You’re so big, it’s so tiny
Every cloud is silver liney
The great escape for all of you
Tiny is as tiny do!
– Frank Zappa, “City of Tiny Lights”
Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – For some Arcatans, tiny will do just fine. They want to live simply, unburdened by stuff, having to make space for it and working long hours to pay for it. For those who want to live simply, a small but homey abode is an idea whose time has come.
The tiny house movement has reached Arcata’s shores, and it just happens to work well with the ambient back-to-the-land
sentiments as well as the city’s need to provide affordable housing with infill.
While hundreds of micro-dwellings already exist in Arcata in the form of mother-in-law units, the idea of primary residences with a small footprint is gaining momentum.
At its May 14 meeting, the Historic and Design Review Commission approved a two-story tiny home for a small lot on Sunny Brae’s Beverly Drive. Though located on a 60- by 125-foot lot, only a narrow strip at the lot’s base is level, with a steep, fern-covered wall of soil immediately behind it.
Created by Sunny Brae subdivision developer Chet Spiering in the early 1950s, the lot in the Sleepy Shire had lain fallow and unbuildable due to the space restrictions for the past 60 years. Now, finally, it will host the new, tiny home of Therése Scott.
Key to developing the lot was the affordability of the middle-five figures small home as well as its 416 square foot footprint. That allowed Scott to skip $12,000 in engineering costs and a $2,000 grading permit for cutting into the hillside.
“I’ve been working on this project for a while,” Scott said. She learned about innovative housing and sustainability at the famed Arcosanti, an experimental town in Arizona where alternative living concepts are explored.
“It really had an impact on me,” Scott said. “For me, this is a way of living that, and being connected to community. It encompasses a lot of my world views.”
With two stories, her home will boast 832 square feet of living space, as long as Scott keeps the clutter away. That shouldn’t be hard, she said, since she eschews piles of possessions. “They’re worse than worthless,” Scott said. “They drag you down. You’re investing mental energy on all these skeletons in the closet.”
Community Development Director Larry Oetker said the tiny house movement is, in a way, a return to Arcata’s original values.
When Arcata was subdivided into lots in the early 1900s, the parcels came in 25-foot segments. “A working person could buy one, two or three, whatever size you could afford,” Oetker said. Some settlers joined two or three lots together to host grander homes, but the older houses are in the 900 to 1,100 square foot range. In the 1970s, ranch-style homes brought larger, 1,500 square foot houses, and then came the sprawling, 3,000 square foot residences.
Now, with Arcata mostly developed and with infill as a guiding ethic, tiny is back big-time. Sandpiper Park’s pre-made homes are under 500 square feet, while the pending O Street subdivision will have homes in the 1,100 square foot range.
The city’s building code was amended a few years ago to allow creation of homes as small as 150 square feet. Oetker wants to encourage creation of small lots to enable more affordable homebuilding.
“This is the biggest issue in Arcata that I hear all the time,” Oetker said. “‘I want to own my own home in Arcata, but I can’t afford to.’” he said tiny homes are “Definitely” a possible solution, especially with the new spirit of innovation surrounding them. “What intrigues me is the movement – how people maximize the space and pride themselves on how small they can get things,” he said. “Smart design can ameliorate shortcomings.”
“You can do it,” Scott said. “You can be low-income, but if you persevere, you can do it.”