Orange County

Carrboro to see how tiny houses might fit into town fabric

In Chapel Hill, the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative his working with the Episcopal Church of the Advocate to build three tiny houses like this this year on the church’s 15-acre campus off Homestead Road.
In Chapel Hill, the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative his working with the Episcopal Church of the Advocate to build three tiny houses like this this year on the church’s 15-acre campus off Homestead Road. contributed

From “granny flats” to mini-cottages on wheels, the Carrboro aldermen are looking at how tiny homes might fit into the fabric of the town.

“This is a topic we’ve been interested in for a while,” said Mayor Lydia Lavelle. “It would be a good addition to our housing stock in Carrboro, where we’re so dense and we’re only 6.4 square miles. We’re looking for opportunities for our citizens be able to age in place and or be able to have an additional income stream by [having] an accessory unit or tiny house.”

With roughly 20,000 residents within town limits, Carrboro boasts the highest municipal population density in the state.

Lavelle said she’s heard from residents interested in the growing tiny house movement, which promotes small dwellings as a way to simplify daily living and cut down on expenses.

The tiny homes, usually under 500 square feet, can take a variety of forms, from accessory dwellings adjacent to a larger home, sometimes known as “granny flats” or in-law suites, to mobile units more akin to RVs.

Some advocates also see them as a possible option for those in need of affordable housing, including seniors, people living with disabilities, and the homeless.

In Chapel Hill, the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative his working with the Episcopal Church of the Advocate to build three tiny houses this year on the church’s 15-acre campus off Homestead Road.

The $150,000 pilot project is relying on volunteer labor and donations of cash and materials, including $15,000 from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and a $70,000 grant from Chapel Hill’s Affordable Housing Development Fund.

Accessory dwellings in particular have generated interest among Carrboro residents, Lavelle said.

“We’ll hear about someone that wants to add on an apartment, or add on a garage with an apartment above it,” she said. “Right now our code in many zones is pretty restrictive as far as that goes.”

Board members expressed enthusiasm for the tiny house concept, though Planning Director Trish McGuire noted planners will need to evaluate the full impact of tweaking the town code to allow additional residential units in existing neighborhoods.

You’ve got to rent to someone you’d be willing to live next to.

Alderwoman Jacquie Gist

“The density question is one we feel we need to explore before we start saying, ‘Everybody gets a free accessory dwelling unit,’” she told the board. “We need to know just what that would look like in town.”

Board members also want to make sure small housing units meant for seniors and those on limited budgets don’t get snapped up by student renters instead of the target populations.

Alderwoman Bethany Chaney suggested some kind of restrictive covenant could accompany a building permit. She cited an ordinance from Fresno, CA, that does not allow a property owner to rent both the primary and accessory units at the same time, requiring the owner to live on site.

“You’ve got to rent to someone you’d be willing to live next to,” noted Alderwoman Jacquie Gist.

Town planners will continue to explore how local and state regulations might accommodate a variety of tiny house styles and report their findings later this year.

In the meantime, officials will look for ways to collaborate with Orange County to build tiny homes on the edges of Carrboro. One possible site might be the Greene Tract, 104 acres on Eubanks Road jointly owned by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County that has been considered for affordable housing development projects.

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