Councilors will consider tiny home regulations for the city of South Portland, putting aside discussion on movable tiny homes and focusing on more permanent housing options for low-income individuals. Contributed

SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials are at an impasse as to whether to allow tiny homes in the city.

Tiny houses are typically smaller than 400 square feet, and are seen as a cheaper, more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional dwellings. According to the Tiny House Listings website, prices range from $45,000 to $75,000, with options for renewable energy.

However, they’re not allowed under current city regulations, although the council is now mulling changes, including establishing a tiny house village for those who need more affordable housing opportunities.

“One of the things that had been talked about is the possibility to address homelessness,” City Manager Scott Morelli said in an interview Sept. 17. “It would help get permanent, affordable housing for families and they could avoid returning to homelessness.”

In addition to crafting zoning, Community Planner Justin Barker said the council needs to look at several policy options for movable and permanent locations, as there are no policies in place and permanent housing for tiny homes isn’t now allowed in South Portland.

City cuncilors agreed at a Sept. 10 meeting that tiny homes can contribute to a green economy. However, concerns centered around code standards for sewer and water lines.

“There’s a lack of clear definitions on what determines a tiny home,” Barker said. “But we should be focusing on utilities’ connection to public sewer or septic, which is critical to ensure safety of public health. Connection to public sewer requirements or fully working sewer system is in the works.”

According to a staff workshop summary from 2018, councilors said they prefer holding tanks to composting toilets, but more input should be included from planning, fire officials and water resource protection as regulations continue to be crafted.

Planning and Development Director Tex Hauser also suggested in 2018 that tiny homes could be allowed in the city as an experiment without implementing long-term zoning changes, but no direct action was taken.

Alan Plummer, who lives in Chelsea, spoke Sept. 10 about his experience as a tiny homeowner. He said some tiny homes on wheels are mobile, and are an affordable option that provides flexibility, temporary housing, rental income or a vacation home. It also allows for simple living, accommodating people who are seeking to downsize as they age.

“Five years ago I lost a significant job and found myself in a troubled spot with three children. I sold my house, helped my kids with college and built myself a tiny house,” he said. “I live simply and affordably and it gives me opportunities I didn’t have with my other job … You need to take perspective and look at what people other than you might have for a need.”

Councilors have tabled further discussion until a later, undetermined date.

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