Tiny housing community, cottage-style houses proposed for development

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, May 15, 2019

NILES — Niles could be home to a tiny house community and cottage-style housing development, following a resolution passed Monday night by city council members.

With economic development in mind, city council members voted unanimously Monday night to support the authorization to make a purchase of three tax foreclosure parcels from Berrien County. The vote followed a closed session during a regularly scheduled city council meeting at the Niles Fire Station Complex.

The plan, called the 5th Street Village Project, is in preliminary stages. The city already owns vacant property on the southeast corner of Fifth and Wayne streets, proposed for a tiny house project that would be comprised of six to eight homes. The three additional parcels are located on the southwest side of N. Fifth Street near Wayne and Eagle streets and could be among the property used for roughly 20 brand-new row or cottage-style housing. The goal is to make the property affordable, but not subsidized housing.

The price of the parcels, which includes 616 N. Fifth St., 714 N. Fifth Street, and 718 N. Fifth Street, is $8,100. An unnamed local foundation has offered to reimburse the city for the cost.

Sanya Vitale, the community development director, said Monday’s resolution was prompted by a need to create more housing in the city. Finding land, however, for developers to utilize can be a hurdle to addressing this problem, city leaders said.

“This would be to go along with our lack of middle housing,” Vitale said. “The goal is to increase density. There were 650 middle-housing units missing in the city when we did the place plan and the target marketing analysis.”

City leaders emphasized in the resolution that there could be significant potential to grow the city by developing underutilized or vacant land.

“My goal is to find these pockets, like we did along Third Street and then just finding more of these little pockets [of property] for development all over town,” Vitale said.

While Vitale said she could not divulge the name of the business, there is a Niles developer who has expressed interest in the tiny house proposal. A particular developer has not yet been identified to create the houses, but Vitale said she had a potential business in mind.

In their resolution Monday, the city outlined the ways that developing the land could be a benefit, citing the potential to grow the tax base, economic indicators, and other long-term sustainability needs.

While there is not an official timeline yet, Vitale said she would like to see construction in the summer for the tiny house project.

There would be some zoning issues to clear to bring the tiny house idea to fruition.

“We would have to go to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals to clear some hurdles, but there is room in our zoning ordinance for that because we do allow accessory dwelling units,” Vitale said. “So, we do allow for smaller dwellings to be built in the city. They just have to be on a second lot.”

Vitale said she does not foresee any additional cost on the city’s part in preparation for construction, outside of additional mowing expenses until the property is sold. There is one vacant house along N. Fifth Street, but the county has agreed to demolish it at their expense, which is approximated to cost between $5,000 to $7,000.

Next, Vitale said she hopes to hear from interested developers who can help to execute her vision.

Reflecting on city leaders’ support Monday night, Vitale expressed excitement.

“People keep telling us that they want this type of housing in the community,” Vitale said. “I think the [vote] is amazing. It is really a way to define Niles, Michigan — just to say that we can be the community that allows these smaller houses. It’s a heck of an opportunity.”