Couple allowed to stay temporarily in tiny home on wheels

Athalmer property owners have plans to build rammed earth home soon

An Invermere couple will be able to stay on their Athalmer property through the winter in a mobile ‘tiny home’ after pleading with council for help in obtaining a temporary permit.

Ray Vowels and Natalie Forrest attended the Tuesday, October 10th council meeting, outlining their position and their frustration at what they feel has been an unduly slow and complicated process.

The couple plan to build a rammed earth home on their Athalmer lot starting in the spring, but have nowhere to stay in the interim, and want to stay there in a tiny home on wheels for a year until their house is built up enough to move into.

Invermere chief administrative officer Chris Prosser said that part of the complication comes from the use of a tiny house, pointing out that similar temporary permits for RVs or trailers, valid for six months and extendable for another six months after that, are usually easily obtainable.

“Tiny houses are great but a lot of communities are struggling with how to deal with them, because they fall outside of any current building codes,” said Mr. Prosser. “We need to make sure the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed. We can find a way to allow this to happen, but it has to follow the permitting process.”

He went on to add that another part of the complication comes from the couple’s nonstandard, sustainable building style for their home, using rammed earth, which has resulted in a lengthier-than-normal time to process a building permit (which the couple are still going through).

“Without that single family residential building permit, we can’t, under our bylaws, issue a temporary residence permit,” said Mr. Prosser. “The alternative build (rammed earth), which is also outside (building) code is holding things up. If this was a standard build, they would have their building permit by now.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Ms. Forrest, saying that the couple has discussed their house building plans with Invermere manager of building and protective service Kim Leibel extensively, that the geotechnical and other engineers the couple have retained are in contact with him, but that they feel new issues and the need for new reports keep cropping up. She added neighbours have been backing them, and have signed a petition of support.

“We are actually out of a place to live as of right now, so I’m getting pretty stressed out. It’s frustrating,” said Mr. Vowels. “We’ve had a lot of conversations with Kim, a lot of them probably unnecessary, and still we’ve had no progress or update.”

“We don’t want you to be out in the cold, but you do need to work with staff to go through the process,” said councillor Greg Anderson, as other councillor voiced their general support for the couple and their building plans.

“But what kind of clout does council support have with staff, in terms of timely and swift action?” asked Mr. Vowels.

Mr. Prosser said he would need to sit down with the couple and Mr. Leibel to see exactly what needs still to be done, and what has been done, to make sure everybody is on the same page.

“The problem, at the least with the temporary permit, seems to be with the ‘tiny home’ label. But it’s a tiny home on wheels. It’s essentially an RV, it’s no different,” said councillor Justin Atterbury.

Council members conferred with the couple, who outlined that connecting and disconnecting power, water and sewer hookups on the mobile tiny home would be, like an RV, as simple as turning a valve on and off. At the end of the discussion, a few councillors floated the idea of issuing a temporary residence permit for the couple, conditional on a $3,000 damage deposit (refundable).

“That would be out there. It’s not within our policy framework, so you guys (council) are out on the end of diving board here,” advised Mr. Prosser.

Council member voted unanimously to grant the temporary residence permit to the couple.

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