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Small houses OK in Brainerd, council decides

Small houses will be allowed in Brainerd, but with a few very specific regulations.

At the Brainerd City Council meeting Monday, the group held the final reading of the ordinance that will allow 500-square-foot houses on non-conforming lots in the city.

Voting against the motion was city council member Dolly Matten, saying she didn't agree with the 18-foot width minimum.

A few other stipulations include:

• The minimum square foot area be increased from the previously suggested 400-square-foot minimum to 500 square feet.

• Houses less than 750 square feet are permitted by conditional use permit (CUP) only on non-conforming lots.

• Houses less than 750 square feet are permitted only on non-conforming lots established prior to 1989, which would limit the area where the small houses can be constructed.

The council first started tossing around the idea of allowing smaller houses on non-conforming 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.

City Planner Mark Ostgarden said with the adopted regulations, as many as 500 lots could qualify for a tiny house, though it's difficult to be precise, he said.

The ordinance will take effect one week after publication.

Interested builders can submit a CUP application and have a Planning Commission hearing, a recommendation and City Council action in July. If approved, a building permit could be approved shortly after.

Ostgarden noted that officials will keep a close eye on the ordnance change and its effects. Changes can be made in the future if needed, he said.