By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors seem open to permitting smaller footprint homes to be constructed within the county, although maybe not the type of tiny homes some residents would like to see.
Councillors discussed the issue during a review of proposed amendments to the county’s official plan during an Oct. 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting. Regulations around tiny homes and other proposed amendments will come back to the council in the form of draft polices, and will also be subject to a public meeting before any changes are made.
“We do not currently have a policy, in the county official plan, or any of the local plans, with regards to tiny homes,” planner Charlsey White told councillors, explaining the provincial government has recently outlined a series of minimum standards for tiny homes, should municipal governments care to incorporate tiny homes into their official plans.
Currently, each of the county’s four lower-tier townships have minimum dwelling sizes, ranging from 500 to just less than 800 square feet, depending on the township.
“So what a tiny home is, as defined and outlined, is a small, self-contained dwelling that has a living, a dining area, a kitchen area, a place to sleep as well as bathroom facilities,” White said. “And what I would like to be very clear about, is we’re not talking about the types of tiny homes that you may see on certain television programming, where they’re on wheels, where they can move around, where you can travel from Newfoundland to British Columbia – that’s not what we’re talking about.”
What the provincial minimum standards outline are permanent dwellings, with requirements under the building code, servicing requirements, etc.
“What it is, is really a smaller footprint, which supports the county’s goal for new and alternative affordable housing options within our community,” White said.
Her report contained a recommended minimum size, taken from the provincial standard, of 17.5 square metres, or about 188 square feet. The report all proposed that tiny homes be allowed in all zoning designations with the exception of waterfront, and that they be permitted as primary dwelling or ancillary dwellings, in accordance with policies, zoning requirements and the Ontario Building Code.
White also suggested the potential creation of tiny home subdivisions.
“Is there any differentiation for tiny homes, between in-town lots and rural, in any shape or way?” asked Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
“Yes,” White responded. “So, what I would be looking to county council to identify is where they feel this is the most appropriate, because the main difference will be servicing. So, in some of our settlement areas, we have full municipal services, which means if you have a lot, whatever the size of that lot, you connect to sewer and water, hydro’s probably at your line, you probably have some school bus service, your road is maintained year-round, you have all of that.”
In the case of a tiny home as the primary residence on a rural lot, that would require servicing, “so that’s a well, that’s a septic, that’s hydro service coming in,” White said. “So there is a servicing difference, and it may not be the desire of council to have tiny homes in all areas.”
“It may be most appropriate, because we’re looking at it as a permanent dwelling, as an affordable housing option, that council may wish to consider having it only in settlement areas, or only where there’s servicing available.”
Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen thought the proposed minimum size was too small. “I would hope that we could find some mid-point that might be more acceptable to us all, and I’m also not sure about best land use of placing a tiny home on a town-serviced lot, but that’s just something that I’d like to see us discuss,” Danielsen said.
White reiterated that the minimum size in the report was taken from the provincial standards. “If you wanted to make a minimum home size 200 square feet . . . I mean, the policy will be in the plan and the local municipalities will be looked to implement that through their zoning bylaw. So, if it’s on a proposed town lot with full services, you may have different zoning requirements and minimum sizes, versus in a rural lot, with private services. And again, that would be to the local municipality to identify in their zoning bylaw.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt wondered about the semantics of “tiny homes,” and suggested the county start using different language.
“I definitely support moving towards smaller footprint homes to address some of the needs that we have in our communities,” Moffatt said. “I do have a preference for tiny home communities being in settlement areas and I wonder if the first change, sort of mindset shift, is in changing the name. Tiny homes I think stands us in good stead for confusion. The tiny home movement is very different than a smaller footprint home for affordable housing purposes, and I think we could go a long way to solving our own interpretation problems, if we stopped calling them tiny homes, and started calling them smaller footprint homes. And I know it sounds like maybe that’s splitting hairs, but . . . we’re trying to provide housing, and provide more opportunities for different sectors of our community. And I think if the public hears, just reads the headline, ‘Haliburton County allows tiny homes,’ there may be a misunderstanding or confusion around the requirements for servicing, building code, a limit on the number of sheds you can have, that kind of thing.”
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he agreed with Danielsen that the minimum size proposed in the report was too small.
“I had similar thoughts to what Councillor Moffatt had said,” said Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell, “and I think, I mean it’s semantics, but when you say ‘tiny home’ I too think of the HGTV show, you know, where there’s wheels and it’s moveable, and I think maybe labelling them as something else would be a wise move for the county.”
Schell also said she’d like to see whatever the requirements end up being to be consistent across all four of the county’s lower-tier townships.
Devolin said he agreed with a consistent standard across the county, said he didn’t have an issue with the square footage, but if his colleagues wanted a slightly higher number, he was amenable to that, and suggested that “micro housing,” might replace the term “tiny home.”
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said the minimum dwelling size in her township had recently been lowered.
“Dysart just underwent a comprehensive zoning bylaw [review] and so this discussion came up, and we actually reduced the minimum size of a dwelling in Dysart across the board in all areas to be 600 square feet, which I know is still not in the neighbourhood of what we’re calling tiny or micro.”
Roberts said Dysart council had asked its planning staff how many people were coming in and requesting to build homes as small as 400 feet.
“It’s very minimal,” she said. “I think we have to be careful. We’re not the same as some of the areas where these have been more popular. Our land is really precious here. There’s only so much serviced land, so I really caution really reducing a whole lot more than even 600 square feet. In terms of other units, such as apartments or condominiums, we have them even smaller.”
Danielsen said Algonquin Highlands council was also looking at the township’s zoning bylaw and that minimum dwelling size would be a consideration. The current minimum size for a dwelling in Algonquin Highlands is 74 square metres, or 796.5 square feet.
“I would look more to a 400 square foot [size], which is kind of a mid-point,” Danielsen said. “I believe that there will be a greater demand for smaller homes as people can’t afford what’s available on the market, can’t afford to build larger homes. To me, 400 square feet is a really good midway point between the traditional tiny homes that we’ve been seeing, and something that is a little more modest than 600 or 700 square feet.”
Moffatt said that if the purpose of allowing smaller footprint homes was to assist the aged, vulnerable or underemployed, “who by virtue of our housing studies and everything we’ve learned, probably need to be more near a town site, with access to shops and services,” then it only made sense that smaller footprint homes be permitted in developed areas.
“A micro housing community in a village situation is ideal for housing solutions,” Moffatt said. “A separate issue is a lifestyle choice out on a rural lot … and I think there’s a difference there, too.”
In terms of demand for tiny homes, White suggested there is significant demand.
“One local municipality, wrongfully, was added to a tiny home province-wide website as being one of the only places in the province where tiny homes were permitted,” White said. That municipality was Highlands East. “And for at least 10 months, the phone at that municipality and at my office was ringing off the hook,” White said. “ . . . It got out there for some reason that one of our municipalities was allowing them and the demand was a lot. It was significant. So if council makes that decision to move forward, I think you will see demand right off the bat.”
“We always have to think long term, when we talk about why are we considering this,” White continued. “And, I stated, I’m considering this and recommending this as a permanent housing solution and right off the bat, maybe we don’t offer it available everywhere. Maybe it is focused, by policy, to settlement areas, see how it goes, see if it takes off, see if there really is that demand.”
White said that would also provide a chance for the county to collect data on how affordable the dwellings would be to construct.
Danielsen said she agreed with Moffatt on the concept of a micro housing community within a town area on serviced land.
Moffatt expressed a concern that allowing dwellings too small would mean a proliferation of storage buildings.
“We are sadly a society driven by consumerism, which means everybody has a lot of stuff,” she said. “So there are very few people who can actually really successfully live in micro housing by its strict definition. One of the concerns I think we have to have regard for, is where are you going to put your stuff? So you’re going to have a shed, and you’re going to have two sheds, and then you’re going to have three sheds, possibly.”
Moffatt noted that White has pointed out that local bylaws would restrict the number of outbuildings that could be constructed on a property.
“Because what you don’t want to have is the development of a smaller footprint house, and a garage and seven sheds,” Moffatt said. “You could have just built a house. And so, how do we ensure that . . . the community stays vital and tidy and not disorganized.”
“There’s no question that this is a popular idea,” Moffatt said. “I want to circle back and say we need to make the decision whether we’re trying to do this to provide housing, or a lifestyle choice, because they’re very different things.”
White added that planning applications for smaller footprint homes would still be subject to the same planning process as other applications, subject to the same controls of site plans, etc. “Those controls could be put in place,” White said. “So, you know, one shed in addition to the micro house on each individual lot.”
A draft policy will come back to council and there will be public meeting.
“And when all of these items come back to council as part of a public meeting, we will have members of the public providing their input, we can discuss that further,” White said.