As tiny homes take root, where do you park them in Alaska?

Jason Donig (right) and Jeff Martinson (left) stand in front of the tiny home they’re building.

Jason Donig (right) and Jeff Martinson (left) stand in front of the tiny home they’re building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

There might be a small solution to the capital city’s housing problem but it’s not without its roadblocks.

A Juneau company is building its first tiny house on wheels to sell commercially and it intends to make more.

The diminutive dwelling is crafted with reclaimed materials and locally-sourced wood.

But the city’s zoning codes haven’t caught up with the tiny house craze…

Donig says he hasn’t seen any of these.

“Me either. ‘Cause I’m afraid,” said Beth Mckibben — a planning manager at the City and Borough of Juneau.

McKibben says she’s afraid because she knows the tiny house zoning issue hasn’t been resolved. Yet, the interest in building small is growing.

Some communities in Alaska are skeptical that this is the solution cities should be looking for when it comes to a tight housing market. Wasilla’s city council recently banned tiny houses for a temporary period, due to concerns about landlords building multiple units on a single lot and what it could do to a neighborhood’s character.

In Juneau, the real issue is what do you do with a house that rolls? You can build a 120-square foot-home on a permanent structure. But can you park one if it’s on wheels in your friend’s backyard?

“Depends on where the house might be so it’s a big fat maybe,” she said.

Maybe because it’s not zoned for every location. Tiny houses on wheels can go in mobile home parks — no problem. But it requires a trip to the planning commission before rolling one onto someone’s private lot.

So far, Mckibben says no one has appeared before them to get the ultimate OK. But she thinks it’s only a matter of time before more small homes start popping up.

“Well, for me, that’s a concern right now. If people are going to buy them, they need to know they can place them somewhere,” she said. “They shouldn’t be making an investment not knowing what they can do with that.”

In Sitka, at least one tiny house on wheels is headed before the planning commission. It would be parked in a residential neighborhood. But nothing’s been decided yet.

Mckibben expects the zoning conversation to happen in Juneau later this year.

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Elaine Walker

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