Tiny house developer will start looking elsewhere

Photo: Joe Mendola of Warner, who hoped to build the state’s first tiny house development in his hometown, is already building a 650-square-foot “tiny mansion” on Poverty Plain Road, pictured here. Unlike most “tiny houses,” it’s built on a traditional concrete foundation.

WARNER – At a town hall meeting last week, the five-member zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) turned down a request for a zoning variance that would have allowed a local resident and realtor to build the state’s first tiny house park on Schoodac Road.

In a 4-1 vote, the board rejected a request from Joe Mendola to utilize a cluster zone plan for his proposed 13-pad development on 15 acres of land near exit 8 off Interstate 89. Janice Loz, the ZBA’s chairman, said that grouping the small, mobile residences closer together than what was allowable under current regulations was “contrary to the public interests.”

“I was very disappointed because the whole issue is that that land is difficult to develop,” Mendola said after the meeting. “Doing it in a traditional grid system is going to be very, very expensive. (A cluster plan) would have lower environmental impact because it would not carve up the whole lot, so there would be more open space which would be keeping with the rural nature of the (building) zone.”

In previous discussions with the board, Mendola had indicated that he would move forward with the project even without the ZBA variance, but a few days after the ZBA’s decision, he said that he’s begun looking elsewhere.

“That (grid zoning) would just price us out of our market,” he remarked. “I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work. In Warner, it’s very difficult to find. But I’m also pursuing things in other towns.” Mendola has indicted in the past that local zoning rules could be favorable for his project in Henniker and Goffstown.

It was apparent from the beginning that Mendola was going to have trouble with the zoning regulations for his tiny house proposal. Like every other municipality in the state, Warner does not have specific ordinances regarding the new small residences, which are typically less than 300-square-feet and built on movable trailers. So, the developer chose to present his project under the town’s mobile home park rules; that meant that the structures would be at least 320-square-feet and be constructed on mobile trailers according to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements.

The zoning board was still hesitant about the idea, and asked at several recent meetings if Mendola would consider changing the name of the proposed development from “tiny house” to “manufactured homes.” He refused, maintaining that if the structures met the zoning requirements, the board should give its approval.

‘I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work.’…  Mendola has indicted that local zoning rules could be favorable in Henniker and Goffstown.

At last week’s meeting, the ZBA members again expressed their concerns.

Barbara Marty said that she was hesitant to approve the variance because the application referred to the project as a “tiny home” park. “It’s as if we’re sanctioning this wording,” she said, adding that ruling on regulations about tiny houses was not the ZBA’s jurisdiction. “California has a five-page definition of what a tiny house is,” she said. “At some point, the state of New Hampshire will have to define what a tiny house is.”

“We’re in uncharted territory here, we all know that,” agreed Howard Kirchner, the ZBA’s vice-chairman.

The final vote focused on how close the small residences would be in a cluster zone plan. Marty said that some manufactured home residents enjoy the extra distance they’d have under current regulations.

But Kirchner, the only board member to vote in favor of the variance, said the issue was not significant enough to refuse the altered zoning request.

“Nobody is putting a gun to their heads, saying you have to live here,” he said, referring to prospective tenants.

After the meeting, Mendola said the board erred by making a value judgment based on their own ideas, rather than the project’s target market. Millennials, who favor tiny house, like their low cost, environmentally-friendly design and mobility – and typically seek a sense of community as part of their lifestyle, he added.

But the realtor is still hopeful about building the state’s first tiny house development. “We’re going to get it done,” he concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

 

 

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Warner tiny house project on hold as ZBA continues deliberations

Above: Joe Mendola of Warner, who wants to build a tiny house development in his hometown, already has a “tiny mansion” under construction on Poverty Plain Road.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A proposal to build the state’s first tiny house development on Schoodac Road has been set back for a least a few more weeks by the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA).

At a meeting in the town hall last week, the members decided to delay a final decision on a zoning variance that would allow Joe Mendola, a resident and realtor, to move forward with his plan to create a 13-unit tiny house park on 15 acres of property close to Interstate 89’s exit 8. The variance would permit Mendola to cluster the 13 lots into one area of the property, which he says will be both better for the environment and lower construction costs.

At the meeting, ZBA members expressed concerns, especially about the use of the term “tiny house.” Warner has no zoning regulations specifically for the unusual new mobile residences – nor does any other New Hampshire community – so Mendola wants his proposal to be considered under the town’s manufactured home parks ordinances.

“We understand that what you’re asking for is a manufactured housing park but the idea of a new tiny house is different from that,” said Sam Bower of the ZBA.

‘’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.’

– Lucinda McQueen

Tiny houses are a relatively recent invention favored mostly by young people, especially millennials, who are either unable or unwilling to make a large down payment on a traditional house or to pay current high rents. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or smaller, which makes them very energy efficient; they’re built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can easily be moved from place to place.

Many tiny houses are made by their owners and can cost as little as $10,000 to $25,000 but Mendola plans to have each of his 13 super-small structures built to specifications required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At 320-square feet each, they would meet the town’s manufactured home park ordinance.

Throughout the planning process that began in February, town officials have been debating about Mendola’s claim his facility can be both a tiny house and manufactured home park.

“If it’s a structure built to HUD standards then, by definition, it’s a manufactured home,” he said at the recent ZBA meeting, explaining his rationale.

Chairman Janice Loz was cautious. “I understand that’s how you interpret it,” she said. “But I do believe that it is good for the board members to question and try to get to bottom of what a manufactured home is (for zoning purposes.)

“The whole sticking point is that manufactured housing parks are tightly regulated,” she added. “What you really get to is the intent of the ordinance. And I wonder if the intent was for tiny houses since there wasn’t such things when they (ordinances) were drafted.”

Mendola said that tiny houses could help the state with its ongoing problem of attracting and keeping younger people in New Hampshire, but not everyone accepts that.

“The whole idea of tiny houses is just a little coy,” said Lucinda McQueen, another resident. “’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.”

The ZBA will resume its deliberations at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 29, at 7 p.m. at the town hall. If it does approve Mendola’s variance request, he will still need to win approval of the planning board before breaking ground on the tiny house project.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. 

 

Tiny House project proposed for Warner

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.

 

 

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