Change in city ordinance benefits tiny houses
Clovis has big plans for tiny houses in the Old Town area.
In the city’s long-term plan for downtown, city planners envision tiny houses dotting alleys in the rear portions of underused, sometimes unsightly, lots to refresh the landscape with mother-in-law homes, student housing or rentals.
When downtown was developed more than 50 years ago, homes were built on long, narrow lots that fronted the street and extended to alleys. The second residences, 400 square feet or smaller in size, are required to face alleys.
Dwight Kroll, the city’s planning director, said the idea is to turn alleys into walkable, attractive living spaces.
“A small house can sit on residential alleys in Old Town and clean up neighborhoods and get additional value out of properties,” he said.
The city worked with Clovis-based CWB Designs to create plans for three tiny home models that property owners can use for free. The three housing concepts can shortcut the sometimes cumbersome permitting process because the designs are pre-approved by the city. Property owners using those designs can cut their costs by about $8,150, Kroll said.
“You can choose any one of those elevations but you have to build it to the plan,” Kroll said. “We have some design control, but you can have your own plan and we will approve it if it meets the parameters.”
A small house can sit on residential alleys in Old Town and clean up neighborhoods and get additional value out of properties.
Dwight Kroll, Clovis planning director
The discounted fee won’t apply to other design concepts, he said.
Bill Barnes, owner of CWB Designs, created the city’s tiny homes concepts. He said coming up with the plans was daunting because the city has minimum room sizes in its building codes. By the time he put in a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and closets, there was little wiggle room, he said.
“When they told me up front that they had a limitation I told them I would try, but I don’t know what you’re going to get,” Barnes said. “The challenge was meeting those minimum requirements, making them usable and staying under 400 square feet.”
The city also offers reduced utilities connection fees for the downtown Clovis core, Kroll said.
The cost for utility connections and property inspections will likely cost a couple thousand dollars, he estimates.
A program brochure will be ready this summer to advise property owners about participating in the program. When it’s available, it can be downloaded from the city’s website, he said.
Last year, a tiny house plan was approved by the city of Fresno. While it’s been met with enthusiasm, there haven’t been any takers yet, said Mark Standriff, Fresno city spokesman.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in it, but nobody has said ‘we want to put in a tiny house,’ ” Standriff said. “Nobody has wanted to be the trailblazer.”
In Clovis, Pam Bethel is willing to give it a shot. Her Old Town Clovis property extends to an alley. After her garage and storage shed started collapsing, she tore them down. Now, Bethel has half her lot cleared along an alley.
If I was a real estate investor, I’d be really interested in buying some of those properties.
Jeff Harris, Wilson Homes chief operating officer
“I have plenty of room and alley access, so we’ll see what we can do,” she said. “The neighbors were kind of excited about it.”
Bethel said she’s saved about half the money she needs to get started.
“It’s still about a year out,” she said, “and I will have to educate myself on what the steps are.” Bethel said she’s considering renting it once it’s built.
The tiny homes concept is a grass-roots idea that will likely never attract large-scale developers.
“It’s for the person who might be interested in building something who isn’t really experienced and sophisticated in the home-building or development process, ” said Jeff Harris, chief operating officer for Wilson Homes. “It’s truly exceptional.”
Harris was invited by Kroll to evaluate the plan a few weeks ago. The beauty of the plan, Harris said, is that it allows individual owners to easily improve their properties at a significant discount.
“If I owned property in the Old Town area, I would do this in a New York minute,” Harris said. “If I was a real estate investor, I’d be really interested in buying some of those properties, adding a second unit and flipping it.”