Tiny homes won’t be coming to Moab’s one- and two-family residential neighborhoods anytime soon.
The Moab City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday, April 12, against a proposed ordinance that would have reduced the minimum allowable size of dwellings within the city’s R-2 residential zone from 500 square feet to 250 square feet. Council member Heila Ershadi cast the one vote in support of the proposal from Bill Mattson of Moab and Telluride, Colorado.
The Moab City Planning Commission voted 4-0 in January to recommend the approval of Mattson’s request, noting that smaller house sizes in the zone would offer residents a greater range of housing options. But Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart asked the council to hold off on the proposal until the city can further study the question of whether or not tiny homes are the right fit for single lots in the zone. He also sought more time to conduct a broader review of related zoning issues.
Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said that she would be willing to support clustered developments of tiny homes, but she noted that the “willy-nilly” spread of the smaller dwellings could become a detriment to neighborhoods.
“I thought it was a very cute, quaint idea at first, but I don’t know that it solves any of our affordable or essential housing (problems) on its face,” she said.
Council member Kyle Bailey noted that the city previously reduced the minimum allowable size of homes within Moab’s R-2 zone from 750 square feet to 500 square feet. Yet that change didn’t spur a rush in the development of smaller homes there.
“(We) had none,” he said.
In the wake of that earlier change, Bailey questioned the wisdom of building a 250-square-foot home on quarter-acre or half-acre properties that could accommodate more housing units.
“This is not a wise use for affordable housing,” he said. “I can’t support this.”
Although tiny homes might be appropriate in some places, such as smaller lots, or in clusters, blanket zoning of the city’s R-2 neighborhoods is not the right approach to take, he said.
Ershadi said she understands the interest in taking a holistic look at the issue, adding that no “silver bullet” can solve Moab’s affordable housing shortage. However, she said the change would create more housing opportunities in the community.
“There are so many people out there who are just asking for more options,” Ershadi said.
Mattson sought the change because he’s hoping to build a 250- to 260-square-foot home on a 0.55-acre property he owns in the 700 block of Palisade Drive, where he often camps out when he’s in town.
He bought the land more than a decade ago, and over the years, he has transformed it into a small orchard that’s home to about 40 fruit trees, as well as a seasonal vegetable and herb garden. At one point two years ago, heirloom tomatoes on the property were producing 250 pounds of fruit per week, and he said he grew enough basil to sell to a local restaurant.
As a show of support for his plans, 12 of his immediate neighbors signed a petition in support of the request, he said, and he said he tried to address the city’s criteria when he prepared his application.
Likewise, he said he felt that he did his best to answer the city council’s questions at a previous meeting when they raised concerns about the proposal, so he’s disappointed in the outcome of the vote.
“After 350 bucks and four months of a significant amount of effort, I felt like the process ended on an empty note,” he told the Moab Sun News.
He said he believes that council members rushed through their discussion of the issue, and is upset that he was not given a chance to speak when he raised his hand from the audience.
Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson told Mattson that he had other chances to address the council.
“There was an opportunity at a different time for you to give your comments, which I believe you had an opportunity to do,” Davidson said.
But Mattson said he believes that he was treated unfairly, noting that two applicants seeking a beer license for their “paint and sip” business were expressly asked to address the council on April 12.
Looking beyond Mattson’s request, Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison suggested that city officials need to spend more time researching the overall issue of tiny home development.
“Let’s see some more information and get a better appreciation for what we’re about to embark on,” Sakrison said.
Reinhart said he can see the pros and cons to the growing interest in tiny homes.
On the plus side, he said, they are often cheap: Tiny homes without full bathrooms can be built for as little as $2,800. They’re also easy to clean.
On the other hand, residents of tiny homes often find that they’ve outgrown the spaces and can’t continue to live in them, he said.
Reinhart said that interest in cluster-style tiny home developments has soared in other parts of the country – especially in the Pacific Northwest and Texas. In some areas, the homes are grouped around larger structures, where neighbors meet for meals and other communal activities.
As a rule, Reinhart noted that zoning and subdivision standards were not written with tiny home development in mind, although he suggested that the city could look to other jurisdictions across the country for inspiration.
“There are some examples out there of how land-use controls can be developed or modified to accommodate new and creative housing forms and land development that may require a closer review,” he said in a memo to the council. “RV and manufactured home parks, subdivision, cohousing and cottage standards can provide a wealth of content for the basis of tiny house regulations. (But the) appropriate methods cannot be drafted until the answers are found to the questions above.”
Some council members concerned about “willy-nilly” development in neighborhoods
Let’s see some more information and get a better appreciation for what we’re about to embark on.