How to Initiate Tiny House Friendly Zoning Changes

  1. Research the existing zoning regulations to determine what is allowed within the current codes. You may want to contact both the city and the county, since different regulations can  apply to property that is within the city limits versus in unincorporated areas.
  2. Define your goals. Would you like to….
    • eliminate or reduce square foot minimums for new houses on foundations?
    • allow accessory dwelling units in the backyards of existing homes?
    • redefine accessory dwelling units to include tiny houses on wheels?
    • create a tiny house community (pocket neighborhood)? Will it be for tiny houses on wheels, on foundations, or a mix? Will residency be open to anyone or only a special group (veterans, low income households, homeless folks)?
  3. Draft a presentation that explains what you are asking for and how it will benefit the city or county. Prepare both a high level overview and a more detailed plan with definitions, illustrations, pictures and numbers. If possible, include references to other regions that have adopted the same regulations that you would like to see in your neighborhood.
  4. Decide whom to approach. It may take a few phone calls to the local zoning & planning commission to determine who would be the best person.
  5. Ask for an informal meeting with the individual you identified above. (Here’s a sample email.)
  6. During the meeting, maintain a positive, friendly attitude. Present just your overview and be receptive to any concerns raised. See the tips below. As the meeting wraps up, be sure you understand next steps –
    • Will there be a follow up meeting with this person? Do you need to provide additional information?
    • Or is the next step a more formal presentation at a regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting? How do you get on the calendar? Is an application required? Must you pay a fee?
  7. Modify your more detailed plan based on the information you learned at your initial meeting.
  8. Prepare to speak at the Planning Commission: For those that an unfamiliar with your local government operations, all meetings most likely follow Robert’s Rules of Order. There will be an agenda, and you will need to get on it if you want to address an agenda item (like your tiny house zoning request). Contact your officials and request to be put on the agenda to address your item. If you did not get on the agenda ahead of time, there may be some speaker cards in the meeting room that you can fill out and turn into the secretary prior to the start of the meeting. When your name is called, move to the podium, state your name and address for the record, and address your item. How much or how little needs to be said will be dependent on any opposition you may face from the Commission members.
  9. Present your plan to the next level of authority, perhaps the City Council. The same meeting rules apply as above.
  10. If your plan is not approved (either is rejected or no motion is taken on it), don’t give up. You may be able to present it again at the next meeting.

Sample email from Rene’ Hardee to the City Manager
Dear Mr. McKnight,

My name is Rene’ Hardee and I am a proud citizen of Rockledge Florida! My husband, Chris, 3 yr old son, Max, and 10 month old son, Sam, and I currently live in a 2000 square foot house in Huntington Lakes. We love our neighborhood and enjoy our Rockledge Community very much. We frequent McKnight and McLarty Parks, are regulars at Malibus for Saturday morning pancakes, and look forward to the parades and craft shows that frequent Barton Blvd. Rockledge is the perfect location for our family; 45 minutes from Orlando airport, 15 minutes to the beach, 15 minutes from my job as a Quality Specialist at Sun Nuclear Corporation in Suntree, 25 minutes from my husband’s job as the IT Specialist at Space Coast Jr. Sr. High in Port St. John, and no more than 30 minutes from almost everywhere else in Brevard County.

The reason I am writing you today is twofold. First, I would like to thank you for all your years of hard work and dedication devoted to making Rockledge, FL a great place to live and raise a family. I truly feel like we live in paradise! Second, I would like to share with you a family goal that we have recently created and would like to ask for your assistance in helping us achieve this goal.

We would like to build and live in a small home of approximately 500 sq. ft. within the Rockledge city limits. While we are still several years from realizing this goal, we would like to ask for your consideration in zoning an area for housing of this size.

We have several reasons for wanting to make such a drastic downsizing. We have come to the realization that we need to simplify our lives. There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Because my husband and I both work full time, and because we love the community experience, we spend very little time enjoying our home. The 2 hours a night we have with our children before their bedtime is spent doing chores to take care of our 2000 square feet and all our stuff. Weekends are spent playing catch-up to all the chores that didn’t get completed during the week. We currently only use about half our house, but even that is more space than we need. The maintenance required to take care of such a large house is robbing us of our quality time as a family.

We have too much stuff. As you may know, the more space you have to put stuff, the more stuff you accumulate. And in the end, your possessions end up owning you. We would like a home that requires us to be choosy about our possessions. We want our children to be less driven by things, and more driven by experiences. We have begun the process of downsizing our possessions. We have a whole room full of things to be sold or donated, but there is still much more to be done.

We want to spend more time and money within our community having experiences. We love going out to eat, but rarely do because most of the money we would spend on meals is spent paying for and maintaining our large house. Freeing up our finances will allow us to spread the wealth, to our local eateries, shops, our church, schools, and shared community amenities, not to mention how much more we could contribute to our own retirement and children’s college fund for a better future.

I would like to be clear that in no way are we looking to evade our civic duty of paying our fair share of property taxes. Our children will soon be attending the public school system, and we plan on using the shared community facilities even more in the future. Maybe there is a way we can work out a win-win situation where we can build a small home, but still contribute financially?

I would love to dialogue with you more about this topic in person if you can spare the time. I have already met in person with Mr. Griffin and Ms. Bernard during my initial research phase and they were both very welcoming to my inquiries.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter, Mr. McKnight. I hope to hear back from you soon!

Regards,
Rene’ Hardee

His reply:
Rene’,

First of all, thank you for your kind comments about your city. It is truly a team effort that starts with the City Council and the policy decisions they make for staff to carry out. While we have 235 dedicated employees, we also have some wonderful volunteers that a make a big difference every day in our community!

I think it would be best if we sat down and discussed your concept rather than emailing thoughts back and forth. It is certainly a request I have never seen, but appears the Hardee family has the right priorities! Please call and we will set up a time to meet and discuss your ideas. My Assistant is Margaret and she will arrange a time that best fits your schedule.

Jim McKnight, City Manager

Tips for Your First Meeting
From a blog post written by Rene’ Hardee for Tiny House Talk:
I’ve found these tips to be quite helpful for meeting with City Officials:
– Dress for success. Business attire is appropriate.
– Give a firm handshake. Even the ladies.
– Use plenty of eye contact.
– Address the official by Mr. or Ms. Lastname, unless they tell you not to.
– Thank them for meeting with you.

Your initial interaction might go something like this:
You: Good Morning, Mr. Griffin!

[extend hand] Rene’ Hardee. I know you are very busy, so thank you so much for meeting with me this morning.
Official: Hello Mrs. Hardee. How can I help you today?

This is where you should state your goals. These should always remain at the forefront of all your interactions. Share with them the challenges you are facing and ask for their help in achieving your goals. What are your options? Remember, you are looking to them as experts in your City’s regulations. They might have some really good ideas that you didn’t think were possible!

For instance, our family goals are to live a simpler life and have more quality family time. The challenges to this are the maintenance and expense of owning a large home, and the lack of options to legally own a Tiny Home.