City drafting ordinances
By Scott Bellile
A planning firm is helping New London write zoning ordinances for tiny houses.
New London Building Inspector Paul Hanlon has been collaborating with the firm Martenson & Eisele to establish clear tiny house guidelines in anticipation of a new generation of homebuyers that is more open to living compactly.
When the proposed zoning ordinance text is completed, it must go before the New London Planning Commission and the city council for review.
“I think taking this first step a great thing,” Hanlon told the planning commission at its April 27 meeting. “I think it’s just, hey, we’re proactive.”
The commission in January approved a $2,850 contract for Martenson & Eisele to guide the process.
Hanlon received authorization from the commission on April 27 to allow Martenson & Eisele to draft separate sets of guidelines for owning a “tiny house” and a “small home.” These two types of developments differ and require unique rules, he said.
Hanlon defined a tiny house as a residential structure between 300 and 550 square feet in size. He said tiny houses would be suited for their own zoning district away from larger properties.
Tiny houses would work best in a planned unit development where a cluster are built around a common space designed for gathering, parking and storage, Hanlon said. The city would require in-ground tiny houses; wheels would not be permitted.
A small home, in contrast to a tiny house, ranges from 551 to 960 square feet. It could be built by itself anywhere New London has a small, vacant neighborhood lot.
Hanlon said the square footages of adjacent dwellings could determine where a small home would go. Significantly larger houses next door could otherwise suffer from decreased property values if a small home is not strategically placed.
Furthermore, Hanlon said the infill lot of a small home should not exceed 60 feet by 120 feet. The garage would also need to be a fraction of the house size so it would not dwarf the house.
“I don’t want a 550-square foot [home] and then a 1,400-square foot garage. That isn’t going to fly,” Hanlon said.
The purpose of tiny house and small home ordinances would be to prepare the city for if a builder inquires about constructing either.
The conversation began around April 2015 when a California woman asked if she could put a tiny house in New London and the city didn’t have the ordinances in place to say yes.
“The lady from California who wanted to return to Wisconsin really was ahead of her time, and it brought an awareness to a trend, but there was just no way to accommodate her without exploring this,” commissioner Cindy Goller said.
Hanlon said New London having an ordinance could attract homebuyers because some competing municipalities will not welcome the idea of tiny houses.
New London’s drawback would be a planned tiny house unit might have to go on the outskirts of town, Hanlon said.
The eco-conscious tiny house culture tends to revolve more around living within walking distance of all amenities.
“Maybe the tiny houses will never be a big thing,” Hanlon said, “because we may not have the location for it because they like [living] close to things like museums, libraries, things that they can use, because they don’t have a lot of space at their house. … But the small homes, on the other [hand], would be a very good option in a community like this, and they’re also an affordable option for people.”
New London already has some small homes by definition, Hanlon noted. A few on Algoma Street were mail-ordered Sears Catalog Homes to house plant managers during the heyday of the former Simmons furniture factory. Sears discontinued its home line around 1940.
City ordinances require single-family homes built today be at least 960 square feet.
Commissioner Tom Spilman asked Hanlon if people frequently ask him about allowing tiny houses and small homes.
The city has received “a couple of calls” and local realtors sometimes field questions from clients, but otherwise they’re not frequent, Hanlon said.
This article was edited on May 11, 2017 to correct the spelling of commissioner Cindy Goller’s name.