'Tiny homes’ a reality in Norfolk

Norfolk County has adopted policies that allow for the creation of accessory dwelling units on properties that have a primary dwelling unit. This photo displays the interior of a tiny home which – in Norfolk – will have a maximum floor area of 1,076 square feet. Postmedia Network jpg, DN

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A “tiny home” in Norfolk County could be coming to a backyard near you.

Some details have yet to be worked out, but Norfolk council has approved the general outline for allowing the conversion of small, accessory buildings in urban and rural areas to housing.

The Ontario government recently made tiny homes possible as part of its Housing Supply Action Plan. The province and municipalities are moving in this direction due to an affordable housing shortage that has emerged throughout much of Canada.

“(Haldimand and Norfolk) Housing Services has identified the acute need for affordable housing units in Norfolk County,” principal planner Mat Vaughan said in a report to council that was approved on Jan. 7.

“This report aims to provide potential options to revise existing regulations to permit tiny homes and other housing forms in more places as-of-right.”

An unresolved question following the approval remains billing for the delivery of municipal water to new accessory dwellings.

Past councils have flirted with the idea of requiring each dwelling unit in the urban zone to have its own water meter and billing account. The county never acted because – from a collections standpoint — it is easier to hold landlords responsible for unpaid water usage.

Under the current system, unpaid tenant bills are a landlord’s responsibility. Unpaid accounts can be tacked onto the owner’s property tax bill.

As well — if unpaid usage reaches a certain point — it is a simple matter for public works to cut off the water supply at the property line.

However – with the number of billable customers about to escalate – Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp wonders if the cash-strapped water and sewer division is about to sell itself short.

“The bulk of my bill is the flat-rate delivery piece,” Chopp told council.

“Why should other users in the system bear a greater cost than someone who builds a tiny home? To me, they should have to contribute their share of the flat rate; the idea of the water plant and the lines to make it to that property.

“They are putting additional strain onto our facilities – not just water consumption but the actual infrastructure.”

The basic charge in Norfolk is about $60 per month. Chopp says having every user pay the $700-plus annual fee is worth considering – especially given council’s recent 16.8-per-cent increase in residential water and sewer rates.

On the other side of the issue is Charlotteville Coun. Chris Van Paassen.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Van Paassen cited local labour board statistics which say nearly 1,200 jobs in Norfolk have gone unfilled because prospective employees cannot find affordable housing.

If Norfolk makes it easy for workers to move to the county, Van Paassen said the municipality will gain in improved economic performance what it foregoes in the flat-rate billing charge.

“Is the goal to develop a system where we can collect the most money on building an accessory apartment or an accessory dwelling?” Van Paassen asked.

“Or is the goal to create an environment where we can get new people coming in who can fill these jobs and the county can prosper? And that’s where your money will come down the road.”

Further consultation with Norfolk’s public works department is needed, but planner Vaughan said an adjustment in the direction Chopp suggested is likely feasible.

The Jan. 7 resolution caps the usable floor area of an accessory dwelling at 45 per cent of the gross floor area of the main dwelling unit — decks and porches excluded. Meanwhile, Norfolk’s development charges bylaw caps the allowable floor area of a “tiny home” at 100 square metres, or 1,076 square feet. Adjustments will have to be made to harmonize these provisions.

Accessory dwellings must be located on the same parcel as the primary dwelling and be no farther than 30 metres from the same. At least one parking space must be provided for each accessory dwelling.

Tiny homes and accessory dwellings will also be allowed in the agricultural zone. Bunk houses are eligible for conversion provided they are rated for five or fewer workers.