Brattleboro's Tiny House Fest draws a crowd
BRATTLEBORO — A section of Flat Street looked like a new housing development full of innovative small structures on Sunday.
Tiny House Fest Vermont, held in Brattleboro, was a concept that came to co-organizer Lisa Kuneman as she thought about trying to find ways to be creative around the prospects of retirement.
"The tiny house festival represents an opportunity to have a conversation about housing that people want to be having that's not happening anywhere else," she said in an interview before the event. "When you're talking about houses, attainability may or may not be part of the conversation. When you talk about affordable housing, people think about poverty. But there's a whole range of people in between that don't feel there's a conversation happening about housing and trying to make a life."
Kuneman did not have attendance numbers on Sunday night, but she said there were lines of people waiting to get into tiny houses all day and the crowdfunding campaign done online at indiegogo.com had sold out.
"Brattle Burger closed due to being overwhelmed by business," said Kuneman. "Fireworks (restaurant) reports having a 45-minute wait due to the festival."
Outside food vendors were not invited. The idea had been to support downtown restaurants. Special menu items were created for the day.
Julie Lineberger, of the Wilmington-based LineSync Architecture, welcomed festival attendees into Wheel Pad. The "eco-friendly 200-square-foot accessible bedroom and bathroom" can attach to homes and provide "a respectful and supportive space for people with mobility issues," according to the company's pamphlet. By noon Sunday, 500 of those informational sheets were handed out, according to Kuneman.
The inspiration for Wheel Pad came when a boy who was hired at Nike became a quadriplegic just before he moved away from his home. He had to stay in a hotel room for eight months, Lineberger said.
Her company's invention would make it easier for people moving in with family or friends. There is a fundraising effort to make the "prototype a reality" at wheelpad.com.
"Wheel Pad was created specifically to keep families together in a time of crisis," said Lineberger.
Green Mountain College showed an "optimal traveling independent space" or OTIS, which could be mistaken for a time machine had it been in a science fiction film. Also shown at the festival was Yellow Barn's Music Haul. The international center for chamber music based in Putney brought out its "music venue on wheels."
Jamaica Cottage Shop's 8- by 16-foot "tiny house on wheels" had a paper attached to it, stating that prices start at $10,623. Domenic Mangano began the business by building doghouses.
"I started dragging scrap home from work," he said. "People started asking me for sheds. I started building sheds. They said, 'Wow, great shed. I could live in that.' That's the story."
Mangano described the move into a tiny house as "a lifestyle change" that will largely depend on comfort level and budget.
"You're going to go ahead and narrow everything down, all of your earthly possessions. You're going to bring them to a position where you feel comfortable waking up in the morning and making that decision on what you are going to wear," he said. "You're not going to have many choices."
People can install a pressurized water system or bring water in on their own.
"It's amazing how little water one uses when one carries it," said Lina Menard, a blogger and consultant who teaches an online course on downsizing.
Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis said planned unit developments with templates like "cottage cluster" could be found in the most recent iteration of the town's land-use regulations, which were adopted in December.
"We think it's the most appropriate fit for tiny houses. It could be an in-town parcel that's been difficult to develop for the regular sized market or it could have some access challenges or something similar," he said. "In rural districts in town, there's more flexibility coming from the larger parcel size. So there, you're going to run into some issues about the total numbers of structures on the lot."
Taxing RVs is not a big issue right now, Francis said, because "we're not swamped by RV dwellers in driveways in Brattleboro." Mobile homes have a separate zoning definition and owners pay a property tax.
Accessory dwelling units are different, too. They can be tiny houses, converted garden sheds, chicken coops, the upstairs of a barn, an attic or other additions. Francis said the Wheel Pad model would be subject to taxes but an owner could make a grievance and explain a family member needs it for a medical issue.
Kitchens and bathrooms are needed in accessory dwelling units if they're being rented out. Francis said property owners can run the risk of getting into trouble for renting places with "substandard" conditions.
"We have a lot of rental properties in Brattleboro. And we have a lot of amateur landlords and we have a lot of professional landlords. And they run the spectrum of really solid citizens to slightly dodgy," Francis said. "So if you're going to build an accessory dwelling unit, you're either going to live in it or you're going to live in the house that the accessory dwelling unit is attached to or associated with. And that's because we want really tight control over what's going on in both structures. So that's the easiest way to do it."
The worry, he said, is that someone will build up "an empire of rental units" and won't be "very interested in the quality or conditions."
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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