A Tale of Zoning Happily Ever After

Categories: Homes / Dwellings

He never heard about tiny houses before meeting with René. McKnight credits Rene with inspiring him to minimalize his life so he can spend more time with his family, instead of worrying about taking care of a big house. He took it upon himself to study up on tiny houses, and looked hard at the potential benefits for Rockledge and its citizens.

“When you deal with something that’s different, said McKnight, “One of things you have to look at is it’s overall impact on your community. Some of things we were concerned about, knowing that they were going to smaller houses, is how do you we put them in some kind of development that makes sense. Where do you put them where they don’t affect the market values of other housing.”

The city ultimately came up two appropriate zoning districts for tiny houses: redevelopment mixed use district (RMU) and planned unit development (PUD), specifically in a pocket neighborhood setting.

“As everyone knows there’s a need for housing in our country, in our state, our county, our city. That doesn’t mean we have do everything the traditional old way…Tiny houses have a place in that, I believe; there’s a demand for it,” said McKnight.

Planning director, Don Griffin explained to us that Rockledge is almost built out; there’s only about 10% property left in the city, which they’re in the process of developing plus redevelopment. Just so happens that both areas of development align beautifully with tiny housing. The main idea was creating a community, and they really latched on to the pocket neighborhood idea. Examples he looked at were going for too much money per house, in Griffin’s opininon. The city of Rockledge has many retired and young people. The young need affordable starter homes, and retired need more options for a manageable, downsized lifestyle. Pocket neighborhoods could provide a perfect blend, bringing the two groups together in a supportive community environment.

There’s also a lot of love in the city government for the potential for revitalization & economic development that could be spurred via tiny housing in redevelopment mixed use districts (RMU). “We hope tiny houses will replace property that’s not as representative as we would like it to be of the community, (needs) refreshing…give people a chance to move into those areas without having huge cost of housing. It’s mixed use; we’re trying to create a community feel where you can walk to a restaurant, to a store,” said City Councilman Frank Forester.

“At the city of Rockledge we always think about how we can meet the needs of our residents in our community. So when we get a request, we want to honor it. Is it doable, is it attainable and how does that happen?,” said City Planner Alexandra Bernard. “We have a great team…always allow us to think what’s the best & greatest use of a piece land and how do we meet the needs of our residents. So when René approached us we were able to say let’s look at this, where would it fit or not fit.”  She explained that there are only small parcels left in the city, which are infill and harder to develop. “That being the case, what’s the highest & best use of that land. Well maybe a tiny house community in a pocket neighbtorhood would be the highest & best use. You just have think outside of the box a little,” said Bernard.

The Planning Commission was excited about the tiny housing possibilities. René went in front of them a few times helping to make the case, and address some their questions & concerns. One concern was attracting a transient population. A solution was created: the addition of front & back porches on the tiny houses, to dissuade frequent travel. The city is looking to build community with folks who want to put to down roots. Tiny housers would still have availability to be mobile, if needed for a life change. Another benefit of a front porch specifically, it encourages conversation & connection between neighbors.

The Commision fine-tuned their proposal, and made a recommendation in favor of tiny housing to the City Council. The City Council was incredibly receptive, but one councilman had a sensible request, include more definition in the regulations. So the Commision complied adding definitions for tiny houses and tiny houses on wheels (THOWs). These definitions are what really makes this ordinance extraordinary, something nonexistent in almost all cities in the US. Other definitions include set backs and size of lots. These were reviewed & tweaked, then sent back to the City Council. They were elated and instructed the City Attorney to prepare an ordinace for adoption, which was passed with an overwhelming majority. Two public readings passed with no objections from Rockledge citizens. Just like that, only seven months from simple question to approved cutting-edge zoning regulations.

Rockledge’s Tiny Housing Zoning Process

The final result, both tiny houses on wheels & foundation are legal inside the city limits within two zoning districts including a community setting, pocket neighborhoods. The approved regulations are available in their entirety on the American Tiny House Assocaition site here.

Tiny houses are not just allowed in Rockledge, they are downright welcomed & encouraged. With the City Manager’s encouragement & local tiny house advocates enthusiasm to build a tiny house community, as we speak, they are actively working with a couple of potential developers to create Rockledge’s first tiny house pocket neighborhood. This incredible showcase of citizen/city official collaboration was all kick-started by the efforts of one lady, one concerned citizen, René Hardee.

The Planning Director’s advice for other tiny house community adovocates like René, is start by reaching out to city planners, and ask for joint meeting with mayor or city manager & the planning staff. Come up with a cohesive idea of what you’re going for and provide reference examples, like the wonderful pocket neighborhood research that René shared. The more information you can provide the better, and he encourages the sharing of Rockledge’s very own groundbreaking ordinance.

You can find René at home, enjoying her family in one room of her large house (tiny house practice), and in the community, collaborating with neighbors at the founders’ meetings for Rockledge’s future tiny house pocket neighborhood.

At the end of this tiny house rainbow, sits Rockledge, Florida, a city built on efficient governing for the citizens’ best interest. It’s my sincerest hope that more cities will take cues from Rockledge and explore how tiny housing might fit in their community. Be like René, go for your legal tiny living dreams. You just might be surprised. Fairytales can come true.

René’s advice to others wanting to bring legal tiny housing to their community, look at the current zoning regulations, ask your city planners questions, and “Just go & start the dialogue. You don’t have to have any experience whatsoever.” She urges others to share their concern with the city, who is there to help ensure that they are meeting the needs of their residents. They want to hear your concern, know what’s going on & how they can best help.

Yours Truly,

Alexis of Tiny House Expedition

“Fairy tales can come true

It can happen to you if you’re young at heart

For it’s hard, you will find

To be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes

You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams

And life gets more exciting with each passing day

And love is either in your heart or on it’s way”

Frank Sinatra – Young At Heart Lyrics

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