by Ray Carbone
WARNER – When Joe Mendola, a local resident and realtor, meets with the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) Wednesday night, he’s hoping to win a variance that could lead to the creation of the state’s first tiny house development in Warner.
Mendola wants to build the 13-pad tiny house project on 15 acres of land off Schoodac Road, near exit 8 off Interstate 89.
But that’s a challenge. No community in the state currently has zoning ordinances that specifically address tiny houses, he said. As a result, the local ZBA and planning boards have been wrestling with the development for months.
On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Joe Mendola is building a tiny house ‘mansion’ of 650-square-feet.
Mendola sees tiny houses as a way to keep and attract more young people to the Granite State. Recent college graduates with valuable skills often leave because they have significant student debt and can’t afford our high rents, he said. “I have (young) colleagues who do not live here because they’re millennials and they either think that New Hampshire is not cool enough or they’re not ready establish a residence.”
Younger people are attracted to tiny houses due to their low cost, their small carbon footprint and mobility, he said.
Tiny houses are a relatively recent development in the housing market but they’re gaining in popularity with several reality television programs, a booming social network and construction growing in places like Texas and the northwest. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or less, so their small space makes them very energy efficient. They’re usually built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can be easily be moved from place to place.
While many tiny houses are made by their owners for as little as $10,000 to $25,000, there are companies that build them for people who cannot do that. Mendola wants to work with a company that would build tiny houses that conform to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifications at an estimated cost between $48,000 to $88,000.
(On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Mendola is building a “tiny house mansion” of 650-square-feet. While it will feature many of the same energy-saving aspects of tiny homes – no hall space, low heating/cooling costs, little storage, etc. – the structure is being built on a standard cement foundation.)
Warner’s planning officials first saw Mendola’s project in February. Since that time, both the planning and zoning boards have been trying to understand how it fits into Warner’s current zoning ordinances.
That’s not a surprise to Mendola, who is now eschewing the tiny house label and calling the project a “manufactured home park” for legal purposes. “I went from Warner, and I looked all the way to Portsmouth,” he laughed, recalling how he search to find a community with zoning regulations that might allow his groundbreaking development. “I found only three towns: Henniker, Goffstown and Warner – my hometown.”
A variance from the ZBA would allow the structures to be clustered together, which would make the development less expensive and more ecologically friendly, Mendola said. “It’s tough land (to build on),” he commented. “There’s wetlands, utility wires and 25-degree slopes. So I’m asking for a variance that would allow the town’s ‘open space’ or ‘cluster’ regulations to be applied.”
The realtor admitted that he’s not sure about his chances of winning a ZBA approval. And if he does, he will still need to get permission from the planning board.
If that doesn’t, he could appeal the decision, or look for another piece or property, either in Warner or one of the other two towns.
But he’s convinced that tiny homes could be a major economic benefit for the state by keeping younger people in New Hampshire.
“Here’s the brutal truth,” he commented. “When I moved here 25 years ago, I could buy a starter home. But there’s very little construction now. And people like me are retiring and scaling down,” which makes the first-time homeowner’s market even tighter. “We’re competitively moving these kids out of the starter home market,” he said. “We’ve got to keep these kids in the state,” he concluded.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.