Hellam Township makes a change to allow tiny homes

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Those looking to venture into the world of microliving will now have the chance to build a tiny home in Hellam Township.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Thursday to amend the township's current zoning ordinance, now permitting the construction of dwellings smaller than 699 square feet. 

"(We wanted) to allow these smaller dwellings for residents who wish to have a smaller footprint on this planet and to provide affordable housing opportunities," said Rachel Vega, the township's zoning officer. 

The tiny homes ordinance first came to the Board of Supervisors in October after it was added to the township's planning commission to-do list in 2019.

No residents within the past year approached the township requesting to build a tiny house, Vega added.

"Before this zoning ordinance amendment, the township did not permit dwellings smaller than 700 square feet," Vega said. 

Tiny homes in Hellam Township must be placed on a permanent foundation and be certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to comply with the township's building code, Vega said. Additionally, all dwellings must be properly connected to utilities, including water, sewer and electricity, according to a copy of the ordinance. 

"You hook up to electricity and water and sewer when it's a permanent dwelling, and the whole point was that you weren't having transient dwellings," Vega said during Thursday's meeting.

In recent years, microliving has become increasingly popular. HGTV introduced the concept of tiny homes to millions with its program "Tiny House, Big Living."

Several Facebook groups have popped up, encouraging the discussion and offering resources to individuals interested in tiny home living. Among those individuals is Tommy Pursell, who runs the Pennsylvania Tiny House Association.

Beth Major of Dillsburg peeks inside a model little house during the Northeast Tiny Home Expo Friday, April 13, 2018, at Utz Arena at the York Expo Center. The expo featured builders, designers and suppliers related to tiny homes. Bill Kalina photo

Pursell first got interested in the microliving community in 2015 after researching affordable and comfortable living spaces for his family during the summer months at a local campsite.

The Erie County native built his tiny home himself over the course of several months. By the end of his project, Pursell spent about $12,000 building the tiny home of his dreams. 

"The awesome thing about a tiny house is you have a hand in designing the way you want it," Pursell said. "I was very specific in my needs."

With wheels attached to the bottom of his tiny home, Pursell transports his "home away from home" each summer to Pleasantville Camp in Venango County.

With full plumbing, sewer and electricity, Pursell said the biggest difference between his tiny home and an RV is comfort and control.

"You have more control over your design process, because in an RV they have pre-cut patterns that you have to choose from," Pursell said. "You don't have a say in how it's built."

Kelli Peyser of Duncannon, Maryland, looks at a model tiny home on display during the Northeast Tiny Home Expo on Friday, April 13, 2018, at Utz Arena at the York Expo Center. The expo featured builders, designers and suppliers related to tiny homes. Bill Kalina photo

He added that many individuals who are drawn to the tiny house movement have an interest in minimalism and getting "the clutter out of their lives."

This couldn't be more true for Katie Craven, a Springettsbury Township native who became interested in tiny home living after living in Oregon for a year on a car's worth of items.

"By living with minimal things just to get by, I was able to find more joy in my life," said Craven, who now lives in Lancaster County. "For living in a tiny house, it kind of helps you focus more on the things in life that matter more."

Craven started the process of building a tiny home in early fall with Leola-based building company Liberation Tiny Homes. Currently, she is in the design process and anticipates to start building by the end of February. 

With an emphasis on a larger living space and an upstairs loft room for her bed, Craven wants her tiny home to be mobile to allow for easy transportation to new places.

"I haven't really been a person who stays in the same place for a super long period of time," Craven said. "So the idea of a tiny house on wheels to move it to new places you want to explore is ideal for me."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.