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Brainerd Council: Small house concept closer to reality

The Brainerd City Council unanimously agreed to the concept of allowing 500-square-foot houses on non-conforming lots in the city. That’s an increase from the originally proposed 400 square feet. Jessie Perrine/Brainerd Dispatch

The idea of allowing small houses in Brainerd got an unofficial nod of approval Monday, but at a larger size than originally discussed.

The Brainerd City Council unanimously agreed to the concept of allowing 500-square-foot houses on non-conforming lots in the city. That’s an increase from the originally proposed 400 square feet.

The concept will go back to the planning department to make a few changes listed by the council Monday. It will be brought back before the council at the first meeting in July for the second reading.

City Council member Gary Scheeler suggested that 500 feet be the minimum instead of 400, making the change “from ‘tiny’ to ‘small houses.’” That would help from lowering real estate values as would be more conducive to neighborhoods, he said.

“I am opposed to tiny houses, but willing to make something work with small houses for the good of Brainerd,” he said.

The council agreed.

Other changes made by the council Monday include:

• The small houses only be allowed on non-conforming lots. That means lots less than 7,000 square feet.

• This is a conditional use and would only be a trial basis, to be revisited again in a year.

The council first started tossing around the idea of allowing smaller houses on non-conforming infill lots after the topic came to the council as a recommendation from the Brainerd Planning Commission.

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.

At the first reading of the proposed ordinance change, 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.

At the May 5 council meeting, the group held off movement on the topic until staff addressed a few concerns spelled out in a letter by the Greater Lakes Realtors Association.

At a previous meeting, City Planner Mark Ostgarden said he is “torn” on the issue.

“I can see the benefits this can do for city, but I don’t think it’s a community issue right now because I don’t think there’s a market for it,” he said.

A recent survey given by the planning department to community leaders showed 61.5 percent of respondents supported the proposed ordinance changes.

The survey also showed most people agreed the proposed change would increase building on vacant lots and would also change the value in surrounding properties.

City council member Mary Koep said allowing small houses would be a positive for Brainerd.

“Small houses will bring in very nice people who otherwise wouldn’t buy a house here or even rent here,” she said. “I really think we’re looking at an opportunity here. It’s a trend that’s coming.”

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at jessie.perrine@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.s