County considers changes to housing rules

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County commissioners Tuesday discussed the idea of allowing single-family houses smaller than the current minimum of 1,000 square feet in certain zoning.

Community Development Director Bill Royce said currently minimum is 1,000 square feet in most residential zoning districts. There are some exceptions in which 800 square feet is allowed.

He said recently there has been some interest in the “tiny home” concept, but added that tiny homes can mean different things.

“There is a long history in Okeechobee County of trying to establish some minimum standards for improvement of the community,” said Mr. Royce.

“We have a lot of very, very old single wide trailers,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. He said the minimum of 1,000 square feet “takes away the option of replacing the old trailer with a newer single-wide trailer.”

Mr. Royce explained county ordinance allows single wide trailers to be replaced “all day long” in mobile home parks. In other zoning, county ordinances allows single wide trailers to be replaced one time.

Mr. Culpepper said he was also contacted by an individual who wanted to build a home out of shipping containers.

“He sent some photos of what he wants to do. This thing was pretty impressive. You didn’t even know it was a container when it was done,” he said.

“I think we have a need for it because we know how desperate we are for affordable housing,” he said.

Mr. Royce said county ordinance does prohibit turning a shed or container into housing.

“There was a time when Okeechobee County was the repository of old, single wide mobile homes,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “We were the only county that would accept them. I don’t want to open that door again.

“I want to keep the positive strides we have made in stopping that,” he said.
Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said affordable housing and container homes are two different things.

“A lot of people today put these mobile containers together and they build them very nice,” he said. “My fear is if we allow them here, they will not do that, they will not go through the extensive process to make it look like something you would want to live next to.”

Chairman Burroughs aid the tiny home concept is popular with “millennials.”

“If anybody has watched these TV shows, they can see some millennials like these tiny homes,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve got a lot of millennials moving to Okeechobee County at this particular time.”

He said these smaller homes are suitable for a single person or a couple, but not for a family with children.

“I think the LDRs (land development regulations) we have now have helped us,” he said.

The chairman said people moving here are looking for affordable homes, apartments and condominiums that will withstand the kind of weather we have here.

“We have to look at our responsibility as policy makers for the county to look out for the people who are here, and have homes,” said Commissioner Goodbread. “I don’t want to do anything that will affect their property values.”

He suggested some type of zoning for the small homes.

“I know we are in dire need of housing,” said Commissioner Goodbread. “Hopefully it is an opening for the free market system to come in and provide that.”

“Times change, needs change. Ordinances need to be looked at,” said Commissioner Culpepper.

“I am all for the smaller site-built homes,” said Commissioner Goodbread. He said some are kit homes.

The shipping container home is more of a novelty, said Commissioner David Hazellief.

“There are some nice ones out there, but they spent four times what it would have cost to build a site built home.

“Shipping containers and affordable housing are two entirely different subjects,” he said.

“I would support allowing site built in RV park zoning based on an acceptable design standard,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.

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