BROOKSVILLE — The county is going to have to do something about the housing crunch if it’s going to keep attracting companies and workers to the area, county Administrator Jeff Rogers told commissioners on March 22.
It’s getting to the point where workers making $50,000 to $60,000 per year can’t find an affordable place to live and have to move into other counties, stressing the road system.
Builders are targeting the high end of the market, which is great if someone has the cash and is willing to wait several months or longer for a new house in a new subdivision, but again leaves single people and those just starting out with few viable options besides living on the streets, in their car or in a terrible mobile home or motel.
Commissioners had asked for a presentation on the laws surrounding “tiny homes,” which many people have seen on reality TV.
Commission Chairman Steve Champion said he has a tiny home on a lot in Tennessee, and it’s great. You just about can buy one at Home Depot in that state, he said, take it to your land and just plop it on there without any government interference.
That’s a far cry from what happens in Hernando County, commissioners heard from senior planner Michelle Miller.
It’s about “living with less,” Miller said, in a downsized living space of 100 to 500 square feet. There are several types of tiny homes, ranging from individual homes that are placed on a regular housing lot to communities of tiny homes, accessory units off a main house on a property and tiny homes for rental and recreation.
“We wanted to look at what building code requirements could and should be, and the impact on surrounding communities and infrastructure,” Miller said.
The two levels of regulation in the county depend on whether the tiny home is on a foundation or on wheels. On a foundation, it has to meet building code rules; on wheels, it goes through the motor vehicle department for a tag, and there are no applicable building codes.
The thing with a tiny home on wheels, Commissioner John Allocco noted, is that there would have to be tie-down requirements so the home didn’t become a missile in a hurricane.
Hernando’s building code limits homes built on foundations to a minimum of 600 square feet, Miller said, though no builder wants to build a home that small because of the small or nonexistent profit, as well as the probable and vocal opposition from nearby homeowners, especially if that lower limit was lowered, she told Rogers.
As for the Accessory Dwelling Units off a main house, in Hernando County the rules say the accessory unit has to be connected to the main house.
Allocco expressed frustration, noting he had to put in a breezeway just to comply with the rules.
Miller showed examples from around Florida of tiny homes. In Rockledge, one of the first cities to establish tiny home regulations, the houses range from 170 to 1,100 square feet, require open space and a homeowners association to maintain the common ground. One way square footage is grown is through “loft” space in the home, Miller said.
The homes can have front and back porches and other designs so that they’re not just boxes.
Longwood allows for individual homes as well as communities, Miller said, and it uses medium density classifications for the homes. Brevard County’s tiny home community is similar to a planned development project focused only on tiny homes, with no standard for density.
And in Key West, Miller said, the tiny homes are vacation rentals on wheels with no permanent residences allowed.
A way to get tiny homes allowed in Hernando County would be to establish an overlay district, and see where they can go, and modify land development regulations.
Several commissioners mentioned Tangerine Estates in particular and other old and decrepit mobile home parks, where the new tiny homes would be a boon, uplifting the neighborhood and increasing the tax base, especially in areas where there are no other communities nearby.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he has seen such homes on Little Road in Pasco County, and they looked “nice.”
In public comment, Josh Hofstedt of the affordable housing committee said if the tiny homes could be built to a standard they could be a solution. “The biggest thing is not what we want,” he said, “it’s what we need.”
If someone wants to live simply, it’s better for the environment, he added, and the NIMBYism — “not in my back yard” sentiment — needs to go away.
“We have to do something,” he said. “We can’t sit around and have our feelings hurt because someone wants to live next to us.”
Jo-Ann Peck, a licensed building contractor, said she has built tiny houses on foundations.
“We do not build in this county,” she said, because of the regulations.
They built a 150-square-foot cottage for a woman in Hillsborough County, and have even built tiny homes in Pasco County.
They’re not cheap, though, she said, costing about $200 a square foot, but you could meet the building code with a 150-square-foot house.
“What can we do to minimize the hurdles for someone wanting to do this? What changes to the code would be needed?” Rogers asked.
Miller said they could bring back a modification to the agricultural-residential zoning to allow for tiny homes, establishing a planned development process for tiny home developments and create an overlay district.
The presentation was for information, so there was no vote taken.
In other action
• Commissioners voted 5-0 to name a new facility at Anderson Snow Park after the late Harry Johnson, who worked for the county for decades as its manager of parks and recreation. A building at the park will be called the Harry A. Johnson Recreation Complex, the board decided.
• Rogers talked about park improvements, and Commissioner Jeff Holcomb was among the members expressing frustration with political candidates going around and running down the parks. They’re getting used every weekend, Holcomb said, and deserve public support. Champion mentioned the half-cent sales tax and also pointed out — again — that residents of Hernando Beach keep saying they want residents of other parts of the county to stay away from the trail system and other park amenities, while the residents he hears from who don’t speak out at county commission meetings say they want parking and other amenities so they can use the park facilities in Hernando Beach.
• Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve spending $6,500 on an analysis of economic development efforts in the county and Brooksville.
• A resident complained about delays in dredging on Pine Island, and Rogers explained that the problem is finding a manager for the project. “That project is really kind of held up right now. We’re advertising that position,” Rogers said. “New projects require time and effort and I don’t have a manager at this time. When we hire a manager, we’ll get that money pulled down and get it started.”