Alders Marsha Rummel, Ledell Zellers, Larry Palm, Lisa Subeck and Mike Verveer have proposed an ordinance that would allow tiny homes to be parked somewhere besides the streets. That ordinance went to plan commission last night and was unanimously approved! Plan commission struggled a bit, were unsatisfied with this as a solution, but in the end, knew this was better than nothing, but we were in need of better solutions. Good respectful discussion with a bit of frustration over there not being a bigger and better on-going plan to address the problem.
Questions of the Public
Questions of Staff
Melissa Berger asks about the language that says “may provide meals and shall offer or provide worship services or other services”, was shall supposed to be may? Matt Tucker the zoning administrator says that the language was intended to be shall, to have the groups doing this to have it be part of their mission to serve the groups that will be staying there. So not just any non-profit could set one up – like East Madison Little League.
Alder Marsha Rummel says that the whole discussion started with the question raised by Occupy, where can people live legally if they are homeless. And that is what started her on this path, at that point in time people were living in tents and in their cars and the idea of tiny houses was still just a thought in someone’s creative genius waiting to emerge. And it has emerged and that is interesting, it is a cool outcome, it answers a lot of questions that we tried to deal with in the ordinance. We worked with city attorney Maureen O’Brien and we looked at the mission ordinance as a way to, as you said, be a mission shelter of a non-profit or church. They are prepared to help people, it is part of their mission, they are prepared to help people on their land. And then we needed to have a management plan because if it is a tent, then you have to deal with sanitation and water and all the things that, electricity, that people have mentioned. I don’t know that it will be a huge outcry to put people in tents, I don’t know if there will be a huge outcry to do this, there are only 1.5 tiny houses so far as far as I can tell that are built, so its not like all of a sudden we are going to have a lot of tiny houses everywhere, although I can’t wait for that day when we do. She stared with several alders on this path and the city attorney and one of the things they decided to do was to meet with the Homeless Services Consortium and Madison Urban Ministry and they kind of made sure that they were providing something they would use. She is not totally convinced it will be used, but there is interest. The question about the campground, she thinks there will be three, over 4 it gets cumbersome, it gets expensive and there are time limits. The management plan could deal with time limits if those entities wanted to do that. The other bigger question is, and she grappled with it herself, is conditional versus permitted use. In her policy maker dreams it would be so cool to have it as a permitted us, but as an elected official that has dense neighborhoods, she thinks that even tho it seems like an extra burden and a pain in the you know what, it seems like we need to do it to build relationships with the churhes, missions, non-profits, neighbors, it helps build the community that we are trying to build here, of people trying to take care of each other and while she gets it is kind of a burden, she thinks it should be part of the ordinance. She does think it is an experiment and she hopes they can see what happens with it. She hopes people can move into the houses and we can answer the question about where people can sleep legally besides on the streets in their cars. That is the only place you can sleep over night if you are homeless, on the street in your car, and not everyone who is homeless has a car, as we know. She is fairly certain you will support this and I thank you, she can answer questions and if there are tweaks to be made you are welcome to them. She did figure out the churches that she thought would be interested to figure out the residential districts and so all the churches that seem like they would help, their zoning districts are covered. And Doug is here from Public Health and he sat here all night, so ask him a question.
Brad Heifetz asks Mr. Tucker the question he asked me earlier about charging a one time fee. Tucker says that the language was put in there because there is a phrase in the mission house ordinance that says that they can charge for meals or other services, so it clearly allows for a pass for a one time registration or service fee for setting up a program and not have it conflict with the other part of the code.
Tonya Hamilton-Nisbet asks about the term “temporary portable shelters” because she is hearing this is about tiny houses but are we saying that there are other types of shelters that would be allowable under the ordinance. Tucker says they are not sure about what they might see in terms of design or the type of shelter. Another type of shelter could be a small hard sided camper or tent camper, that would be a recreational vehicle if kept at a home, but as it is used in this case, it is a temporary portable shelter.
Hamilton-Nisbet says this is going to sound far fetched, but what about a pod, are those . . . how temporary or how livable is possible. Tucker says that is possible, frankly these buildings that they are building they are not meeting the building code, lets get that clear, they are not structure meant for permanent habitation, they aren’t on foundations, connected to utilities, they are not single family homes, so a pod, a container or structure that provides protection from the elements could qualify for this type of use. We don’t have the term tiny house defined, that is a term others have used to describe what they are doing. Hamilton-Nisbet says that it reminds her of a little library where we have the term but I don’t know that it is clearly defined. A pod is not carefully crafted where, as it was described tonight, where there is ventilation, there is thought given to the living space, so it would be allowable under this. Tucker says that the type of structure could be considered under the conditional use, they are reviewed by fire and police department along with the planning divisions, they would hope that they would have conditions if someone is proposing to do open barrel burning or store propane on the site or something like that.
Brad Cantrell is again about the tents, he can understand the temporary but more long term use of the temporary portable shelters as Ms. Konkel describes them, that has a bed and heat and insulation and ventilation and all those sorts of things, but a tent for long term, especially during the winter, doesn’t seem like, for only the hardiest of individuals is appropriate but why are we including it in here, is it necessary for any purpose? Can we just exclude that? Tucker says he is going put the sponsors on the spot.
Rummel says, “where can you live legally if you have a tent?” You going to sleep outside this winter, should you live on a nonprofit parking lot with a church or nonprofit that is going to provide you with services, or should you live under a bridge. I mean, tents are there, do you want to take them away because they are not the best habitation, I agree, they are not, but that is what they have.
Cantrell says this whole thing is not his solution to the homeless issue.
Rummel says it is not the total solution, she agrees.
Cantrell says that he knows it is not her solution either, he thinks we are trying to do a stop gap measure, but again, in using tents, it is a conditional use, and I guess the plan commission gets to decide that anyways, but in his personal opinion, this is not the way of doing it, the temporary portable structures might be. We are throwing it in, but he doesn’t think that they would ever support something like that, at least he wouldn’t, but that might be just him.
Rummel says the question is a legal one, if you don’t have a house where can you go, if you don’t have a home, where can you sleep? And this is one effort to find a place for people. Is it the best solution, no, I mean, who wants to . . . I don’t know, living in your car is not that much better. This is kind of where we are at right now, in this day and age and she is just trying to figure out a way so that people are not having these huge run ins with people and maybe it was just Occupy and its a different thing and its an ad hoc thing, one on one with up to three people it would probably be much more dispersed, its just a stop gap question of where are people supposed to live.
Scott Resnick asks about the safety elements. When a conditional use is requested, will we look at each individual tiny house, would they be reviewed, if they can’t meet the building code it creates a dilemma of building inspection approaching it if they don’t believe it is something where it is safe to live long term. How is each home approached by building inspection, fire and police? Tucker asks if he means the small houses? Resnick says yes. Tucker says they are not, they are exempt, they are not applicable, they are like a camper and they don’t inspect campers, some people do, the department of transportation inspects them in terms of vehicles that go down the road, I think what will happen is that each conditional use will be reviewed on its merits, the management plan, the way they are providing services and dealing with residents on their property on a 24 hour basis as the entitlement will enable and it will be case by case, either tiny houses, pop up campers, tents. They have been dealing with people who live in tents long term in terms of enforcement over the past few years, people have been doing it, and I think some of them spoke tonight.
Hamilton-Nisbet asks about the long term strategy, do we have a policy on homelessness, do we have a means to an end or is this ordinance, do we have a policy that this is coming from.
Rummel says you could look to CDBG and see our 5 years plans that through our obligations to HUD and the whole county has adopted this notion called Housing First which is to put people in housing and then give them services, but the housing isn’t there and the services are not there and the Mayor is proposing in this budget that we build Single Room Occupancy for the first time. It used to be more common like the old Cardinal Bar, old railroad hotels, where you could occupy and live with a burner and share bathroom and kitchen facilities. She is not sure what that will look like, but they are doing an RFQ to figure out what that will look like, they do have some strategies that take a while, but somewhat they are market based and the market isn’t really responding. It is slower than she would like.
Eric Sundquist asks about the wording, he asks about “temporary” shelters that describe the structures but not how long they can stay there, will they be there for 6 months or will they be open ended and it will be up to the continuing jurisdiction of the plan commission to cut them off at some point. Or will it just depend? Tucker says that campgrounds are limited in the time of the year you can have one (ooops, not true, campgrounds operate year round if they want to), or like you said the conditional use could limit them to a time of the year. If they are on a lot more than 180 days in a year there may be other zoning code issues. Which is one of the reasons we have a rule to have pods from being on the property for too long.
Doug Vogeli from the Public Health Department says that if it is licensed as a campground, which would be four or more units, then there is a definition of temporary dwelling that is occupied for no more than 4 months in a 12 month period.
Sundquist clarifies that if you have three or less you could have them at a church indefinitely. Be they tiny houses or tents. Is that the intent? Or would some time limit be appropriate?
Rummel says then you run into what you have at shelter, where people run out of time, then what? She is not saying that they won’t be at a place where they have services, but it seems that is part of the problem now, then what? It might be a smaller point because there won’t be that many.
Sundquist says “may not”.
Ledell Zellers moves adoption. Michael Rewey seconds. (That made me smile for some reason, thank Michael!)
Cantrell struggles a bit and says he knows there is certainly a homeless problem in Madison, he sees it almost every day he walks in the downtown a lot and when he walks in the building he sees it. And he knows that we need to come up with some innovative solutions and his concern is the tent aspect of it and that is just the way it is, we have included it in here and people can live in tents, they have shown they can live in tents and live through the winter, but he thinks we are better than that, we are better than this ordinance, but he understands that we are doing what we can do in the interim. But the tent aspect bothers him a lot, maybe it doesn’t bother other commission members, but he wants to throw that out there for them to “munch on”.
Heifetz asks if the maker of the motion can talk about how this fits in as a temporary or permanent solution and where this commmission fits in to addressing homeless policy for the community. He doesn’t have concerns about what they are doing here tonight, but larger concerns about where this debate goes every time one of these conditional use applications comes before us, because we have trouble on this commission dealing with alcohol policy. And we have all been down that road before, we just did that a few weeks ago where we had an intriguing and pointless debate and so he is hoping that he can get more insight from the maker of the motion.
Zellers says this is not the solution to homelessness, but we have all seen this serious problem, this is one piece of making an effort to do something in making an effort to end homelessness. As Alder Rummel says we don’t know how much this may or may not be used, in terms of the tiny houses, it takes a while to construct them, we have a limited number of entities that may be willing to do this with a limited number of spots because if you go over three you get into the campground, so it is not the solution, but we need to keep moving forward on aspects of a solution or we are not going to get anywhere, that is her response, it is a piece and she hopes that they will vote for it.
Mike Rewey says that in response to Mr. Cantrell about the tent concern, there are some really good temporary tents out there that are called platform tents that would fit in that category plus the definition of temporary portable shelter a tent would qualify so it is just defining one of the types of temporary shelters, it will happen one way or another as a possibility.
Resnick says that he would like to be added as a sponsor and he sees the conditional use as a way for an organization to take responsibility, there would be a management plan for oversight of a tiny house or tent or temporary condition, so he sees that as additional oversight and protection instead of an open space where an individual is camping. He thinks that is more safe. He thinks that staff will struggle with, in building inspection, where staff is not comfortable with making a spot judgement about the structure. He hopes best practices can be established here and he hopes they support and he is looking for additional feedback.
Melissa Berger is in “very much” support of this. She hears Cantrell that a tent might not be ideal for him or her or other people, but it is something for somebody and it is something in addition to, tents would be in the city, you are closer to buses and services, you can’t otherwise camp in a tent in a city, you’d have support services and it would be free so there would be lots of other benefits that would go along with it. She agrees it will be uncharted territory when the conditional use comes before us and we probably will have a long night, but she will be very enthusiastic about getting it through then as well because we have to try it and try something and as long as it sounds reasonable, we have to try something, we have continuing jurisdiction and she thinks this is a great idea.
Heifetz thanks the chair for letting him speak twice, he will, along with most if not all of his colleagues be supporting this, but it cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive action by the council. Frankly, he thinks that the council is dumping on the plan commission this evening, and while that is not the intent, that is what is happening and he would echo his comments about how we struggle with basic alcohol policy and this is probably not the best commission to address homeless policy, but consistent with what his colleagues have said, this is a step and it could provide some real relief for some who have come before us and for those they represent that are behind the scenes that we don’t always all see around the city. While he is supporting this, he is also at the same time scolding the city leadership for not having this as part of a comprehensive package instead of having this alone before the plan commission because they are going to have these come before us at some point, whether it is one or ten or twenty, and it is going to be very difficult for concerned citizens to say anything negative about such an application, because they will clearly be labeled anti-homeless and all the other things that go along with that whether that is fair or not. So we are setting ourselves up for some interesting fights, or frankly non-fights, and perhaps that is intentional, and if it is it is very clever and wise, but I take folks at their word that that is not the purpose of this, that it is to address a significant problem in the city and that is why he is supporting it, but we are going to have some interesting discussions on on all of this, but it is on our city leaders to address homeless policy, so we will take the ball for now, he will support the motion, but we are better than just this stop gap measures, it is well drafted, we have addressed all the issues here tonight, we have had a great discussion on it, but he thinks they will have some uncomfortable moments, but maybe that is what we should have because homelessness is an uncomfortable problem and we can’t simply ignore it, but in many ways, maybe the council should debate whether it should be a permitted use or not, because putting it in our court is not the appropriate venue and I think folks know that. It is here for a very valid reason and that is why he will support it here tonight, and we’ve also heard some of the most eloquent and useful testimony here tonight on this item than he has heard on many far more complicated developments and other issues of far less import to this community.
Sundquist says that back in the days of ZCRAC they were debating whether to allow some kind of substandard form, a strip mall or something, the argument was well, they are out there so we need to permit them. He asked what if people were living in yurts, we wouldn’t allow that, we wouldn’t allow yurts, but here we are. He has some sympathy for Mr. Cantrells concerns, but he is going to vote for this. The plan that Occupy has laid out is sound, this is a temporary transitional stage to something that will hopefully be more long term and better, but to Mr. Heifetz points about the conditional use process, it is asking a lot to ask the city council to solve this, its a big, big problem but it is going to be a tough one when these conditional uses come up, there is room for abuse here with having substandard housing which planning was meant to come and try to rein in being allowed and potentially for a long time and these are going to be hard to wrestle with and that is why he was asking about the temporary nature of it and some ways to keep it from expanding and going down a slippery slope which he thinks it could. They will need to be on their guard when the conditional uses come up and be prepared for some really potentially contentious and nit picky types of discussions. But for the people who came up with tiny houses, for the Occupy people, god bless you because it is helping some people and that is the true test here and that is what we need to go for here. We’ll just have to deal with it.
Cantrell says that Mr. Rewey actually convinced him that even if they elminate tents in the definition, it will be permitted anyways because it is a temporary portable shelter, so his concern is for naught, he has a concern but the definition won’t cover it. He completely agrees with Mr. Heifetz’ comments and he thinks that when they get these in their laps it will be a long night and ltos of discussion and it is being drafted to do that and he can understand Alder Rummel’s reason for that, this conditional use process does bring individuals together for discussion purposes and that is a good thing, but the homeless issue is much, much bigger and he hopes the alders and mayors can address at least that in addition to this stop gap measure.
Ken Opin says it is a shameful situation. And it is not just on us and on the city council, the federal government is shutting down in two hours, (they correct him, one hour), every level of government and every community is contributing to this problem and we have one tiny solution that we can advance and its about the least we can do.
Hamilton-Nisbet says she is looking forward to the time when this isn’t necessary because we have a comprehensive policy in place and we have come much closer to solving this.
Motion passes on a voice vote unanimously.
(Sorry the public comments and the questions of the public, including myself, are not on here, ran out of time.) Audio will be here as soon as it uploads if you want to listen.
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