Plan commissioners to study minimum size standards for new home construction

By Brandi Makuski

Plan commissioners on Monday will be asked to review the city’s zoning code governing minimum size requirements on dwelling sizes.

It’s the latest in a series of reviews to existing codes, although it’s separate from a recent presentation on updates to property maintenance codes brought before members of the city council in January.

Under existing code, residential properties are required to be, depending on the zoning district, at least 1,200 or 900 square feet in size, with a minimum width of either 22 or 18 feet. But Community Development Director Ryan Kernosky said his office does receive phone calls from developers asking about guidelines for smaller homes.

“In the last several years, home width, more than [the] home size has been a limitation for development, especially on smaller lots,” Kernosky’s memo to the plan commission reads in part.

Kernosky said with growing popularity in smaller home sizes, due to a growing number of empty-nesters and retirees, have increased the desire for slab-on-grade two-bedroom homes.

The code review came at the request of Councilwoman Polly Dalton, one member of the council who has been vocal with concerns related to urban sprawl and the need to address infill lots across the city.

Kernosky said reducing the limitations could make sense in transitional areas between residential and business districts across the city, where homeowners are less likely, or able, to build under current requirements.

Loosening the restrictions may also open the door to new homeownership. In January, the city released its 2018 Housing Report, which indicated Stevens Point was short on housing stock for families with mid-level incomes. One of several recommendations in the report was to, “remove barriers that prevent diverse housing, such as ‘tiny homes’ or ‘mother-in-law suites’; and promote conversion of rooming houses back to owner-occupied homes.”

Any change to minimum size requirements won’t exactly open the door to tiny homes, Kernosky said, as it is directly related to primary dwelling buildings, not accessory buildings. But it could have an effect on the city’s mindset and community standards to eventually allow tiny homes, which can be as small as 100 square feet in size.

“I’m not sure there are a lot of people who want to downsize that much,” Kernosky said on Thursday. “But a change like this may remove barriers for people to build what they want. Especially with the cost of construction, is there a way to increase the number of affordable units in the city with a smaller footprint and lower construction costs? I think that’s really what we’re looking at.”

Kernosky said no action is planned on Monday’s agenda, but the discussion will give his office an idea of whether plan commissioners are interested in pursuing the change.

“If not, then this is something where we would stop the conversation there,” he said.

The plan commission meets at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 2, in the Community Room of the Stevens Point Police Department, 933 Michigan Ave. The public is encouraged to attend.

The meeting agenda can be found here.