An effort to bring a tiny-home development to Warner has hit a big dead end.
The town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted, 4-1, to deny local developer Joe Mendola’s request for a site variance Tuesday night, Mendola said. He was looking to bring a 13-unit “tiny home” park to Schoodac Road in Warner.
The NAI Norwood Group developer said the board’s basis for the denial came down to the idea that tiny homes are fundamentally different from manufactured housing, a concept that has been discussed at length since the application came before the board in March.
Mendola has tried to argue before the board that tiny homes are no different from manufactured housing under Warner’s zoning laws because they would be “transportable in one or more sections.” When erected, each home would have been about 320 square feet and built on a permanent chassis.
Mendola was seeking a variance that would have allowed the homes to be clustered closer together than what is allowed. He said getting the variance would have allowed him to disturb less land.
“They were so hung up on the name ‘tiny home,’ ” he said Wednesday. “They were making value judgments on how close people would want to live to each other.”
But zoning board Vice Chairman Howard Kirchner, the lone dissenting vote, said the board didn’t have a problem equating tiny homes with the definition of manufactured housing on Warner’s zoning books. He said the board wasn’t comfortable with the variance, which would have put several tiny homes in “clusters” on a single lot.
Kirchner also said Mendola had a hard time meeting the five requirements for a variance, especially the hardship criteria. Had Mendola pursued a more spaced-out design, his project wouldn’t have needed a variance, Kirchner said.
“It was asking too much too soon in an area that was very ambiguous,” he said.
Tiny homes have proved to be a challenge when it comes to zoning cases, and there isn’t much precedent for land use boards to work with. The American Tiny House Association notes that New Hampshire has standards for park model RVs and accessory-dwelling units, but not for tiny homes, which are meant to be mobile and lived in year-round.
Some compromises were proposed, like having one cluster of homes or striking the term “tiny home” from the application altogether, Kichner said, but no one could agree on an idea.
And the board is wary of straying from the letter of the zoning laws, especially after the nearly yearlong struggle Warner faced when deciding if an indoor gun range and retail store could come to town. That case bounced back and forth between land use boards, briefly landed in front of a Merrimack County Superior Court judge and ultimately ended with a rejection – and cost the town “a lot of money,” Kirchner said.
Kirchner said Mendola can appeal the decision if he wishes to, although he thought that would be “an uphill battle.”
Mendola said his project is dead in Warner unless he is able to find a more “friendly” piece of land. He said he’s researching the zoning laws of other communities along Interstate 89, Interstate 93 and Route 101.