First Southwest Fla. community says yes to tiny homes.

CAPE CORAL, Fla. – June 9, 2017 – Here’s how one Southwest Florida community is trying to provide more affordable homes.

By becoming the first city in Charlotte, Lee, Sarasota and Collier counties to dip its toe in the trendy waters of tiny houses.

Cape Coral — queen of the three-bedroom, two-bath concrete block home on highly regulated platted lots — decided those creations seen on Tiny Homes Nation should be part of its real estate inventory.

However, not all residents are ready to put out the welcome mat. Like Delores Bertolini, a Cape homeowner for 30 years, who has expressed general angst about tiny homes.

“I know we want to downsize and make things affordable to everyone,” Bertolini said, but “how many people will you affect in doing this? I have so many questions.”

The path: Cape planners, who are already updating the Lee County city’s land codes, will add a special zoning area for tinies. They’ll be on foundations. And they’ll probably start at 610 square feet, about the size you end up with after you conform to all of Florida’s building codes.

What is a tiny home?

Despite an appetite for tiny homes sweeping the nation, the market for them isn’t clearly defined.

There’s the shelter-sized tiny designed for people whose incomes require rents of little more than $300 a month.

There are the tinies on wheels — like a homier, cuter RV — and larger homes as big as 800 square feet on foundations.

“I was thinking of smaller houses on foundations in the 600- to 800-square-foot range, not on wheels,” said Councilwoman Rana Erbrick, who asked her colleagues last month to consider the homes and got the support. “Something for people just starting out, or a widow who no longer needs the extra bedrooms.”

Because Cape Coral’s minimum house size is 1,200 square feet, a tiny home could simply be one that’s smaller than that.

While there have been talks swirling in several cities about the trend and officials have said it is possible in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, it will not be simple.

For example, the Venice Planning Commission last discussed tiny homes in November, but has not made much progress since then.

In Punta Gorda, for a tiny home community to be considered part of the city, a resident would have to go through a whole process of Punta Gorda annexing the land if it’s in the county, as well as create a comprehensive plan and rezone to become a community, city officials said.

North Port’s Kevin Rouse created a Facebook page called “North Port Tiny Home Progressive Inc.” roughly a year ago, and it has more than 300 members. But North Port city leaders dropped the concept after reviewing it a couple of years ago.

“Overall, it wasn’t a good fit with platted lots,” North Port City Planner Michele Norton told the Sun recently. If a cluster of homes did ever get considered, it “would be staff’s inclination, to have it be part of a community, not sporadically placed (next to traditional homes).”

Biggest worry: ‘There goes the neighborhood’

Cape homeowners, like Bertolini, who’ve bought into larger, same-sized neighborhoods fear what smaller housing types could do to their property values.

“To allow them to sit on any lot and drop them into a neighborhood of 1,600-square-foot homes, it would make an impact,” Councilman John Carioscia said.

For that reason, cities that are adopting tiny homes usually put them in “pockets.”

Cape Housing Coordinator Amy Yearsley cited the example of the Micro-Cottages at Williamstown, a duplex community in Lakeland, where 500-square-foot one- and two-bedroom homes are going up for ages 55 and up. The community has a shared green and other amenities.

In fact, cost isn’t the biggest reason to allow tiny homes into the housing mix, the planner believes.

“Tiny houses are not a solution for the affordable housing needs we have in Cape Coral,” Yearsley said. “It would be a way to increase the variety of housing types we have.”

‘When can I build?’

Justin Murphy who grew up in Cape Coral and graduated from Mariner High in 2009, has been waiting for this moment to start his own tiny home business.

“Obviously the Cape can be pretty strict about things. Right off the bat we knew property values would be one of the concerns,” said Murphy, who’s going into the business with wife Nicole.

Murphy said he’s still working out his business model, but expects to target tinies in the 300- to 600-square foot range, built on foundations in a minimum 3-acre community. He’d prefer 10 acres.

“We’re thinking of a nice, quality product,” he said. “Even with granite counters, the entry will be so much lower than a standard house.”

His own dream home? “A tiny mansion” for the couple and their two daughters of about 650 to 700 square feet.

Next steps

Planning staff will work on code recommendations to bring before the council.

“I’m really on board with this. As long as we put them in communities,” Councilman Richard Leon said.

Murphy and others who advocate for tinies were surprised and pleased by the council’s decision.

“It went better than I was expecting,” Murphy said. “Everybody was open-minded.”

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