welcome these under 1,000-square-foot units unless they comply with a myriad of new regulations under consideration.

Small homes, currently trending on cable TV shows and in home magazines, are to be addressed under the new Sebastopol General Plan adopted last November because zoning codes don’t now include them.

“I think the TV shows have done a disservice here,” said planning commission chairwoman Linda Kelley. “They look great, but you wonder where they get their water and sewer to hook up.”

Kelley and the rest of the city planning commission took their first look at proposals for small home regulations from the city’s consultant, De Novo Planning Group, on March 28. More review sessions will be scheduled as the planning commission crafts zoning regulations on tiny houses that will ultimately be decided by the city council.

In general, tiny houses are viewed as being under 400 square feet while small homes are from 400 to 1,000 square feet. The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, now based in Sonoma, achieved architectural notoriety for marketing a 96-square foot home atop a trailer.

Planning commissioner Colin Doyle argued that the small houses were nothing more than efficiency units, about 300-325 square feet in size, that are already in zoning regulations and allowed as an accessory dwelling unit. “To me, tiny homes are a vague concept,” Doyle said, and using zoning regulations to establish a definition is merely responding to a passing fad.

“What are you going to do in 10 years when people think these on tiny lots are stupid?” he asked.

Doyle said he thinks the planning commission should better focus on allowing homes on smaller lots with smaller setbacks.

The Sebastopol planning commissioners struggle with accommodating the small house movement in zoning ordinances is mirrored in municipalities across the state. The state Department of Housing and Community Development last year attempted to clarify construction standards for tiny houses, but concluded only that they must fit one of several categories that include being a manufactured home, or a site-built home, or a recreational vehicle or a camping cabin.

Fresno defined a tiny house as a backyard cottage permissible as an accessory dwelling unit. Truckee decided they were okay as long as they anchored to a permanent foundation like a manufactured home. Portland permits tiny houses as accessory dwelling units, but hasn’t set any standards for what constitutes one.

In any case, tiny houses mounted on trailers with wheels aren’t going to be approved as a primary dwelling unit on property, the commissioners indicated. Most commissioners agreed small homes would have to be anchored to a foundation in order to meet residential zoning codes.

“Today, we don’t allow permanent occupancy in something on wheels,” said planning director Kenyon Webster. “We just have to decide when to allow them and how to hook them up to water and sewer.”

Planning commissioners will also be deciding whether to limit very small houses to certain residential areas, whether they will be permitted with minimum lot sizes and whether they will be allowed in a grouping of similar homes as a subdivision or on a single parcel.

(5) comments

SonyaTerri

Quick note: Sonoma County has waived the Impact Fees for Accessory Dwelling Units and Junior Units. This is part of the Emergency Zoning being enacted because of the Fire Disaster. Sonoma County is also: 1) Allowing the use of RVs and some Tiny Houses as dwellings, 2) Allowing Farmworkers to live in mobile units 365 days per year instead of the 180 days prior, 3) Allowing the use of Guest Houses, Pool Houses and other units as dwellings. These zoning changes are set to expire at the end of Dec 2019. Please follow Supervisor Shirlee Zane or "Tiny House Consulting - Zoning and Permits" for further updates.

RI5

Sebastopol is a sad paradox of a city. It is widely known as a liberal/progressive bastion, but often exhibits the exact opposite tendencies.

I have read in the past that Sebastopol has ranked very low in Sonoma county in environmental scores, mainly due to the spread-out nature of the housing in the area and the constant driving of the population to work, school, shopping, soccer practices, etc.

Also, Sebastopol has been among the least hospitable to affordable housing. I remember an Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) report about this.

A reporter from this area recently asked governor Brown about affordable housing. His blunt answer was (paraphrasing) "You don't want affordable housing. If you wanted it, you would make it happen."

So, look in the mirror Sebastopol. You are not liberals or progressives, you are rightwing conservatives with nice manners. Your actions, such as charging exorbitant fees for new housing units, building codes that mandate huge drain fields for residential dwellings, zoning which restricts the number of housing units per acre, etc., have the effect of driving up the price of housing, good for those who already own, but discriminating against those less able to pay really high rents and home prices.

ArtActivist

Sebastopol and West County broadly has been one of the last bastions of liberal, progressive thought and deed. Accepting that there is no one way to live, artists and unusual unique folks have lived experimentally in the county since the hippies left San Francisco and headed to the green rolling hills of Sonoma County. "The Family" was a famous commune in the 60's who essentially helped shape the Westside of the County, true creative innovators that literally changed the landscape. Farmers, loggers, cannibus growers, intellectuals, and tree huggers provided a welcome diversity to the gene pool. All of this is said because the diversity, void of bureaucracy was a stimulating think tank, visionaries if you will, of new ways to be and live. With that spirit in mind, welcoming all, providing safe, clean ways to live alternatively for those of us who cannot afford to pay rent in the county on minimum wage, should not be forced out. So many boomers like myself never worked a corporate or government job that provided a savings plan, or insurance, or a 401k. I never learned about investment or how to save for a future or retirement. Like so many we hoped when the time came we would have enough social security to take care of ourselves, that was our reward for paying into the system. Now that system wants to punish the have nots and make it impossible for them to live in the county that they have supported for 50 years, paying taxes, buying goods and services locally and contributing to the local fabric of the community that they love. The city permit/zoning should not start penalizing financially those who still want to live comfortably affordably in Sonoma County. It is criminal to criminalize the poor, the disabled, the seniors. By doing such a thing they can only expect to see the homeless population grow. Every city must provide alternative very low cost ways of housing those who want to pay what they can reasonable afford to live where they have made their home for so long. It is right just and fair to take care of those who need some support in being self sufficient.

lagioiella

This influence comes from none other Sonoma County Permit & Resource Department. Sonoma County is not pro family and do not want to see people taking care of their elderly parent(s) without making sure the caregivers will pay over $100,000 for permits and construction costs to do so. Sebastopol is following their Draconian command because they want to see people dump their parents off at an old folks home at the tune of $5,500+ each parent per month. Think of all the tax money they can make on everyone's misfortune! The county would rather see a developer construct poorly constructed new homes on postage stamp size lots with no architectural merit with granny units for at least $800,000 (which most people cannot afford) to put businesses like Little House on the Trailer in Petaluma out of business. They have no remorse collecting taxes from a business they are trying to run into the ground (DISGRACEFUL).

Since democracy is a thing of the past, eminent domain abuse will be alive and thriving in the new Leninist Fascist administration. Check out the 2011 Netflix documentary, You've Been Trumped. Purchasing land and building a house of my dreams with an in law unit in Mexico is looking a whole lot safer than what choices we have left here in Sonoma County. Too many rural properties are being greedily gobbled up under the guise of Open Space, not put into any kind of land trust, and then sold shortly thereafter to local planning commissioners via an LLC, chain store corporations, strip mall and housing developers, and commercial winemakers. These people are worse than car-jackers. The will make families homeless to line their pockets and then have the audacity to go to church on Sunday! = Tacky.

SonyaTerri

I don't have much time to comment right now - but consider that Tiny Houses, Small Houses (wether on wheels or not) can be utilized to significantly increase the stock of (second unit) housing for Sebastopol and elsewhere. This article does not address the main way the small houses are being utilized - which is as an adjunct to a main house. CA just enacted new zoning code for every county and city in the state which requires the allowance of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Small houses on wheels can easily be brought in and lowered onto a secure foundation. Hooking up to utilities, including sewer or septic is done exactly like it is done for a second unit of any other type (not rocket science). Importantly, any unit that is brought in - or built on site - should either meet building code, mobile home specs or be certified as an RV to make sure that the unit complies with fire, health and safety code. Tiny Homes are here to stay. The City of Sebastopol can attempt to make them look ridiculous - or they can embrace them and make sure they are done safely and aesthetically for the benefit of all in the community. Best, Sonya Terri

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