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June 2020
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Tiny Homes - Bigger Picture

Last week we reported that the planning commission is studying possible tougher rules for RVs which appear would also apply to Tiny Homes – those popular, (at least in the digital world) cute structures, often built on trailer bodies.

The gist of the preliminary discussion was that people living permanently in RVs usually leads to problems. The planning commission discussed how they could give a temporary pass for people living in campers while their permanent home is under construction. Otherwise, people need to reside in RVs only in fully-regulated campgrounds and, even then, they need to crank up and take a trip once every 90 days.

Rodney Buckingham, the county director of planning,  said this is being ignored by people who have added permanent additions to what are intended as vehicles. Commission members noted this is a national trend. A search online confirms what the commission saw looming. Glamorized “#vanlife” and Tiny Home advocates extol the virtues of a life without permanent walls or a lengthy mortgage.

For anyone who has not been on a dealer’s lot, RVs can be expensive. The small, but very nice, Winnebago Revel starts at $134,000. And like anything you can certainly spend as much as you want for the big behemoths. 

Or, RVs can be found cheap. Used models are listed with prices of $10,000 or less. In north Georgia, where empty and affordable rental housing is as elusive as credible Bigfoot evidence, people - even families - may be tempted to view an RV as their only option.

Simply put, people need to respect neighboring properties and have their sewage handled properly, but let’s not be too quick to shut down a line of housing that could alleviate the shortage of affordable homes here.

As to whether you would rather have on your street an apartment complex or a Tiny Home development or RV park is a tough question to answer without seeing the details of each. This is what we advocate our local governing authorities do: be flexible, look at the details and think outside the stick-built-box.

As presented by the regional commission, the state of Georgia generally frowns upon housing other than the normal stick-built home. Inspections guidelines don’t offer much leeway for creativity, especially not for something smaller.

The first response from code writers like the regional commission regarding their preference for traditional housing comes down to safety. The state doesn’t want people to live in unsafe conditions – if it is new housing, that is. A glaring discrepancy is that older homes can be firetraps with rotten steps and exposed wiring and no one ever inspects, which makes the safety argument ring a bit hollow. There is also a related argument that if you own land in America and want to build your home from straw, sticks or bricks, you should be free to do so, but we’ll leave that point to deeper thinkers.

For now, we simply ask our planning commission to be broad-minded and open to  different takes on what constitutes a legal residence. Similar to their hard work developing forthcoming codes for event venues, the planning commission should recognize there is a lot of difference between one property to the next and rigid rules won’t work. 

It’s hard to support a government telling the owner of a well-made Tiny Home and 10 acres of wooded property that they can’t live on their own land – assuming they meet sewage requirements. But, it seems reasonable that the county/city codes should prevent someone from parking a 20-year-old camper in the middle of a crowded residential area and announcing “We’re Home.”

Instead of forcing iron-clad rules onto the books, our planning commission should follow their own example with venues and work to develop criteria, but at the same time recognize unique situations abound with the difference in lot sizes, locations, building plans and landowners’ desires.