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What size house is too small in Brainerd?

The question of small square footage houses was before the Brainerd City Council

How small is too small for a house in Brainerd?

That question was before the Brainerd City Council Monday as they tossed around the idea of allowing smaller houses, ranging in size between 400-750 square feet on non-conforming infill lots.

The topic came to the council as a recommendation from the Planning Commission. The council voted to hold the first reading of the proposed Zoning Ordinance change. Many council members noted they agreed to the reading only to hear what residents think about the idea during a public hearing, which will be held at the next city council meeting. Then, should the council choose, they can hold a second and final reading of the proposed zoning ordinance change.

Voting against was city council member Gary Scheeler.

The current requirement for house size calls for a 750 square foot minimum. Some definitions in the ordinance say 1,000 square feet, which the Planning Commission also wants to clarify.

Planning Commission member Sarah Hayden said the group took the issue on a year ago to promote building on vacant lots.

There are 465 vacant lots in the city, she said, many of which had previously held houses or are odd-shaped and “can’t be built on while meeting current city codes, or would leave a small yard” if houses were built.

Hayden said adding flexibility into the city code was important and it will be more accommodating for some people in the community. Smaller houses are low maintenance but affordable, she said.

Scheeler said he didn’t like the idea at all, arguing it would decrease property values for surrounding houses.

City Council member Mary Koep said allowing smaller houses might encourage more people to buy who otherwise wouldn’t be able, such as young adults just starting out or the elderly.

Mayor James Wallin said he is interested in what both residents and real estate agents will have to say, but his “gut reaction” is that it’s not something Brainerd will grasp right now.

City Planner Mark Ostgarden said the Planning Commission put a call out to real estate agents and community leaders, but expressed frustration that there was almost no feedback.

Other items the Planning Commission suggested be changed in the Zoning Ordinance include:

■ Correct conflicting language by specifying that minimum dwelling area permitted by right is 750 square feet. One section specifies 750 square feet, while another says 1,000 square feet. This would be a suggestion should the idea of allowing small houses be turned down.

■ Permitting, by conditional use permit, dwellings less than 750 square feet in R-1 and R-2 districts.

■ Permitting, by conditional use permit, dwellings less than 22 feet wide.

■ Limiting the size of accessory buildings for dwellings less than 750 square feet.

■ Including a definition for “infill” to be “any vacant lot or parcel which meets all of the following: served by public sewers, fronts an existing public street and bounded on one or more sides by lots one acre in size or smaller with residential structures in an otherwise built-up area.”

■ Including standards for construction for infill residential development.

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at