It has been quite a process to get to this point and it’s always nerve-wracking applying for a building permit. As I ride the elevator to the third floor of the Civic Building, I can’t shake the feeling that after all of this work we may still not reach our goal – permission to build the Tiny House.
When the elevator doors open, I begin the journey that the City of Pittsburgh refers to as applying for a building permit. First I turn left and head towards the zoning counter. This time I’m lucky and am able to walk straight up to the counter without waiting in line. I submit my completed occupancy application and answer a number of questions, such as “what’s the size of the deck?”, “what materials will be used for the pergola?” and “what are the overall dimensions of the house?”. When the questions are complete I’m given a receipt.
With receipt in hand I cross the hall towards the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections (PLI). I visit the cashier on the way who takes the zoning receipt and creates a file for the project and gives me a second receipt.
With the second receipt in hand I enter PLI and line up at the submission counter on the left. When it’s my turn I submit two sets of construction documents, stamped with our architect’s seal, along with a completed application form and the paperwork I had received from the zoning desk and the second receipt from the cashier.
They give the drawings a number and enter us into the queue of other hopeful projects awaiting their fate. Then they hand me (yes, you guessed it) a THIRD receipt which I will have to bring back once the building permit is approved.
All we can do now is wait for the call.
Today is a big day for cityLAB’s Tiny House. Our funding is finally in place. Well, almost….
Let me explain.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority has approved a key piece of funding. That funding, along with grants from the BGC, Neighborhood Allies and IKEA Pittsburgh, frees us up to begin construction once the land is purchased. It is a huge step forward in this process.
So, what’s missing? About $100,000 is missing!
Typically a bank would finance the majority of a construction loan. But since the Garfield Tiny House is the first tiny house to be built in Pittsburgh, there are no comparables, and since there are no comparables, there is no established market. This is a problem for most banks. But it poses a challenge we are prepared to meet – and add another first to our list of firsts.
Say hello to Small Change, one of a new breed of equity crowdfunding platforms. Small Change will launch in a few short weeks with a crowdfunding campaign for the Tiny House. We’ll invite friends, family and YOU* to invest, have an ownership stake in and help build the Tiny House.
Your small change will help make real change.
*You’ll need to be an accredited investor to invest in the Tiny House. Look for unaccredited investment opportunities in the future. Sign up at smallchange.com to learn more.
Maybe you are wondering how we’ll determine the sales price of the Tiny House. This is a little tricky, because to date, no tiny houses have been built in Pittsburgh or in Garfield, so what is the Tiny House worth? But wait, you say, isn’t it worth the amount it cost to build? Not at all. It is worth what someone will pay for it, and what someone will pay for it is generally established through an appraisal.
An appraisal is a written estimate of a property’s market value. The bank that lends money to the eventual owner of the Tiny House, will only want to lend an amount that is in line with the existing market and the appraisal.
How does an appraiser establish the market value of the Tiny House (or in fact any house)? Since the house is not yet built, first they will review the construction drawings and the construction estimate to determine the quality of the construction. Second they review the value of the land. And third they will review comparable properties in the area. Since there are no tiny houses, in this instance comparable properties might include studio rentals where the comparison will be made between monthly rent installments versus the homeowner’s PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) payments.
We’ll have an appraisal soon, thanks to a generous donation of this work by Integra Realty Resources (http://www.irr.com/About/Office.asp?RefItem=PittsburghPA. Thank you Integra!
Forty-five days after the zoning hearing, we have finally received the long-awaited decision.
If you recall, we had requested three variances. One was a code exception that was granted at the hearing – a request to eliminate the required off street parking space. That left us waiting for two decisions to be made:
permission to build on a lot that is less than 1,800 square feet and
permission to reduce the required fifteen foot rear yard setback to three feet.
The Tiny House has been approved and we are deliriously happy! And now we plod on to the next step -. the building permit. While we continue to finalize construction details, permitting and timeline, we are also finalizing the financing of our Tiny House, we hope to share that with you soon.
In March the Tiny House went before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Architect Chad Chalmers presented our request for the three variances we need to build at 233 N. Atlantic Avenue. We requested the following variances:
A reduction in the minimum site requirement of 1800 s.f. (our site is only 1050 s.f.);
A waiver to require no off-street parking since our site is so small; and
A reduced rear yard setback, from fifteen feet down to three feet, so that we can maximize our use of the tiny site.
Our request for no off-street parking was granted at the hearing, since there is an exception in the code that permits this. The Zoning Board is required to make a decision within forty-five days regarding the remaining variance requests.
Although we need to wait for the Board’s decision, this has not slowed our progress. We’re continuing to gather pricing information, working with local contractors to come up with a final cost for our Tiny House. After we finalize the numbers we’ll be sharing that process with you.
Our upcoming zoning hearing is a very important day for us, because that will be the day we find out if we receive our site variances for the project. Our site is impossible to build on without these variances if we follow all of the current zoning code requirements. What problems have we encountered? Read on…
First, our site is less than 1,800 SF, which is the minimum permitted buildable lot size in the City of Pittsburgh.
Second, the setbacks. Front and rear setbacks are required to be fifteen feet each, and side setbacks are required to be five feet from the property line. But we can take some more lenient contextual setbacks, meaning if the neighbors did it, so can we. This reduces the side yard setbacks to only three feet and we don’t need a setback at all in the front.
Third, parking. The City of Pittsburgh requires one off-street parking space per dwelling unit. A standard parking space is ten feet wide by twenty feet deep. On a site that is only twenty-four feet wide by forty-three feet deep, that’s a lot of space to give up just to park a car. To make matters worse, the contextual front yard setback only applies to the structure and not the parking space, so the parking space is required to be set back fifteen feet from the sidewalk.
Are you confused yet? The resulting buildable area, if we were to follow the existing zoning codes, would look just like this
And so, in order to build our Tiny House we need to ask for the following variances:
- - permission to build on a site smaller than 1,800 square feet
- - a rear yard setback of three feet, instead of fifteen feet; and
- - a waiver of the on site parking requirements.
The Garfield Tiny House continues to increase in popularity and has officially participated in its television debut! Our tiny house is all grown up. Investigative reporter Andy Sheehan of KDKA-TV aired a story about Garfield, and Pittsburgh’s first Tiny House. You can watch Andy and Eve here as they talk about the process to date, some of the roadblocks, and what this Tiny House is going to mean for Garfield. And even Mayor Peduto joins in. Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for more Tiny House.
The community meeting tonight has been moved to the St. Maria Goretti Activities Center, located at Broad St. and N. Atlantic Ave. The meeting will be held on the lower level, with entry right off the parking lot on N. Atlantic Ave.
As you may (or may not) know, the zoning hearing for our Tiny House in Garfield is fast approaching. Before the hearing we wanted to get the neighbors up to speed on what’s happening. We will be holding a community meeting at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation Youth Development Center to discuss the project. This is an opportunity to learn about the project or follow up on the progress and give some input. Come and let us know what you think! More details regarding date, time and RSVP information are on the flier.