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.