Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The house that developer Troy Turner plans to construct on a vacant lot in Dignowity Hill is smaller than its neighbors, but he thinks the tiny dwelling and others like it have a big future.
Turner, owner of Max Developers, said that more and more homeowners – particularly millennials and empty nesters – are looking to tiny homes as viable options to traditional housing because of their affordability and lower maintenance costs.
"What I'm seeing is a trend of baby boomers who are retiring, but with the amount of income they have, they can't get into these larger homes, so they go smaller," Turner said.
Turner's project took a step forward Wednesday when the City's Historic and Design Review Commission voted unanimously to approve Turner's plans for the 300-square-foot house.
The commission's vote went against City staff's recommendation to reject the proposal. Staffers felt the home's orientation and some of its design elements should be changed to better reflect existing shotgun structures on the same block as Sherman Street.
But commission members felt the project, despite its unusual size, was not out of place in the Eastside neighborhood.
Turner's request includes construction of a concrete driveway and a porch with wooden columns, spanning the entire width of the structure’s widest façade. The lot, which measures 6,447 square feet, is owned by James Deng, a California investor and business partner of Max Developers.
The setback – or how far away it sits away from the street – for the planned house is consistent with setbacks on the lots that flank the property in question. However, the overall orientation of the house was said to be inconsistent in regard to the lot's immediate surroundings.
"This block of Sherman features two historic shotgun structures," City staff wrote in its report. "Staff finds that an appropriate orientation for the structure that includes the narrow façade addressing the street, incorporating a front porch, consistent with the neighboring shotgun structures."
While the proposed entrance is oriented toward Sherman, as required by City guidelines,City staff described the context and scale of the entrance as inappropriate.
And while the planned house is consistent with the mass and scale of surrounding houses, City staff wrote that the "smaller mass of the structure should be oriented toward the street to be comparable to the adjacent shotgun structures."
Dignowity Hill resident Evelyn Brown briefly spoke in support of City staff's findings, adding that several neighbors felt similarly troubled by the project. But Brown did not go into the specifics of their concerns.
However, Barbara Garcia, member of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association's Development Advisory Committee, said her panel supports the proposal.
"This structure with its present facade facing Sherman Street is the appropriate one to do," Garcia said. "It fits more appropriately with the two houses on either side when having a 12-foot side facing them."
Turner said he and his colleagues have worked to ensure their tiny house follows City guidelines and the surroundings.
"We've done our best to make it fit that neighborhood from an architectural standpoint," Turner said. He also said the popularity of tiny homes is only the latest wave of the style that's been around for more than two decades.
"It's just been going, it's been expanding every year," Turner explained. "More and more tiny homes are being built throughout the United States."
Commission member Daniel Lazarine said City staff's recommendation to make the tiny house look more like adjacent houses would place "an undue burden on the applicant."
"Not to mention, I don't think we've ever had a stipulation on a new home that it match [its neighbors]," he said.
Commission Chair Michael Guarino agreed with Lazarine, saying Turner and his colleagues have the right approach.
Turner will need to submit a more detailed site plan before he receives his certificate of appropriateness and construction can start in order to comply with a condition of HDRC's approval.
Turner had sent to City staff a short narrative to further support his company's project. He explained that with tiny homes averaging 100 to 400 square feet, they provide simpler lifestyles and efficient living space.
"People are joining this movement for many reasons, but the most popular reasons include environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for more time and freedom," Turner wrote.
Turner later told the Rivard Report that Max Developers may consider building more tiny homes in and around San Antonio. He also hopes the City will fine-tune its policies to be more accommodating to tiny homes.
Turner did not reply to the Rivard Report's question regarding cost of construction in time for publication.
"Once this is finished, we're probably going to build some more," he said. "It kind of gives us a direction to go."