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Tiny houses take a big step forward in El Paso County

November 8, 2017 Updated: November 9, 2017 at 6:11 am
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While tiny homes are becoming increasingly popular, zoning regulations and land use development codes in counties across Colorado make placing the structures a challenge. Because the homes are considered recreational vehicles, most jurisdictions in Colorado have rules that prevent them from being used as permanent housing. But, at Peak View Park in Woodland Park, owners of tiny houses are able to circumvent the rules because the former mobile home park outdates the county regulation that stipulates RVs can only be used as temporary housing. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

A set of proposed regulations for tiny houses in El Paso County cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday.

Amendments to the county's land-use code that would allow the homes on certain parcels won the recommendation of the Planning Commission in a 7-to-1 vote. If county commissioners OK the changes, tiny houses will be permitted in agricultural zoning districts, on some residential lots and in recreational vehicle parks.

The rules would also be tweaked so that the structures could be used as permanent homes. Because most tiny houses are mounted on trailers, the code considers them RVs, which can only be used as temporary living quarters.

Often the subjects of HGTV shows and lifestyle magazines, the increasingly popular miniature dwellings are typically less than 400-square-feet. Enthusiasts have hailed the homes as solutions to the rising real estate prices that can reduce carbon footprints and accommodate minimalist and mobile lifestyles.

County commissioners asked the department to draft the amendments at a July 18 work session. They are slated to vote on the proposed changes Dec. 12.

County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said he supports the changes, which could become a template for other governments looking to modify their codes for the homes.

"It's an opportunity to provide another vehicle for low-income housing for our community," he said. "What we're doing is simply creating a condition where the government gets out of the way so that an industry can solve a community need."

Other local governments in Colorado also have seen the potential of tiny houses. In 2014, Walsenburg became the first city in the state to amend its land-use codes to allow tiny houses on residential lots. Durango and La Plata County also have considered tweaking building codes to allow for the miniature dwellings, according to The Durango Herald. This summer, 14 homeless people moved into a tiny house village in Denver's River North neighborhood as part of a pilot project.

"They recognize the different options that this could provide for their communities, from an affordability standpoint, from a minimalist standpoint, from an energy consumption standpoint - there's lots of upsides to this," said Justin Hall, human resources manager for the Colorado Springs-based Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

He called the proposed changes to El Paso County's land-use code "another step in the right direction."

Under the amended rules, those seeking approval from the Planning and Community Development Department would have to prove that a tiny house meets specific design guidelines and was built to Recreation Vehicle Industry Association standards or certified by a structural engineer. Applicants would also have to pay a $247 fee for a site-plan review, in which department staff would review elevation drawings, utilities information, certifications and other documents.

"Just about every day, we get at least one phone call from someone who is asking about putting a tiny home on their property or wanting to develop a tiny home community," said Nina Ruiz, a project manager and planner with the department.

In May, county commissioners approved a zoning variance for a woman who had one of the units placed on her property in 2015 without knowing she was violating the code.

The Associated Press and The Denver Post contributed to this story.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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