Brown County has several ordinances that make living in a tiny home illegal. But members of the Area Plan Commission and Brown County Redevelopment Commission want to try to change that.
Tiny home minimum standards were the topic of the June 27 work session, and the APC plans to keep talking at its July 25 meeting.
Tiny homes can be stationary or built on trailers to make them mobile. Generally, they’re between 100 and 400 square feet, whereas the typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, according to thetinylife.com.
People are attracted to this type of living for a variety of reasons, among them financial concerns and a desire for more freedom and less stuff. Some tiny homes are even used as in-law quarters on adult children’s land.
But in Brown County, it’s not legal to have a home of less than 600 square feet or to live in a recreational-type vehicle; and any home has to have a septic system that will support at least two bedrooms or be connected to a sewer, APC members said.
The county’s septic ordinance — which is in the process of being revised — also doesn’t allow composting toilets without a means of disposal for other waste, such as “grey water” from sinks or showers.
“I think we’d be making a big mistake if we don’t move forward and find some level of acceptance of this,” APC member Paul Navarro said about tiny or minimalist living.
APC member Russ Herndon also expressed support for the idea; other APC members said they’d like to learn more. The board talked about having a tiny home builder bring a model to one of their meetings so they can get a feel for what one could look and feel like.
“This tiny home issue, I think, is part of a bigger, broader issue in Brown County that’s been brought up over the past couple years under the primary name of ‘affordable housing,'” said redevelopment commission member Jim Schultz, who works in construction. If done right, it could be a way to help more people find housing, he said.
Not all tiny homes come cheap. Herndon mentioned one that some Brown County residents may have seen, parked at the junction of state roads 446 and 46 in Bloomington. He said a friend of his owns it and it costs $80,000.
But they could be done for under $10,000 if built with a less sleek and modern look, he said.
However, it will be important to make sure that building standards are developed so that someone doesn’t buy a metal or wooden shed and call it a tiny house, board members discussed. State rules already dictate some of those standards, including a heat source; hot and cold water; minimum floor area and ceiling height; a bathtub or shower in the bathroom; and a sink if there is a kitchen, Planning Director Chris Ritzmann said.
APC members wondered if a cluster of tiny homes could share a multi-bedroom septic system on the same plot of land, “kind of like a commune, back in the day,” Herdon said.
Developers in South Bend are exploring that concept, building tiny home communities in existing neighborhoods with shared common areas such as kitchens or garages. Bloomington also has been developing some communal living-type communities, Herndon said. Monroe County is currently working on its ordinances related to tiny homes, said APC attorney David Schilling, who also works for that county.
But Ritzmann said another Brown County ordinance appears to restrict communal land use; it allows only one dwelling on a parcel unless it’s a duplex.
The APC plans to have a health department representative at the July meeting to explain how current waste disposal ordinances affect tiny homes.
Schultz and fellow redevelopment commission member Keith Baker said they believe minimalist living is a trend that will grow — not just among younger generations, but with retirees as well.
Baker said it doesn’t seem fair to restrict future generations to the size and type of home that his generation might have grown up in.
“We’ve been through the era of McMansions,” Schultz said. “I’m pretty sure we’re not going to go back in that direction. It seems we’re going toward something that is much more sustainable. And I think, in order to not have a damaging impact on the planet, it’s probably a pretty good idea.”