Tiny home complex in Milner 1 step closer to reality after Routt County commissioners OK plan, with conditions
March 13, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Members of the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a conceptual plan and subdivision that would bring six tiny homes to unincorporated Milner, just off U.S. Highway 40 about 10 miles west of Steamboat Springs.
That decision elicited a stir of disapproval from about 30 people in the audience, most of them Milner residents, who attended the meeting to protest the plan.
Michael Buccino, a Steamboat resident and owner of Micro Living LLC, has been spearheading the Cheney Creek Tiny Homes project that he presented to the commissioners Tuesday. He had a markedly different reaction following the decision.
“I’m elated,” he said.
Buccino has spent the past year working toward establishing a tiny home community in Routt County to provide more affordable housing and to show that such communities can be a viable option for small families.
He made sure to clarify that Tuesday’s approval does not guarantee construction of the project. Rather, commissioners voted that the conceptual plan meets the county’s building and zoning codes.
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They gave their approval on several conditions, some of which include requirements for snow removal, parking restrictions and a hydrological survey of the Milner area.
A contentious issue
The plan passed on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Doug Monger opposing the number of houses slated for construction. He believed that constructing four tiny homes on the lot would be more manageable. He also echoed concerns from the public about how the proposed development could change the rural character of Milner and stress the area’s limited resources.
Alan Goldich, a planner with Routt County, said current zoning regulations would allow the construction of two larger, more traditional homes on the property.
Buccino’s plan includes six homes, each of them less than 400 square feet, arranged around a rectangular, 2,900-square-foot common space. Each home would have a full kitchen and bathroom as well as a loft for a bed and storage.
Buccino envisions the homes' potential inhabitants to be younger single people wanting a cheap house or older couples looking to downsize. His plans differ from many other tiny home projects in that people could buy the land on which each home sits.
He referred to other types of tiny homes, most of which have wheels under them, as “glamorized trailers” that do not offer the chance for permanent residency.
He projects the price of each Milner home, along with the land under it, to range from $150,000 to $170,000.
Residents from Milner and across Routt County have opposed the project, sending complaint letters to county officials and submitting a petition to nix the plan. It had 36 signatures by Tuesday, according to Goldich.
Kimberly Waldschmidt was among the Milner residents who made a comment against the project during the commissioners' meeting Tuesday. She has lived in the town for several years and worries that allowing a cluster of tiny homes would set a precedent for even more high-density housing like apartment complexes.
“If you allow the change for medium-density to high-density, where do you call an end to that?” she asked.
She shared the concerns of other residents who do not want to see the rural character of Milner flood with new residents and housing developments.
“Those of us who have lived out there for a good number of years did not sign up to live in a high-density community,” she said.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan assured the audience that he and his fellow commissioners would not allow this single decision to create a snowball effect.
“When we consider any kind of a land-use application, we look at the cumulative impact,” he said. “There would be a limit to the number of these kinds of developments in Milner.”
Concerns over water
A primary concern raised by residents and even commissioners was how the six homes would exacerbate water usage in an area that has faced shortages in the past.
Several residents took to the podium to recount tales of their wells drying up after a new neighbor moved in or following an especially dry summer.
The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that the average American household uses more than 300 gallons of water per day.
Buccino expects the water use of each tiny home to be much less than that national average due to the physical limitation of how many people could live there. The homes also would not have a washing machine, which can account for 15 to 40 percent of a household’s water usage, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency.
Commissioner Beth Melton added that concerns over water use would be an issue with any construction project in the area.
“We might have the same questions if there were one or two single-family homes being built on this space,” she said.
Still, the commissioners approved the conceptual plan on the condition that an expert must conduct a hydrological survey to ensure that the land can handle a spike in water usage.
Buccino agreed to that stipulation but worried that requiring too many tests, some of which he sees as unnecessary for the size and scope of the project, would counteract his goal to keep the tiny houses affordable.
“When we start adding costs, that is just going to add to the price of these homes,” he said.
With the commissioners' approval, Buccino now must meet their conditions before submitting a finalized construction plan to the Routt County Planning Commission.
He hopes to submit a finalized plan by the end of April and, if approved by the Planning Commission and the county commissioners, break ground on the site in May.