Smaller homes trying to be big on the East Side


A new development, a tiny home community called The East Yard, will be located at 627 Bush Ave., on a strip of land between Bush Avenue and the railroad tracks in the Railroad Island neighborhood. Marjorie Otto/Review

The East Side Neighborhood Development Company has been working for a few years now on a small home cluster, homes that will range between 800 to 1,000 square feet, and be arranged in a non-linear pattern near the corner of Payne and Maryland avenues. file photo

The East Side appears to be a popular spot for small-to-tiny home developments.

Two projects, The East Yard, which will be a tiny home cooperative, and the East Side Neighborhood Development Company’s small home clusters, are focusing on smaller homes for those who find they don’t need a lot of space.

Loren Schirber, a developer from Northeast Minneapolis, and his business partner Joe Slavec, owner of Minneapolis Garage Builders, are the people behind The East Yard.

The East Yard LLC purchased a lot at 627 Bush Ave., a skinny piece of land next to the train tracks just south of Phalen Boulevard and west of Payne Avenue. It bought the spot last fall and Schirber has been brainstorming what the community will look like ever since.

Schirber said he was often thinking of ways to develop various plots of land near where he lives in Northeast Minneapolis. He saw what he described as a “cluster development” go up near Elsie’s Dining, which caught his interest.

“The tiny house movement kind of took off and it kind of got me thinking of how would we design these last pieces of urban land into something that is more than, that is different than a traditional development,” Schirber said.

He said he began looking around for land and found the Bush Avenue parcel for $65,000. The just over 2-acre lot had been tax forfeited by its previous owner and was owned by the county.  

 

Lots of options

 While Schirber is still early on in the planning process, recent community information sessions and soil testing results have helped establish a more concrete timeline and design.

Schirber said he would like to build the development in two phases. During each phase he would construct around 20 tiny homes, which he and Slavec would most likely construct on their own. 

The finished project would contain 40 permanent, on-the-grid tiny homes that are built on foundations. The homes would be between 280 and 750 square feet with affordable cooperative ownership opportunities. There are also plans for a community center, eight garages, 12 self-storage units and shared resources such as community gardens, chicken coops and beehives.

Schirber said he hopes to be able to purchase and move the historic Francis M. Williams house, located at 656 Bush Ave., across the street from his plot of land, and to restore the home to be used as the community center.

The community center would have a large, open floor plan that includes a community kitchen, laundry facilities and bedrooms upstairs for guests to rent. Schirber is currently in talks with the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopement Authority, which owns the historic home.

Over the past month, Schirber has held two information sessions where anywhere from 25 to 50 people have come to find out more and share their ideas for The East Yard. He said most of the people who have come are from outside of the East Side community. 

Another information session will be held July 8 at 1 p.m. at Flat Earth Brewery, 688 Minnehaha Ave. E. in St. Paul.

He said he’s received a lot of positive feedback about the idea and that feedback indicates people would like to see more shared resources, such as a tool library or shared art spaces. Participants also stressed the importance of green space and having larger housing for families.

 

A ways to go 

Schirber said he just received the results of soil tests a few weeks ago, which show there is a buried garbage pit and about a two- to four-inch layer of coal slag that is high in dangerous metals. 

Schirber said he was hoping to start site cleanup this fall but, “That information most likely will delay the project by a year while we apply for remediation grants to remove the contaminated soil and bring in clean soil.”

He said he’s also been meeting with a variety of banks and credit unions but that finding financing for the project is proving to be more difficult than he anticipated. Many of the financial institutions are looking for large down payments, meaning that either purchasers will have to have a lot of money up front for the tiny homes or that investors in the co-op will have to cover some of the equity.

 

Small homes vs.

 tiny homes

 The East Side Neighborhood Development Company has also been thinking about smaller homes, but executive director John Vaughn stresses that these homes will not be tiny.

Instead, the company’s development is centered on what’s called a small home cluster, or weeHouse cluster, a term coined by the architecture agency, Alchemy Architects, which will design the homes.

The East Side Neighborhood Development Company plans to develop an open lot near Maryland and Payne avenues. Vaughn said there have also been talks to construct some small homes kitty-corner to Schirber’s development, across Payne Avenue where A-Plus Appliance is located. However, the development company would have to buy a series of private homes and businesses out to make way for the small homes.

The small homes will be anywhere between 800 to 1,100 square feet and will be focused more towards those who rely on transit or biking for getting around. 

“It isn’t really a revolutionary idea,” Vaughn said, explaining that the idea a small home is no different than the smaller houses built after World War II.

What is different is that the homes are designed to be energy efficient, using more efficient materials, solar panels and recycling grey water.

Using the term “cluster,” Vaughn explains these homes will be placed in a non-linear pattern, differing from traditional housing developments. 

While East Side Neighborhood Development Company was also hoping to start construction within the year, Vaughn said it’s conducting more focus groups to narrow down who would want to buy the homes, therefore solidifying the designs.

Similar to The East Yard, soil samples from the Payne-Maryland site also show contamination, which will have to be cleaned up.

 

Which will make it to the finish line first?

In addition to the housing size being different, the financing structure of the two projects is different as well. The East Yard is privately funded, while the East Side Neighborhood Development Company’s small home cluster will receive subsidies to keep the housing affordable, somewhere between $90,000 to $140,000.

Pricing for The East Yard’s tiny homes isn’t known at this time, as it depends on materials used, labor and what kind of financing the developers can get.

Both housing developments are being marketed to younger, newer homeowners or those who find that they just don’t need the space a traditional home offers.

Both projects also will need additional city ordinances to address the non-linear arrangement of homes and to change codes to make tiny homes legal. 

Vaughn explained that high density housing developments, such as The East Yard and the small home clusters near a commercial corridor like Payne Avenue, help the overall economy of the neighborhood, as these homeowners can walk to shops and restaurants. These developments would also add to the tax base.

He said having a private developer like Schirber and The East Yard can have more of an impact on the viability of future developments, compared to East Side NEighborhood Development Company’s partially subsidized homes, as it shows that the East Side is viable for private developers.

“I see every reason in the world to embrace [Schirber],” Vaughn said. “If he succeeds, it will open the door for all of us.”

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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