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.