Could the solution to McMinnville’s lack of available housing be smaller lot sizes?
According to city Community Development director David Baird, millennials want homes with smaller lot sizes and that could also help solve the city’s lack of affordable housing.
“National studies are showing that people, those younger than me, are comfortable with smaller lots, if they can get it at a lower price,” said Baird.
While developers may make lots as large as they wish, the city does place restrictions on minimum sizes. Residential-1 Districts currently require a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet per single-family home.
Baird suggested to members of McMinnville’s Regional Planning Commission that reducing the minimum to 10,000 square feet would be beneficial to future developments.
“A 10,000-square-foot lot is still a pretty sizeable lot,” said Baird. “It would really only take from the back portion of the lot. It still gives you a good-sized yard.”
Some millennials, age 25-40, want smaller homes and smaller yards, which means less hassle. They want experiences and travel, not housework and yardwork. They also want more recreational opportunities, such as facilities, walking and hiking trails, and parks.
“I think you’re right about the 10,000 square feet,” said commission member David Marttala. “Younger folks aren’t really interested in yards as much as we might have been.”
How small is too small for a yard?
“Single family zoning districts in Murfreesboro go down to 6,000 square feet,” said Baird. “So, we still wouldn’t be anywhere close to that. I think there’s a consensus that we know we need to grow and we know we need to be a little smaller, but we don’t want to get that small. That’s when you get homes right next to each other. I think smaller lot sizes is something that could really help with the affordability issue we’re seeing today.”
Commission member Jerry Williamson stated, “Back yards aren’t used like they used to be. Now, there are recreational facilities that most people go to. Nobody has a garden. It used to be that almost everyone, even in the city, had a garden. I think the backyard could be smaller and still work for everyone.”
One commission member urged caution in reducing lot sizes too small, which could create overpopulation and overcrowding.
“A lot of people don’t want that,” said Rachel Kirby. “It’s a very hard balance. I’ve been in some of the homes in Murfreesboro and they are just packed in there. They’re just jammed together. You can’t even tell where you are. There are no landmarks. I have found, in Murfreesboro especially, they are renting rooms inside the homes with a family living in a room. I just think we have to be really careful.”
Kirby continued, “There is a definite need for housing. It’s a very painful need. I just think you have to be careful, too.”
“I agree,” said Williamson. “We don’t need to go that extreme, if you’re talking about the 6,000 square foot in Murfreesboro.”
The minimum lot size in the R-2 District is 7,500 square feet and the minimum lot size in the R-3 District its 5,000 square feet. A reduction was not debated in either of those districts.
McMinnville Regional Planning Commission discussed, but did not act upon, the recommendation to reduce the minimum lot size in the R-1 District from 15,000 to 10,000 square feet.
“Maybe it would be helpful for us if staff looked at a hypothetical piece of land and presented to us what a development could look like when 15,000 square feet is compared to 10,000,” said Marttala. “How many more lots would that create? How many more houses could be built in that subdivision?”
The requested information will be generated and presented during a future meeting.