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How Dominique Kerins of Auburn, MA Convinced Her Town’s Zoning & Building Inspector To Approve Tiny Houses

Dominique Kerins and her husband wanted to put an accessible tiny house in the yard of their regular-sized home in Auburn, MA for her aging grandmother, so she inquired whether that would be possible at her Town Hall.

Fast forward a couple months, and Auburn’s Annual Town Meeting was last night.  Tiny Houses were the last item on the warrant to discussed, and it passed!

So how did she do it?  Dominique was gracious enough to get a sitter for her kids in order to grant us an interview.

Auburn’s Town Meeting Warrant can be read here.  The tiny house articles are #33 and #34; you’ll read more about the distinction between the two articles in the interview.  The approval process isn’t over yet: next, it’ll be sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (who visited the B&B Tiny Houses workshop last year) to be signed into law for the town of Auburn.

We are so grateful to Dominique for pitching the idea of tiny houses to her town, and in doing so, paving the way for others to do the same in their own municipalities.


First, what’s the background story?  What originally led you to ask your town for permission to put a tiny house in your yard?

  • My husband and I were looking to make changes to the Auburn zoning bylaws so that our family could build a Tiny Home on our property for our aging Grandmother, who currently pays 9K/month for senior housing in Medfield. Our intention was to keep down costs for her, and for us, and to prioritize multigenerational living. We opted for a THOW [Tiny House On Wheels] in our side yard, not only because they’re awesome but because they offer many strengths in creating a solution specific to our unique situation. THOWs offer strengths like affordability, accessibility and adaptability. All other alternatives considered or tried (like senior housing, and building on to our current single-family home) are unaffordable, and are not ideal for the long-term!) THOWs on the other hand can be easily re-purposed, sold or simply relocated. It happens to be a BONUS that THOWs promote healthier living and green initiatives.

Did you originally intend to get permission solely for tiny houses meant for caregiving, or was that restriction suggested by the planning board or another entity?

  • We certainly wanted to keep as many options open to the public as humanly possible, maintaining that people should be able to do what they see fit on their own parcels of land. Unfortunately, after a lot of planning board meetings and emails, we were forced to accept the negotiated terms if we were to gain any traction with the town. Nevertheless, we came to realize that the narrowed (senior and disabled) audience had most to gain, especially given that Auburn has the HIGHEST population of elders in their 60’s and 70’s across the state. All other audiences (college students, for instance), or persons looking to save money, may have a bit more time than the elders for the bylaws to be altered and tweaked down the road!

What was the process?  How long has this process taken so far?  What are the next steps for Article 33 to come to fruition?

  • We went to the Town Hall, in February of this year, thinking that the Zoning Enforcement (Building Inspector) would have most insight on the feasibility of building tiny in Auburn. He did provide insight, and some healthy skepticism that led us to be more prepared for questions presented by the Planning Board, roughly 1 month later.
  • The Building Inspector directed us to speak with the Town Planner, who had more information about the collaborative efforts of the Planning Board and the creators of the town’s Master Plan (which I read prior, and understood to give priority to the seniors in Auburn).
  • The Town Planner encouraged us to do 2 things:
    • Create a citizen’s petition, requiring signatures from the town’s (voting-age) residents in support of our idea.
    • Solicit recommendation and support from the town’s Planning Board and Selectmen in order to compose more detailed language to present to the Town Hall.
  • The first item was easy. The second required attending many Planning Board meetings, and a bit of bickering and emailing.
  • Realizing that the Town backed their own detailed bylaw (and not our original language), we felt it best to work with them; I made phone calls to voters in our precinct to ask for their support, and mailed a letter to all voters to do the same, instructing them to support Article #33 at Town Hall.
  • At Town Hall, we sat as members of the audience, quietly, biting our fingernails, as we watched the Town Planner present the Bylaw proposal. After time (and confusion at the Town Meeting), the Bylaw was approved by a 2/3 vote.
  • Next, the bylaw gets sent to Atty. General for approval! In the meantime, I have written Representative Frost (who is an Auburn resident) to ask for his support in expediting the approval process.

I understand you and your husband are builders and plan to build your own tiny house.  Did the town of Auburn ask you to build it (or prove that it has been built) to a particular set of standards or code?

  • …We have done a lot of building in the past. My husband is a concrete mason and is gifted as a handy man.  We have completed a lot of renovation projects, mainly in basements, (in our particular home, the renovated basement wouldn’t suffice for our elderly grandmother, for obvious reasons). The town… asked that we ensure that it is built to the town’s standards as well as those specified by the state and the federal government (and HUD). IRC – the international residential building code, will inform the building standards. Thankfully, my husband is well versed in the language of building codes!
  • I should also shout out to the awesome Design & Build school, Yestermorrow, in Vermont, for having providing so much valuable insight on the ins and outs of Tiny Home construction!!!! The class was invaluable to preparing us for the questions presented by the Town.

Before now, have you ever been involved in a political or government process?  Did you reach out to others for help or guidance along the way?  Are there any other Auburn residents you know of who are interested in having their own tiny houses?

  • Besides my exposure to college-level or professional procedural hearings, I had not been involved in politics. Reaching out to neighbors was very helpful, as was the opportunity to read Katie Jackson’s updates [Ed. Note: hey, thanks for the shoutout!] and other bloggers on tiny living. Just knowing that others are going through similar situations has been extremely insightful and comforting.

What advice would you have for others looking to ask for permission to have a tiny house in their own municipality?

  • Look at the town’s bylaws. Pay attention to the wording, formalities and procedural recommendations.
  • Network – not only at Town Hall (knowing your Selectmen, Town Planner, Zoning enforcement officials, Planning Board and Clerks) but also the Fire Chief, Police, and regular folk too!
  • Have details READY (blueprints, preexisting example images, placement plans, building plans etc.) The town asks A LOT OF QUESTIONS!!!
  • Consider taking a class (as above mentioned, Yestermorrow was really helpful for DIY building advice!)
  • Be prepared for lots of questioning, answering and follow-up, and try your best to stay positive

Finally, do you have images you’d like to share?  

  • This is our own mock-up, that I’ve created using a program, Home Designer Pro. The wheel wells are “hidden” by a “skirt” in the picture. SketchUp was also helpful in rendering templates with trailers. They have a 30 day free trial, which is nice.

Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House For Her Grandmother


Rendering: Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House Next To Her Home

 

 

Great Barrington, MA Will Vote On Backyard Tiny Houses May 6

The planning & zoning board of the town of Great Barrington, MA is considering allowing tiny houses on wheels, or movable tiny houses, as Accessory Dwelling Units in the back yards of existing houses.

The tiny house amendment has gone through all the previous stages of approval: registered voters in Great Barrington will vote on whether to allow them at the annual town meeting on May 6.

Background Info:

Katie Jackson of B&B Tiny Houses was asked to do a presentation at a planning board meeting on what tiny houses are, how they work, and how other cities have written them into their zoning code.  Katie is also the Northeast Regional Director of the American Tiny House Association, which is hosting the open house on May 5.

Here’s our previous update on Great Barrington’s consideration of allowing tiny houses on wheels.

Here’s an article on Great Barrington’s Town Meeting from the Berkshire Edge. 

  • Who buys tiny houses?
Most of B&B Tiny Houses’ non-commercial customers have their tiny house in the backyard of a family member or friend, in a campground, or on rural land with permissible zoning.  Some people live in their tiny houses full time, while others use them as guest houses, vacation houses, housing for personal care givers, or as wheelchair-accessible additions so someone can live at home while recovering from a spinal cord injury or in-home hospice care.
  • Why do people want tiny houses?
Although tiny houses are on wheels, very few people travel with them like RVers.  Most people who want tiny houses are drawn to the very low cost of living and the low carbon footprint.  Others want tiny houses on wheels because they might move once every couple of years, like traveling nurses or those with academic professions.  Many who live in tiny houses find themselves spending less time at home and more time in their communities and the outdoors.
  • Why don’t more people have tiny houses?
The biggest barrier to those wanting to own a tiny house is the difficulty of finding a legal spot to live in their house.  Since tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon, most municipalities don’t already have laws allowing tiny houses on wheels as residences.

Backyard tiny houses will add density without having to change the infrastructure of the town; it’s the quickest, easiest solution (and one of many) that will address the housing crisis.


Here’s Great Barrington’s proposed zoning language pertaining to tiny houses: 

Acronym Key:

MTH: Movable Tiny House

THOW: Tiny House on Wheels

ADU: Accessory Dwelling Unit


There will be two tiny house events in Great Barrington:

-Tiny House Open House in the backyard of 65 Anderson Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Sunday, May 5, 10am-4pm.

Sunday’s tiny house open house is in advance of Monday’s Great Barrington Annual Meeting, where a proposed zoning amendment allowing Movable Tiny Houses as accessory dwelling units will be voted upon, among other topics. The open house is hosted by Amy Turnbull who is on the leadership team of the American Tiny House Association, with a movable tiny house built by Tony Indino of East Granby, Connecticut (this house is shown in the event flyer). This open house will give a glimpse into what backyard tiny houses might look like in Great Barrington if the Movable Tiny House Amendment passes.

-Great Barrington Annual Meeting & Vote at Monument Mountain High School Auditorium, 600 Stockbridge Rd, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Monday, May 6, 6:00pm.

Please attend the Annual Meeting on Monday in support of allowing movable tiny houses in Great Barrington backyards. The proposed amendment language is posted in the comments. All those who are registered to vote in Great Barrington may vote on the amendments.

Planning Board Meeting Recap: Backyard Cottages in Williamstown, MA?

Williamstown, MA had its planning board meeting last night, discussing whether to allow backyard cottages and second apartments to homes in certain zones of town. It was a full house, with others who couldn’t get seats standing in the hallway.

In the photo, Amy Jeschawitz, Chair of the Planning Board, sits under the town flag, depicting Williamstown’s beloved 1753 House. The 1753 House was originally called a “Regulation House” by the early European settlers, who, in order to be considered land owners, had to build a house that was at least 15’ x 18’ and 7’ tall. At 270 sq ft, this would certainly be considered a “tiny house” by today’s standards!

The size of the detached ADUs (backyard cottages) in the current proposed bylaw would be limited to between 900 and 1200 square feet, determined by the size of the existing home and its lot.

Also addressed was allowing a second unit to an existing single family home, either within or added on to the existing building. These two bylaws would mean that a single unit property within certain zones could ostensibly turn into a three-unit property.
The planning board voted 3-1 in favor of recommending the proposed bylaws, with the additional restriction of a five year wait between adding a second unit to a property and adding a third.

The bylaws will now be taken to Town Meeting.

Read more on the meeting from iBerkshires: https://www.iberkshires.com/story/59488/Williamstown-Planners-Recommend-Dwelling-Bylaw-Amendments.html

Recap: Meeting on Backyard Tiny Houses in Great Barrington, MA

Last week’s public hearing in Great Barrington, MA addressed using tiny houses on wheels as backyard cottages.  (If you haven’t already seen it or need a refresher, refer back to this blog post).

After the meeting, I spoke with Jonathan Hankin who is the president of the Planning Board.  Here’s his recap:

  • The meeting was 3 hours long and had lots of controversial items to cover!  The proposed tiny house ADUs weren’t discussed, negatively or positively.
  • Public comments remain open until next week’s meeting, which is on Thursday.  However, since there hasn’t been any negative feedback, Jonathan seems confident it should pass without issue.
  • Next week’s meeting is when all the proposed changes to Great Barrington’s Zoning Bylaws should be put on a warrant. Those changes will officially pass (or not) at the Town Meeting, which takes place the last week in May.
  • All the changes that pass in Town Meeting will go to the Attorney General for review.  Her report should come back in August or September.  All changes that she approves will be retroactively in effect back to next week’s meeting (get your Delorean ready).

As a side note, the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, visited the B&B Tiny Houses workshop last year and said, in front of many members of the press, that she feels tiny houses are a good affordable housing option.  She has also signed the Nantucket, MA zoning bylaw allowing tiny houses, so we feel good about Atty. Gen. Healey signing Great Barrington’s as well.

-K. Jackson

Pictured from left: B&B Tiny Houses Owners Chris St. Cyr, Jason Koperniak, Mitch Bressett, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey outside the Arcadia Tiny House. Photo from iBerkshires.com.

Please Support Tiny House Zoning in Great Barrington, MA this Thursday, March 7

The town of Great Barrington, MA is considering adding Movable Tiny Houses, or Tiny Houses on Wheels, to their zoning regulations, allowable as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

As proposed, movable tiny houses will only be allowed as an ADU which means there has to be a primary dwelling.  A 2/3 majority at town meeting will allow them.

The Thursday meeting agenda includes a Citizen’s Speak Time, where those who live in Great Barrington can share their thoughts.  Those who don’t live in Great Barrington but would like to show up in support of legal tiny houses may also attend the meeting.

This meeting will address movable tiny houses.  Tiny houses that are on a foundation are already permitted as an ADU under the current bylaw and would need to meet the stretch code adopted by GB.  The planning board is also seeking to increase the allowable number of ADUs to two.

 

 

This is the proposed added language to the Great Barrington Zoning Bylaws:

To Section 11.0 Definitions add:

Movable Tiny Houses (MTH)

A structure intended for the separate, independent living quarters of one household for year-round residence that meets all of the following:

            (a) Is licensed and registered with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles;

(b) Meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 119.5 requirements, and certified by a qualified third party inspector for ANSI compliance;

            (c) Cannot move under its own power;

(d) Has not less than 150 and no more than 430 square feet of habitable living space, excluding lofts;

(e) Is designed and built using conventional residential building materials for windows, roofing and exterior siding.

ACCESSORY DWELLING UNIT: a subordinate dwelling unit on the same lot as a primary single family or two-family residential use, with provisions for independent cooking, living, sanitation and sleeping. (Add) A Movable Tiny House (MTH) connected to electricity, water, and sewer or septic that has its chassis, wheels and hitch concealed shall be considered an accessory dwelling unit.

(This proposed language may have been updated by the time the meeting takes place).

 

Please attend:

GREAT BARRINGTON PLANNING BOARD MEETING

THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2019 6:00 PM

Great Barrington Fire Station

37 State Road, Great Barrington, MA

Read the Meeting Agenda here.

Quiz: Which Tiny House is Right For You?

We know: there are so many beautiful designs to choose from and the choices can get overwhelming!  Which is the best tiny house for you?

Click each answer that’s the best fit for you: there are no wrong answers!


What's your approximate budget?

Tow it yourself or have us deliver?

Which master bed configuration is your favorite?

How many people will be sleeping in your tiny house?

Which Tiny House Design Is Right For You?
Hudson

The Hudson is a compact 8.5 x 20' tiny house with a kitchenette, 3/4 bath, and first-floor bed. Click to see more photos and info of The Hudson.
For another tiny house with a first-floor bed, you might also want to check out The Taconic, & for another tiny house that's lightweight for towing, the Hoosic.
Hoosic

The Hoosic is a compact 8.5 x 20' tiny house with a kitchenette, 3/4 bath, and loft bed. Click to see more photos and info of The Hoosic.
For another tiny house with a loft bed, you might also want to check out The Arcadia, & for another compact tiny house that's lightweight for towing, the Hoosic.
Arcadia

The Arcadia is an 8.5 x 24' tiny house with a porch, full kitchen, 3/4 bath, and sleeping loft. Click to see more info and photos of The Arcadia.
For another tiny house that can sleep four (two in the loft and two on a sofabed), you might also want to check out The Hoosic, & for another tiny house with a beautiful full kitchen, the Stony Ledge.
Stony Ledge

The Stony Ledge is an 8.5 x 30' tiny house with a full kitchen, full bath, and first-floor bedroom separated from the rest of the house. The Stony Ledge Tiny House is right for you!
For another tiny house that has a full kitchen, first-floor sleeping and a bathtub, you might also want to check out The Ashmere, & for another tiny house with all the above features but two lofts instead of a downstairs bedroom, the Cold Spring.
Silver Lake

The Silver Lake is an 8.5 x 32' tiny house with a large living room, full kitchen, 3/4 bath, and bedroom separated from the rest of the house by a wall. The Silver Lake Tiny House is right for you!
For another tiny house with a full kitchen and no loft, you might also want to check out The Ashmere, & for another tiny house with a beautiful full bathroom and separate, first-floor bedroom, the Stony Ledge.
Ashmere

The Ashmere is an 8.5 x 30' tiny house with a beautiful clerestory roof, full kitchen, full bath, and a bed on the ground floor. The Ashmere Tiny House is right for you!
For another tiny house that has its bed on the ground floor, you might also want to check out The Hudson, & for another tiny house with a full kitchen and full bath, the Stony Ledge.
Cold Spring

The Cold Spring is an 8.5 x 26' tiny house with a full kitchen, full bath, and two sleeping lofts. Out of all our tiny houses, it can sleep the most people: 2 in each queen-sized loft and 2 guests in the living room. The Cold Spring Tiny House is right for you!
For another "large tiny house", you might also want to check out The Kinderhook, & for another tiny house with a full kitchen and full bath, the Stony Ledge.
Taconic

The Taconic is an extra-wide 10' x 24' tiny house with a porch, kitchenette, 3/4 bath, and ground-floor bed (no loft!). With its boxy roofline and porch with windscreens on four sides, it's one of our most modern designs. The Taconic Tiny House is right for you!
For another tiny house with modern design, you might also want to check out The Silver Lake, & for another extra-wide tiny house, the Kinderhook.
Kinderhook

The Kinderhook Tiny House is an extra-wide and extra-long 10' x 30' tiny house. It has an extra-wide sleeping loft, full kitchen, and your choice of either a full bathroom or a 3/4 bath + washer dryer. The Kinderhook is right for you!
For a miniature version of the Kinderhook that's lightweight for towing, you might also want to check out The Hoosic, & for another extra-wide tiny house, the Taconic.

Share your Results:

 

Why Tiny Houses Can Be for Almost Anyone

Who should own a tiny house?

Tiny houses have risen in popularity over the years, and there’s a good reason for this: tiny houses offer many perks that will appeal to almost anyone. Tiny houses are economical, sustainable, and can even be a great investment or supplementary source of income.

 

Baby Boomers

We’ve had baby boomers choose the tiny house lifestyle for a multitude of reasons. Some want a big change in their life, want a simpler life, or want to travel more. Also, we have had baby boomers choose to live in a tiny house and rent out their traditional house for additional income.

Millennials

With educational loans and rent costs rising, many millennials are delaying buying a house–only 20 percent of millennials have a mortgage. In addition, many millennials find the pros of living more sustainable and minimalistic very desirable. Tiny houses allow millennials to put money that would otherwise be going down the drain towards an investment that they can get back.

Those Wanting a Simpler and more Environmentally Conscious Life

If you’re looking for a change in your life and yearn to get away from all hecticness  that overconsumption can bring, the tiny house lifestyle may be the solution you’ve been seeking. The minimalistic lifestyle is about owning the perfect amount and focusing on your needs and talents in order to become the happiest version of yourself. Because space is a commodity in a tiny house, it makes you to only keep and buy what will add value to your life. Read more about minimalism here.

On and off-grid options allow tiny house owners to reduce their carbon footprint–a net zero carbon footprint is possible in off-grid living. Tiny houses require less materials to build and use significantly less water, heating, and cooling because of their size. In addition, their size limits the amount of waste produced. Check out these two blogs to learn more about simple living and off-grid living.

Families

Families that decide to go tiny may use the house for vacations or live in it full time. Although living with your family in a tiny house will undeniably bring its own challenges, the benefits of living in a tiny house are immeasurable. Teaching your kids about the importance of memories and family are just a few!  Read about this five person family that decided to go tiny full time.  

Families Looking for Flexible and Accessible Housing 

Families with aging parents or those that want to provide their older children with special needs an increased sense of independence can turn to tiny houses. Nursing homes cost an average of $235 daily for a shared room, which is a hefty sum for most families. Our tiny houses can be built to ADA standards and are a much cheaper option. Additionally, the tiny houses can be placed and hooked up to your utility grid–allowing you to be walking distance away from the tiny house (as long as you ensure your town allows tiny houses).

Anyone on the Move or Looking for Weekend Getaways 

Because many tiny houses are on wheels–ours at B&B are on wheels and RVIA certified–tiny houses can go wherever you travel. If you’re a person that loves to travel or are looking for a weekend getaway to go hiking, skiing, or otherwise enjoy yourself and save money by opting out of an expensive hotel, then a tiny house is a perfect fit for you. Whether you decide to build your tiny house on or off-grid, you will have many places to keep your tiny house; the amount of places you can keep your tiny house off grid are endless and in most places you can stay in your on-grid tiny house wherever a RV or trailer is allowed.

 

Developers, Renters, Campgrounds, and Hoteliers 

Developers have started investing in tiny house campgrounds and hotels. These sites offer guests a unique way to travel and experience their surroundings. Check out these tiny house hotels across the United States.In addition, tiny house owners can rent out their tiny house on sites like AirBnB when they are not using it. Read our blog post on turning your tiny house into an investment. Tiny houses provide a great business venture for those that wish to embark.

 

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