How do I get zoning passed for Tiny Houses?
Tiny Houses. You’ve heard of them. You’ve watched the shows. You may have read some blogs, or liked a group on Facebook about them. You’re intrigued. Could I really live like that? And the more you watch, and the more you read, the more you answer “yes”. This is new. This is exciting! This challenges the status quo and makes me question my definition of “success” and “living”. I want in. I’m going to do it. I’m building my own Tiny House! So…where can I put it?
And there is it. The unicorn of all questions regarding Tiny Houses… WHERE CAN I PUT IT?
This question has plagued me ever since I got wind of this magnificent movement that is sweeping the Nation. Whenever I asked this question, I usually encountered either one of two answers; a complete avoidance of my question, substituted by more selling as to why I should build a Tiny House, or a lot of uncomfortable silences and eye contact avoidance, peppered with some “wells” and “uhms”. Neither answer was satisfactory for me.
How Do I Get Zoning Passed for Tiny Houses in my Area?
You see, I am a family of 4; myself, my husband, and our two small children. We both work in the City. We don’t want a long commute. Our kids go to school. We need routine. We need stability. We need to know someone is not going to ask us to move tomorrow.
With no clear answers, I could have called it quits on our Tiny House dream. No one would have blamed me. I could’ve let others blaze the trail, excusing myself as being too busy or risk adverse. Or I could’ve simply waited 20 years until the movement became more mainstream.
But my desire to have a Tiny House didn’t seem to be waning, just growing stronger. So I thought I might hike up my big-girl pants and do something about it. Since there wasn’t a place already designated to put a Tiny House in my City, I decided to actually MAKE a place.
Below is an outline of the steps I took (with some lessons learned inserted) to get a new Tiny House zoning regulation adopted into the city of Rockeldge, FL. They are meant to provide guidance to everyone who wants to build a Tiny House, but doesn’t know where to put it.
1. What are your goals/challenges?
I know this part might sound silly to you, but I really think it’s an important step that is too often glazed over. Ask yourself precisely why you want to live in a Tiny House? What is your motivator? Is it money? A simpler life? Smaller footprint on our Earth? What do you think Tiny House living will achieve for you? Do you want to live on a large plot of land in the middle of nowhere by yourself, or in a city community of like-minded individuals? Off-grid or on-grid? On wheels or on a foundation? What are the challenges you face that Tiny House living will solve? There are no wrong answers here. Once you’ve given this some thought, actually write these things down. On paper.
2. Check your attitude.
I’ve noticed a general theme floating around the interwebs regarding City Officials…and it’s not very pleasant. It’s one that is ripe with red-tape bureaucracy, power hungry corruptness, and money grubbing employees that are out to shut down the Tiny Housers the first chance they get. However, in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth! Every single interaction I had with my City Officials, be it via email, phone, or in person, was downright delightful! They were responsive, thoughtful, respectful, accommodating, and generally all around helpful with my situation. We really need to remember that they too are human beings, just like us. They have families, tell jokes, eat ice cream, and put their pants on one leg at a time, just like us. And they want to be good at their job, just like us! Their job is to foster a community that meets the needs of its people. You can actually help them be good at their job by letting them know about this new way of living!
The bottom line here; if you go into discussions with an adversarial attitude, don’t expect much cooperation in return. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. And now you’ve done double the harm because you’ve left them with a bad taste in their mouth for all Tiny Housers, and the next person is going to have to overcome that. Remember the old saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”!
3. Who’s in charge?
Now that you know what you want and you’ve put on your happy face, you need to know who you should contact. Luckily for me, my city has its own website with the names, titles, job duties, and contact information of all the City Officials. My city has a Planning Commission with Planning Director and City Planner positions as city employees. If your city doesn’t have a website, a call to City Hall to ask for the name and email address of the person in charge of zoning regulations should suffice.
4. Ask for a meeting.
This first contact is so important. It sets the tone for the entire interaction, so plan carefully! In my case, I sent an e-mail asking for “help achieving a goal” to the Planning Director. I recommend setting up a face-to-face meeting if you can spare the time.
Tip! – Leave a lot of the details out of the email and maybe avoid the words “Tiny House”…you never know what connotations those words might elicit, especially to a zoning official.
Good morning Mr. Griffin,
My name is Rene’ Hardee and I am a proud citizen of Rockledge Florida! I would first like to thank you for all the hard work you have dedicated into making this community a great place to live. I love it here!
I am writing to you today to inquire about meeting/speaking with you concerning building a new home or renovating an existing home in the city. I have a specific goal in mind for my family, and was hoping to dialogue with you about my options. Are you available to meet with me sometime next week?
Thank you for your time!
5. Open the dialogue.
Congratulations on getting a meeting! Now you can really show off that positive attitude you’ve been practicing! I’ve found these tips to be quite helpful for meeting with City Officials:
- Dress for success. Business attire is appropriate.
- Give a firm handshake. Even the ladies.
- Use plenty of eye contact.
- Address the official by Mr. or Ms. Lastname, unless they tell you not to.
- Thank them for meeting with you.
Your initial interaction might go something like this:
You: Good Morning, Mr. Griffin! [extend hand] Rene’ Hardee. I know you are very busy, so thank you so much for meeting with me this morning.
Official: Hello Mrs. Hardee. How can I help you today?
This is where you should state your goals/challenges. Remember step 1? These should always remain at the forefront of all your interactions. Share with them the challenges you are facing and ask for their help in achieving your goals. What are your options? Remember, you are looking to them as experts in your City’s regulations. They might have some really good ideas that you didn’t think were possible!
For instance, our family goals are to live a simpler life and have more quality family time. The challenges to this are the maintenance and expense of owning a large home, and the lack of options to legally own a Tiny Home.
All possible solutions that city officials and I brainstormed ran through this “goal filter”. I was constantly asking myself “Does this solution make my life simpler? Does it give me more quality time with my family?” If the answer was no, then it wasn’t the direction we wanted to go, even if it sounded like a good idea (like renovating an existing small house that had been grandfathered in before the zoning regulations existed).
6. Come Prepared
Although your City Zoning Officials are the experts when it comes to knowing what the laws currently allow, YOU may be the expert when it comes to Tiny Houses. Come prepared with facts and figures like sizes, costs, common builders, blogs, shows, websites, organizations, etc. Bring handouts with pictures of your ideas. Knowing some current events in the Tiny House Community and where to point the Officials for more information will gain you respect and clout. I made color printouts of the types of Houses and Neighborhoods I felt would meet our goals. And wouldn’t you know it, those inspiration pictures are just what the city fell in love with. 🙂
7. Ask for follow-up.
The result of this initial meeting may end with a “Let us look into this and we’ll get back to you.” If so, don’t be afraid to ask for specific details so there’s a clear contact date. You don’t want this idea losing momentum, and since you have the vested interest in it perpetuating, you need to keep it going. I was told to follow-up with a letter to the City Manager asking for zoning for a Tiny House. The Zoning Officials felt it would be best if the idea came from a concerned citizen directly. Here is my e-mail to the City Manager and the response I received as an example:
Dear Mr. McKnight,
My name is Rene’ Hardee and I am a proud citizen of Rockledge Florida! My husband, Chris, 3 yr old son, Max, and 10 month old son, Sam, and I currently live in a 2000 square foot house in Huntington Lakes. We love our neighborhood and enjoy our Rockledge Community very much. We frequent McKnight and McLarty Parks, are regulars at Malibus for Saturday morning pancakes, and look forward to the parades and craft shows that frequent Barton Blvd. Rockledge is the perfect location for our family; 45 minutes from Orlando airport, 15 minutes to the beach, 15 minutes from my job as a Quality Specialist at Sun Nuclear Corporation in Suntree, 25 minutes from my husband’s job as the IT Specialist at Space Coast Jr. Sr. High in Port St. John, and no more than 30 minutes from almost everywhere else in Brevard County.
The reason I am writing you today is twofold. First, I would like to thank you for all your years of hard work and dedication devoted to making Rockledge, FL a great place to live and raise a family. I truly feel like we live in paradise! Second, I would like to share with you a family goal that we have recently created and would like to ask for your assistance in helping us achieve this goal.
We would like to build and live in a small home of approximately 500 sq. ft. within the Rockledge city limits. While we are still several years from realizing this goal, we would like to ask for your consideration in zoning an area for housing of this size.
We have several reasons for wanting to make such a drastic downsizing. We have come to the realization that we need to simplify our lives. There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Because my husband and I both work full time, and because we love the community experience, we spend very little time enjoying our home. The 2 hours a night we have with our children before their bedtime is spent doing chores to take care of our 2000 square feet and all our stuff. Weekends are spent playing catch-up to all the chores that didn’t get completed during the week. We currently only use about half our house, but even that is more space than we need. The maintenance required to take care of such a large house is robbing us of our quality time as a family.
We have too much stuff. As you may know, the more space you have to put stuff, the more stuff you accumulate. And in the end, your possessions end up owning you. We would like a home that requires us to be choosy about our possessions. We want our children to be less driven by things, and more driven by experiences. We have begun the process of downsizing our possessions. We have a whole room full of things to be sold or donated, but there is still much more to be done.
We want to spend more time and money within our community having experiences. We love going out to eat, but rarely do because most of the money we would spend on meals is spent paying for and maintaining our large house. Freeing up our finances will allow us to spread the wealth, to our local eateries, shops, our church, schools, and shared community amenities, not to mention how much more we could contribute to our own retirement and children’s college fund for a better future.
I would like to be clear that in no way are we looking to evade our civic duty of paying our fair share of property taxes. Our children will soon be attending the public school system, and we plan on using the shared community facilities even more in the future. Maybe there is a way we can work out a win-win situation where we can build a small home, but still contribute financially?
I would love to dialogue with you more about this topic in person if you can spare the time. I have already met in person with Mr. Griffin and Ms. Bernard during my initial research phase and they were both very welcoming to my inquiries.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter, Mr. McKnight. I hope to hear back from you soon!
Below is the response:
First of all, thank you for your kind comments about your city. It is truly a team effort that starts with the City Council and the policy decisions they make for staff to carry out. While we have 235 dedicated employees, we also have some wonderful volunteers that a make a big difference every day in our community!
I think it would be best if we sat down and discussed your concept rather than emailing thoughts back and forth. It is certainly a request I have never seen, but appears the Hardee family has the right priorities! Please call and we will set up a time to meet and discuss your ideas. My Assistant is Margaret and she will arrange a time that best fits your schedule.
Jim McKnight, City Manager
8. Getting on the Planning Commission Agenda
If you’ve done a good job and your City is receptive to the idea of zoning for Tiny Houses, your item will go in front of the Planning Commission. Most cities have periodic Planning Commission meetings, and the frequency will be based on City size. The Rockledge Florida Planning Commission meets the first Tuesday of every month. We have a population of 25,000.
For those that an unfamiliar with your local government operations, all meetings most likely follow Roberts Rules of Order. There will be an agenda, and you will need to get on it if you want to address an agenda item (like your tiny house zoning request). Contact your officials and request to be put on the agenda to address your item. If you did not get on the agenda ahead of time, there may be some speaker cards in the meeting room that you can fill out and turn into the secretary prior to the start of the meeting. When your name is called, move to the podium, state your name and address for the record, and address your item. How much or how little needs to be said will be dependent on any opposition you may face from the Commission members.
9. Going in front of the City Council
If you are successful in wooing the Planning Commission with your Tiny House charm, the item will then move to the City Council. Same meeting rules apply as before. Because the City Council has many more items to address, keep any speeches to around 30 seconds. The Council has most likely reviewed, researched, and already created an opinion on your item, and they will appreciate your brevity.
In the case of Rockledge, Florida, the City Council voted to move forward with the concept of creating a Tiny House Community. The exact verbiage was worked out by the City Planners over the course of a few months after approval.
10. Finding a developer
This is the stage I am at now! Stay tuned as this project unfolds!
Stay in Touch with Rene’
The best way to get Rene’ Hardee’s updates is by joining her Rockledge Tiny House Community Facebook Group.
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