Don’t call it a tiny home

There was nothing in Southey’s zoning bylaw site requirements regarding minimum square footage. It was only after someone inquired that the Town put restrictions on building size.

There are two residential zoning designations in Southey. “R1” Permitted uses include - single detached dwellings, not including modular or ready-to-move (RTM) homes. Permitted uses that meet the site and supplementary standards don’t go to the council table; they are approved by the administration. This doesn’t mean buildings outside of permitted uses can’t be approved, but must be approved by council as a discretionary use. The second is “R2.” Some of the permitted uses in this district include single detached dwellings, including modular and RTM homes but excluding mobile homes. Again, if they meet the site and supplementary standards, they don’t need to see the council table.

The inquiry came from Cam Hein, who, in 2018, purchased a lot with a condemned trailer in an older area of Southey. The mature street is a mish-mash of other types of homes - average, larger and smaller, RTM’s and trailers. She cleared the trailer off the land, and because she had no immediate plans, its sat vacant.

Since that time, she had a small home built outside of the municipality. “It has everything every house has, the only thing is it’s less square feet,” Hein said. It’s 384 square ft, 16 x 24, built to code, 2 x 6 construction, fully insulated, has one bedroom, a full bathroom, a kitchen with full-size appliances and a living room. She has a 2-in-1 washer, a combination ac/heating unit and can be hooked up to municipal utilities. Like the lot itself, she’s had different ideas about what to do with the “tiny home.” One of them was to move it to the lot she already owned.

After her inquiry about moving her tiny home council passed a bylaw to restrict the minimum square footage to 800. Hein takes issue with how her inquiry was handled. She claims the CAO originally told her the minimum square footage was 1000 square feet and that she would be sent the bylaw. However, when she didn’t hear back after 11 days, she contacted the CAO again, saying she couldn’t find the bylaw. And because the development application forms aren’t available on the Town’s website, she asked for the development application. She was surprised when the CAO told her council would be deciding on minimum square footage at a meeting the next day and then would be sent the application afterward. It was only after she again asked for the forms on the day of the meeting that she was sent them.

“I made a mistake when I talked to the office because I used the term “tiny house.” I think I scared her rather than saying it was just a house.”

Without a development application, Council discussed setting minimum square footage related to Hein’s inquiry. The CAO told Council she brought it forward because she knew council wouldn’t approve the size of the home Hein had inquired about. When LMT asked how she knew that, she said she had met with council when she first became the CAO, and it was one of her questions to familiarize herself with the community.

The council’s debate centred around building density, height, and placement to ensure they wouldn’t negatively impact the neighbourhood’s character or appeal. There was worry about tiny homes being erected near big homes in new developments. During the debate, the CAO said, “Then I could sell my lot beside me and let somebody build a 500 sq ft house beside me? That would look kinda funny wouldn’t it? They are all huge houses,” speaking to the Mayor she said, “You would have tiny little house beside you.”

She said allowing it would set a precedent, and council needed to establish a minimum standard to ensure fairness. She also wanted to have a clear answer to give people when asked. One councillor wanted more information and suggested it be tabled; however, the rest of council said they were willing to make a decision, and the motion was made for an 800 sqft minimum.

The CAO advised Council the change could be through a policy rather than a bylaw. However, at the next month’s meeting Council passed a bylaw in 3 readings that set the minimum square footage at 800 feet and that any development not meeting the minimum would require Council approval.

When asked about how the changes were made, the CAO told LMT that she decided not to use a policy because they could be lost. She said a by-law was preferential to amending the zoning bylaw because it was better to put forward numerous amendments at one time and just rescind the bylaw then.

LMT contacted the Ministry of Government Relations to find out how changes are made. They said that development permits are authorized through the zoning bylaw, and any changes proposed to a zoning bylaw must be done by a bylaw amendment and must follow the public notice procedures prescribed in the [Planning and Development Act].

(*Public notice includes provisions for a public hearing which allow the public to make submissions for council to consider.)

Hein feels the bylaw was passed only to stop her from moving her home to her lot. She doesn’t believe her home would impact the other homes around her or make the neighbourhood any less desirable. She called the decision short-sighted and suggested the Council didn’t take the time to adequately consider the implications of their decision. “Small homes are the way of the future. They are more sustainable. They have a smaller footprint on the earth in the world in general.”

Hein said living in a small home is a lifestyle choice, noting that in BC and around the world, people live in 180-square-foot campers and vans year-round. “The only reason people don’t live in campers year-round here is because of the weather …As a single person, I dont need 800 square feet …it’s not up to the Town to decide how many square feet I want to live in.”

“I would’ve liked them to look at the whole of the situation and to look at each development permit on its own merits instead of specifically making a bylaw to prevent me from putting a smaller house on an existing lot.”

Hein said she doesn’t plan to appeal the Town’s decision because of how her inquiry was handled. “At this point the time and the expense that I’d have to undertake …I don’t believe that any amount of application that I would make would be successful.”

Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times