Tiny homes in back of single-family dwellings are frequently cited as a potential solution to the crisis of affordable housing in Canada.
Norfolk council had an opportunity to take the lead in this area on Dec. 10 but deferred a decision while staff collects more information.
A planning report said allowing the conversion of accessory buildings in backyards could be a source of new housing in Norfolk County. While delivering his report, planner Mat Vaughan said the shortage of affordable housing in Norfolk is serious.
“We need housing,” he said. “We need affordable housing especially.
“We’re really lacking right now.”
As last Tuesday’s discussion progressed, council concluded it had more questions than answers.
Mayor Kristal Chopp supports the tiny-home concept. But at this point, she is focused on potential impacts on the county treasury.
Before she makes a decision, Chopp wants to know if increasing the density of neighbourhoods will increase costs in the area of garbage collection and the delivery of water and sewer service. Chopp also wants to know the potential impact on the county’s assessment base.
“We just increased our water charges 16.8 per cents,” she said. “We’re not going to increase the costs to Norfolk County.”
In his report, Vaughan suggested rules for converting accessory buildings in residential, hamlet and agricultural areas. Proposals include:
- Capping the maximum area of an accessory dwelling at 45 per cent of the gross square footage of the property’s main dwelling unit.
- Capping the maximum separation of an accessory dwelling at 30 metres from a property’s main dwelling unit.
- Setting minimum interior side yard and rear yard setbacks of 3.3 metres. This is prudent, Vaughan said, to provide the single parking space each accessory dwelling unit would require.
The tiny home concept is not new. Accessory dwelling units for extended family members are common in Europe. Coach houses in Great Britain have provided accessory housing on estate properties for centuries.
Norfolk and other municipalities also have provisions for granny flats, garden suites and laneway homes. These tend to be temporary and usually come with an expiry date.
Following a preliminary report in July, Norfolk planning staff was asked to prepare the more detailed report discussed at the Dec. 17 meeting.
In between, the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square was the scene of a contentious public debate Sept. 10 involving a backyard living space.
At issue was an application for a 710-square-foot “entertainment venue” in the backyard of a home on Werrett Avenue in Simcoe.
The applicant sought relief of 118 square feet from the county provision capping the square footage of accessory buildings at 592 square feet. The proposed height of 21.65 feet required relief from the county’s height maximum for accessory structures, which is set at 16.25 feet.
Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin wonders if the tiny home concept – as presented on Dec. 10 – is setting Norfolk County up for an endless series of disputes such as this.
Because the concept is so new to Norfolk, Martin doesn’t feel it appropriate to refer these decisions to the committee of adjustment. She also doesn’t want them proliferating on the agenda of council’s public hearing committee.
Vaughan replied that the criteria – as drafted – anticipates some of these challenges.
The 45-per-cent rule on floor area, he pointed out, ensures that accessory dwellings are proportional to the existing property. As well, Vaughan said the 30-metre maximum separation ensures the residential component of a property remains clustered.
In the agricultural zone, Vaughan said there is an opportunity here to re-purpose bunkhouses which – for whatever reason – are no longer used.
Norfolk council will revisit the issue in the new year, most likely at 2020’s first scheduled meeting of the public hearing committee Jan. 7.