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.
You might remember that the original plans for Minim show it built on a trailer. This is a very common way to construct a tiny house, but it is important to understand the laws where you intend to live. Your municipality might not let you have a tiny house on wheels and here in Pittsburgh, ours does not.
The City of Pittsburgh follows the International Residential (building) Code which states that “buildings and structures … shall be constructed to safely support all loads … The construction of buildings … shall result in a system that provides a complete load path…to the foundation.” If you really want to geek out, you can read more about this here.
Basically, this means that in Pittsburgh’s residential neighborhoods, like our small plot in Garfield, buildings are
required to have a solid attachment to the ground to be considered structurally stable. Neither the International Residential Code nor the City of Pittsburgh considers a trailer with wheels to be a solid attachment to the ground.
So, what does this mean? This means that in the City of Pittsburgh the wheels are off.
Now that our new direction is set, it’s full speed ahead. Chad promises that construction drawings will be complete in ten days. We’ll put the house out to bid again and hope to have our first round of numbers back within a few weeks. Once we have finished bidding and value engineering, we’ll apply for a building permit and should have the process well underway by the time we have our zoning hearing in March. With zoning approval and permit in hand we’ll be ready to start.
At the same time, once the bidding is complete and the budget is finalized, we can begin the task of finding financing for the Garfield Tiny House.
Come spring, when the ground thaws, we want to put shovel to ground.
Over the last month we’ve reconsidered a number of things, and I’m going to explain why.
Our goal was to build Minim without pursuing a variance of any kind. We wanted to show you how to build a tiny house in the simplest of ways. But last week we discovered that the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will not permit us to build on our tiny, 1050 square foot site without applying for a variance. We had originally expected the site to be “grandfathered in” considering that it once had a house on it. Now the code requires a minimum lot size of 1,800 square feet and the City is going to hold us to it. Given that we have to apply for a variance anyway, we’ve decided to apply for several more, leading me to our redesign.
December brought winter, and a bunch of very expensive tiny house bids. There are a number of factors that we believe caused this. First, some of the larger contractors we approached simply can’t efficiently bid a tiny house. Our best approach will be to have two guys on site who build everything themselves, with a little help from a roofer, plumber and electrician. Second, Minim’s design separates out the kitchen and bathroom plumbing. This makes no difference on a trailer, but it makes a lot of difference on a building site. You need kitchen and bathroom plumbing backing onto each other to have the most cost effective solution. Third, we disliked the siting of Minim, lengthways along the site. In particular we thought its tiny elevation would not look good on the street. Fourth, using 170 square feet of our tiny 1,050 square foot site seems downright foolish. So we have redesigned our tiny house into a compact L-shape which hugs the back of the site. We’re planning a beautiful garden out front and the owner will park on the street. While we’ll keep some interior elements of the Minim design, we’re ready to call it The Garfield Tiny House instead.
Our zoning hearing is in March and we’ve applied for the following variances:
- A reduced rear yard setback of 3 feet;
- Waiver of the on-site parking requirement; and
- Permission to build on a site that is smaller than 1,800 square feet.
Slowing down and changing direction has allowed us to develop a more attractive solution for our tiny site dilemma.
You might think that construction costs are all that we have to worry about. Not true. There are many and varied expenses that make up the cost of a development project, whether tiny or not. We’ll have to consider this entire checklist:
• The cost of the land;
• A survey;
• The Minim plans;
• Architect fees to help with zoning code compliance, permitting and contract administration;
• Site engineering;
• Permitting fees;
• Legal fees to purchase the land and sell the house;
• Title, recording fees and transfer taxes;
• Holding costs including property taxes, water, sewer and interest on a construction loan;
• Concrete foundations;
• Utility hookup fees;
• A crushed gravel, paver or concrete driveway and a curb cut to the street;
• The house;
• Appliances, including stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and washer/drier;
• The deck and stairs; and
• Landscaping, including the removal of a very large tree at the corner of the site.
We’ll have to consider all of these before we set a sales price. Affordable is the goal. I’m going to sharpen my pencil now.