Newberry commissioners are in favor of exploring a new ordinance that would welcome tiny homes to the neighborhood.
By definition, a tiny home is 120 to 900 square feet in size, Newberry Director of Planning Bryan Thomas told the commission during his presentation at the Nov. 23rd regular meeting.
According to Thomas, current Florida building code states that a home must have rooms not less than 70 square feet, one room that is a minimum of 120 square feet, a ceiling not less than 7 feet and stairs are required to be 36 inches wide. But some communities have adopted an International Residential Code (IRC) that gives more leeway to tiny homes while still requiring a foundation. The IRC relaxes some requirements for homes that are 400 square feet or less such as reduced ceiling heights in lofts, emergency escapes and compact stairs.
Newberry Mayor Marlowe said the Newberry Planning and Zoning Board recently, "had a lively conversation," about tiny home neighborhoods.
"It's a relatively new concept, so it takes a little bit for people to acclimate to the idea," Marlowe said and pointed out that if Newberry approved the idea, the community would then offer a full range of housing options from tiny homes to million dollar homes.
Bryan said the reason tiny homes are becoming popular are because they have a smaller environmental footprint, there is growing dissatisfaction with excessive materialism, people have a greater awareness of personal debt, tiny homes offer practical housing for low-income and homeless people, and there is a lack of affordable housing in most communities.
Tiny homes may be built on site, manufactured or pre-manufactured and brought in the same way a mobile home is.
According to current City of Newberry code requirements, Bryan said, "If you own a lot in the city without size restrictions you can build a tiny home on that lot. It's allowable as long as they meet Florida building code unless some subdivisions have restrictions."
Bryan referred to tiny home neighborhoods as "pocket neighborhoods" and said they often "fit nicely in some infill lots.
"You can get high density if you allow for tiny home neighborhoods," he said and gave examples of those neighborhoods that also offered shared community areas such as laundry facilities, a pavilion, gardens, and fire pits.
Bryan said he has drafted a plan based on the feedback he received from the Planning and Zoning Board and asked for the commission to give him direction and asked them about where should tiny home or pocket neighborhoods be allowed? in an all-residential district or Downtown area where there's an acre and allow for a residential exception?
Bryan said the plan might offer developers increased density necessary to justify utility extension costs.
The big question before the commission was whether tiny homes should be allowed to be built "By Right" or "Special Exception."
By Right means no input from area residents, Bryan said. Special Exception offers affected residents the opportunity to present evidence at quasi-judicial hearings.
"The staff has done some initial work on drafting an ordinance," Bryan said. And added that he has received a couple of inquiries about tiny homes in Newberry, one local and some from outside developers.
Mayor Marlowe emphasized that tiny homes would be a unique attractive addition to the community, not a shed that you stick an air conditioner in.
He then asked the commission: "Do we want them? How nice do we want to make them so they are still affordable?"
Commissioner Ricky Coleman was in favor of tiny homes for Newberry and suggested they be allowed By Right. "We don't want to have a special meeting for every doggone one.
"I visited a tiny home neighborhood in Williston," he said, and described them as "top notch and unbelievable."
"We don't have to be so strict," Coleman said. "We're not in The Villages."
Commissioner Tim Marden said he was, "Gravitating more By Right with a single unit on a single property.
"With multiple on a single property, do Special Exception," he said. "We should wade slowly before we open the flood gates."
"I'm hesitant to offer a neighborhood By Right," Marden said. "It could cause grief with a neighborhood."
Commissioner Mark Clark said he thought tiny homes are a "great idea."
"They can be very well done and be lived in considerably cheaper," he said.
The Commission voted to direct the planning staff to move forward with an ordinance, present it to the Planning and Zoning Board and bring it to the second January regular commission meeting.
Mayor Marlowe said he first got involved with tiny homes while researching potential villages for Veterans.
"The only way you can fix affordable housing is to offer affordable houses," he said.