A big push for tiny houses in Brevard

Mike Cheatham, a Melbourne resident who spent years in the construction industry, can recall having to scramble for a new line of work about 10 years ago when the bottom fell out of the housing market.

It became known as the Great Recession. And as many Americans started seeking more affordable, simpler lifestyles, Cheatham followed the new market and formed Movable Roots with his wife, Nikki, and brother, John. They would specialize in what a growing number of customers wanted: tiny houses, with floor areas less than 500 square feet.

The company builds the homes in its Melbourne warehouse and, so far, has sent one to Orlando, one to Sanford, and two to Austin and Houston in Texas. But apart from the company’s model home, he said, Movable Roots has “absolutely zero” in Brevard County.

There just weren’t many places here where they would be allowed under zoning regulations, he said.

And County Commissioner John Tobia, who explored the model in late 2016 at Eau Gallie’s Rocky Water Brew Fest, says he wants to change that.

“I got really impressed with the tiny house,” Tobia, whose district includes the South Beaches, said last week. “I asked where you could find one in Brevard County. (Cheatham) said in a 55-plus community, and I’m not 55, or in an RV park. I told him I’d stay in contact.”

Commissioners in February 2017 asked Planning and Development Director Tad Calkins to prepare a report on how to allow tiny homes. And on May 8, they voted 5-0 to have Calkins’ staff develop new regulations, such as eliminating the minimum floor area, and report back in the future for approval.

“I’m extremely happy at just the potential” of new laws, Cheatham said. “This is something we definitely need. We welcome regulation and inspection.”

So far in Brevard County, only the city of Rockledge has approved rules for a tiny-house neighborhood.

Tiny homes come in two basic types:

  • Those on foundations, whether built on site or manufactured and placed on a foundation.
  • THOWs, or Tiny Homes on Wheels, which are manufactured on a chassis and towed to a homesite. They are built for permanent residence, but limited by Florida law to 180-day occupation. That’s the rule governing recreational vehicles, the closest the state comes to tiny homes on wheels.

At the meeting, Pritchett said she didn’t have a problem working the foundation version of tiny houses into existing county rules, but said the wheeled version poses questions.

“We would need new zoning for the ones on wheels,” she said. “It all sounds like RVs to me.”

And even if the county developed rules for THOWs, Calkins said, they would need to be certified by an engineer that they meet those rules. And that’s more difficult when they’re manufactured in a factory, sometimes in other states, rather than built on site.

“Our engineers could certify their plans,” Calkins said.

And Florida recognizes the certifications of engineers in 37 other states, he said, so their engineers could certify the manufacturing of tiny homes in those states.

Barfield, of Merritt Island, said tiny homes could appeal to the large number of service workers in the county.

“A lot of people in the hospitality industry don’t ever have the opportunity for homeownership,” he said. “This gives them that opportunity. We need to get out ahead of this with good planning.”

Isnardi, of Palm Bay, hailed the idea of tiny homes “for 150 reasons,” but said she wanted to see more zoning proposals.

“I’m OK with them in agricultural and residential areas,” she said. “I could see 15 houses in my neighborhood that look worse than these houses.”

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