Tiny Home Discussion: Marshfield, Wisconsin

Plan Commission Meeting: March 19th, 2019


Written By Janet Thome

Marshfield, Wisconsin- The Plan Commission asked the City Staff to research the topic of tiny homes to see if this type of residential building should be regulated by the zoning code. The State of Wisconsin does not adhere to the International Residential Code, but rather adheres to the Wisconsin Uniform Dwelling Code ( UDC).

The meeting was prompted by a few inquiries asking about whether or not tiny houses are allowed in Marshfield in the past. The answer is, as long as the structure meets UDC dwelling code requirements, there is no minimum size limit for a house from a zoning perspective. It is important to note that this is only the case for tiny houses that are built on a permanent foundation and is not the case for tiny homes on wheels.

A Tiny Home Does Not Have To Be 400 Square Feet Or Less

The State of Wisconsin does not adhere to the International Residential Code and references the 2018 IRC and Appendix Q in the memorandum, but  adheres to the Wisconsin Uniform Dwelling Code. Therefore, the City Staff believes that what they consider to be a tiny house does not have to be 400 square feet or less; however, it would make sense to use that definition since it is established elsewhere.

Ultimately, they can choose any size and consider that to be a “tiny house”. Staff believes that the definition of a tiny house can be added to the zoning code and a residential land use type can be created to regulate tiny houses. The only difference between a tiny house and a single-family residential use would be the size and ultimately where it can be built.

MH-8 Mobile Home Residential Zoning District

If a tiny house land use is  added to the Code, the City Staff  would recommend that these tiny houses would be permitted by right in the MH-8 Mobile Home Residential zoning district. Staff would like to know if the Plan Commission thinks that tiny houses should be allowed in other districts such as UMU or SR-6 since the lot sizes in those districts are generally small and would be a better fit. A tiny house located in these districts may still appear to be out of character; however they could potentially work as infill development or potentially be built on substandard lots that a typical single family residence would likely not be able to build on without a variance. A possibility could be to allow a tiny house as permitted by conditional use in those districts, but mention in the regulations that it can only be allowed as a conditional use if it is used as infill development, building on a substandard lot, or something similar in nature.

Tiny Homes On Wheels

A Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) creates an interesting issue because it is not technically considered to be a recreational vehicle, as a recreational vehicle is intended for non-permanent living, while a THOW is intended to be used as a residence. A THOW is similar to a recreational vehicle and appears to follow similar standards to the requirements for recreational vehicles. A THOW is defined by the Tiny House Community as “a structure which is intended as a full time residence or year-round rental property and meets these five conditions:

1. Built on a trailer that was registered with the owner’s local DMV.

2. Ability to tow via bumper hitch, frame towing hitch, or fifth-wheel connection. It cannot, nor designed to, move under its down power.

3. Is no larger than allowed by applicable state law. (The typical THOW is no more than 8’6” wide, 30’ long, and 13’6” high. Larger tiny houses may require a special commercial driver’s license and/or special permits when being towed

4. Has at least 70 square feet of first floor interior living space, and no more than 400 square feet (excluding any lofts).

5. Includes basic functional areas that support normal daily routines (such as cooking, sleeping, and toiletry

Guideline For THOW Builder

This definition is written as a guideline for a THOW builder and these guidelines are not formally recognized by a government authority. If the City were to allow THOW’s in the MH-8 Mobile Home zoning district, for example, then the question should be asked if all recreational vehicles shall be allowed in this district. City staff would not recommend this and for that reason, if THOW’s were to be allowed in any capacity, then they should only be allowed in a campground. Campgrounds are permitted by conditional use in the RH-35 Rural Holding zoning district and the GI General Industrial zoning district. There is little precedent for how these are regulated by cities in Wisconsin.

Next Step: Defining Tiny Homes And Land Use

The City may choose to regulate tiny houses by adding a definition and land use for the term, or a limit can be set on minimum building size for dwelling units in each zoning district. Under the current Code, a house of any size can be built as long as the UDC standards are conforming. The main thing to decide is whether the City believes that: there should be a limit on the size of small houses, if those types of houses are only to be allowed in certain zoning districts, or if the Code shall remain the same. The next step would be deciding if there should be just one definition for tiny homes. For example, a tiny house can be considered to be “a dwelling unit that is 400 square feet or less in area excluding lofts, or if each zoning district should create a minimum dwelling unit size requirement as well.

City Planner: Bryce Hembrook

For more information contact Bryce Hembrook, City Planner of Marshfield, Wisconsin at 715 486 2074. I followed up on the agenda and it has not progressed at this time.



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