The Town of Westville is taking a smaller approach to housing – tiny homes.
Council passed first reading of a tiny home policy at its March meeting, with second reading coming up April 24.
“I think this is pretty big,” said Mayor Lennie White. “We recognize we are a residential community and there is an important role for us to play in that. We have so many smaller, vacant lots and they lend themselves to the smaller home idea.”
For the past six months or so, the town has been working on its tiny homes policy. Chief administrative officer (CAO) Scot Weeres said staff looked at policies throughout Nova Scotia and Canada, but internationally as well, including Australia, New Zealand, England and the United States.
“We spent some time talking with tiny home builders in Canada, and in particular Nova Scotia,” added Weeres. “Council thinks this is a tool to help combat the housing crisis everyone is facing.”
White says the tiny home is a trend Westville council recognizes is growing and notes the town has had some inquiries over the past couple of years.
“We thought it was time to look at this niche,” he said.
Through the policy, White says town staff identified more than 20 properties that would be suitable for tiny homes based on their size. He says there are probably some others they didn’t identify through the policy.
“Some is property the town owns, some is private property. We think this is a great way to grow the number of housing units in Westville and, at the same time, attack the affordable housing issue,” said White.
The policy, which is available on the town’s website, defines a tiny home as “typically being a small, detached and self-contained dwelling unit intended for year-round permanent use.” The mayor says tiny homes must meet Nova Scotia Building Code Regulations, just as any home does. The policy says a tiny home must include a living and dining area, kitchen and bathroom facilities, sleeping area, and laundry and storage area.
“We’re not saying a tiny home is a different type of home or one that’s lesser than,” said White. “It’s just the fact that the footprint is smaller. Anything less than 1,000 square feet is usually considered a tiny home. We’re not talking RV trailers, these are not seasonal homes.”
The policy says the town is encouraging tiny home development “by keeping development charges for tiny home development in Westville at or below the costs associated with other single detached dwellings.”
Along with building code regulations, the tiny homes must comply with relevant land use bylaws, safety requirements and fire codes. They must be build on a foundation that falls under Part 9 of the National Building Code of Canada, and be insurable by insurance providers and financeable by financial institutions. The properties must be fully serviced with water and sanitary sewer services.
Weeres said Westville was built as a mining town and as such, was developed rapidly.
“If you pre-date the 1960s, basically, it was built all chaotic,” he said, adding he has been involved in several other mining towns built in similar fashions. “There was almost always no planning, so you have weird streets, odd sizes of buildings and lots, there are some monstrous homes and some tiny. For most planners and people in the 21st century, it’s kind of a disadvantage because you’ve got the irregular streets and lots, and they’re difficult to service.”
The CAO says they’re trying to turn that disadvantage into an advantage, and that’s where the tiny homes policy comes in.
“Otherwise these tiny lots, they’re going to sit vacant for decades. We know there’s a market out there of people interested in living in smaller homes.”
Weeres says about 20 per cent of those looking toward tiny homes are in the 20 to 30-something age range and trying to get into the housing market. The remainder are retirees, he says, with many cases being people looking to downsize.
White says the town is receptive to working with developers and the federal and provincial governments in creating affordable housing, and has been in touch with the province on previous occasions regarding available land.
Through the policy, White says there’s also opportunities for developers to use larger pieces of land to create a “pocket neighbourhood” with tiny homes, similar to a subdivision.
“We really want to be a leader in this trend,” said White. “Ideally, tiny homes will add to the look of a neighbourhood. We think they’ll enhance the neighbourhood, not take away from it.”
Council isn’t stopping at tiny homes when it looks to tackling the housing crisis. The town has already rezoned close to 100 properties from an R1 zoning (for single unit dwellings on the property) to R2, which will allow granny or garden suites.
Weeres says a number of residents approached council with the idea. Many, says the CAO, have stories about raising their children in the home and now an adult child wants to move their family back to the area. The parents want to sell the home to the son or daughter, while remaining on the property in a granny suite.
“How brilliant is that?” asked Weeres. “Not only does it generate aging in place, but it brings new jobs and new income into Pictou County.”
Between the three options – granny suites, tiny homes and pocket neighbourhoods – White says it looks like a win to members of council and the town.
“It’s a win-win-win, really,” he said.
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