'Suburbia is dead': South Portland discusses tiny homes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council Tuesday discussed the prospect of allowing so-called “tiny homes,” which may include code adaptations for a trial run. 

Councilor Eben Rose introduced the topic at the July 24 workshop, and said tiny-home living is characterized as a movement. He said he wants the city to be informed about these increasingly popular and non-traditional single-family home styles. 

“We can draw certain lines in the sand in zoning and code to accommodate this type of living,” Rose said. 

According to a memorandum to the council from City Manager Scott Morelli, tiny homes are generally described as smaller than 400 square feet, with homes between 400 and 1,000 square feet categorized as “small.”

The focus of the workshop was to continue a dialogue between town staff and councilors about how tiny hoes can contribute to a green economy, help meet affordable housing needs, and how to experiment with allowing tiny homes in the city. 

Rose said perspective should be included from the Planning, Fire, Water Resource Protection, and Finance departments.

Tex Haeuser, the city’s planning director, said what the council is facing is a basic policy decision.

“I don’t see how in the past this would have been accepted in neighborhoods, with people wanting to protect  property values,” Haeuser said. “But times are changing and the economy the of past isn’t working for people now.”

He said tiny homes can be tested without long-term zoning changes, and suggested rules be adopted to allow temporary use that would be re-evaluated after a period of time. 

A pathway to permanence was also suggested: After three years, perhaps, a resident may decide to make the dwelling a permanent structure and put a foundation under it. 

Current code calls for a home to be at least 100 square-feet per person. A home being built in the city must also meet code standards, such as hook up to sewer and water lines, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said.

Corrine Watson, an electrical engineer and co-owner of Tiny Homes of Maine, based in Windham, noted some tiny homes on wheels are mobile, and are affordable options that provide flexibility, temporary housing, rental income, or a vacation home. 

Watson said it allows for simple living, and also accommodates people who are seeking to downsize their living situation as they age. 

Prices for tiny homes built by Tiny Homes of Maine range in price from $45,000 to $75,000, she said, with options for renewable energy. 

Watson said tiny homes built by her company often come with a composting toilet, which eliminates the need for holding tanks and or a septic system; grey water can simply drain into the ground when biodegradable products are used to clean dishes and showers.

If a tiny home is not in a location where grey water can drain into the ground, holding tanks are an option, according to the company. 

Jamie Anthony, an oncology nurse and former resident of South Portland now living in Buxton, said she and her husband live in a tiny home on her in-laws property. She said it allows them to help care for her husband’s parents and, because of its affordability, enroll in graduate school and take time off when necessary.

Councilor Sue Henderson said “suburbia is dead,” and the community should  accept tiny homes, adding that new, large homes  do not serve the city, although she had concerns about disposal of grey water. 

Councilor Kate Lewis said she had additional questions about size, whether there would be doubling up on lots, and said she wanted to have a focus on energy and environmental certification in the building of tiny homes. 

Another workshop on the issue will be scheduled for a later, undetermined date. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

An example of a tiny home, presented at a July 24 South Portland City Council workshop. 

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