Contributed photo — Though small compared to normal sized houses, tiny homes offer flexibility and design creativity. The loft of a tiny home in Olympia is used for both sleeping space and a book shelf.

Contributed photo — Though small compared to normal sized houses, tiny homes offer flexibility and design creativity. The loft of a tiny home in Olympia is used for both sleeping space and a book shelf.

New code could bring tiny homes to Langley in 2019

Langley could become a pilot city for new tiny home building codes next year.

The city’s planning department is asking state building code officials if the town can adopt the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC) for one- and two-family dwellings. The draft policy document, developed by building professionals and tiny homes advocates, includes provisions for small houses and addresses dimensions of habitable lofts, as well as ways to safely access and exit them.

If approved, developers will have the green light to build multiple tiny homes, which are 400 square feet or less in floor area, in a single lot. The IRC is updated every three years; the Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC) is adopting the next update in July 2018. City Planner Brigid Reynolds said it takes approximately 12 months from when the code is approved at the state level and when it’s implemented, so the likely start date is sometime in July 2019.

The city still needs to amend the city zoning code to establish provisions for tiny homes, but enabling them to be built is another means to increase housing units, Reynolds said.

“These units are smaller and therefore can be more affordable to build,” Reynolds wrote. “Enabling developers, home owners and non-profits to develop different housing options will hopefully result in increased supply.”

The Langley Planning Advisory Board worked with the planning department on the idea over the past 18 months, according to City Planner Brigid Reynolds. They examined the Langley Municipal Code and looked for ways to reduce barriers for the creation of more affordable housing.

The code does not specifically permit or not permit tiny homes but amending the code to specifically allow them makes it clear that they are permitted, Reynolds said.

The board officially recommended the Langley City Council request to be considered as a pilot city for the tiny homes codes at its Jan. 3 meeting. The council approved the recommendation at its regular monthly meeting on Jan. 16.

“I think we all know that what we need is housing diversity,” said Councilwoman Christy Korrow. “I think tiny houses will serve one niche of one kind of housing. It’s not going to be a fix-all.”

Reynolds said jurisdictions can adopt the draft policy documents ahead of the cycle if it is deemed “sufficiently urgent” and given permission by the SBCC.

Reynolds is aware of only one other jurisdiction — the state of Utah — that has adopted the codes.

Mayor Tim Callison said after the council’s vote that there’s nothing wrong with leading the charge.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to do it,” Callison said. “We can do a pilot like we did in Upper Langley. There’s nothing wrong with a pilot, exploratory ordinance that would allow people to develop these tiny homes.”

The draft policy document includes definitions for basic components of the tiny homes.

An egress roof access window is a skylight or roof window “designed and installed to satisfy the emergency escape and rescue opening requirements,” according to the code. A loft is a floor level located more than 30 inches above the main floor, open to the main floor on one or more sides with a ceiling height of less than 6 feet, 8 inches, and used as a living or sleeping space.

Also included is a landing platform, which is a “landing provided as the top step of a stairway accessing a loft.”

The dimensions of the loft include required measurements for stairways, handrails, landing platforms, stairway guards and ladders.

Korrow said tiny homes would be a perfect fit for young people who come to town to work in the service industry or at local non-profit organizations.

“They’re not for everyone, but they could be a great creative addition to adding more housing and more affordable housing,” Korrow said.

She also added that the general appearance of the tiny homes is a good fit for Langley.

“I think tiny houses are cute and have character,” Korrow said. “They have little craftsmen touches that to me would really fit in design wise.”

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