This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A Sanpete County business owner is thinking big by going small.
Chris Jaussi, owner of Zip Kit Homes in Mount Pleasant, manufactures homes as small as 400 square feet and would like to sell the micro dwellings in the county. But dwellings that small are prohibited by a 1980s ordinance that mandates the minimum size of a residence.
"If I want to sell what [I manufacture] I want to do it where I live," said Jaussi, who got a $30,000 start-up boost to launch his company from the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative.
Jaussi also is developing a similar business in Chile with a $40,000 business grant from that South American country's government.
The Planning and Zoning Commission in central Utah's Sanpete County is considering whether the minimum size requirements on dwelling places for full-time residents should be updated to accommodate what seems to be a growing trend for smaller housing.
Current rules say a house must be slightly more than 800 square feet to qualify for a building permit.
Jaussi said he built a 576-square-foot house on the lot of his factory last summer as a show model, but then learned it did not meet county size requirements even though it offered living, cooking and bathroom spaces and sits on a foundation.
He believes the current ordinance is "discriminatory" against lower-income people who can't afford a conventional "stick-built home" in the county.
"You can't push the poor off the island," he said.
County officials said the existing policy was adopted to limit mobile and double-wide manufactured homes to specified zoned areas and keep them from springing up randomly in the county.
At a meeting last month, Thell Stewart, the vice chairman of the Sanpete County Planning and Zoning Commission, said he saw "nothing wrong with the product he [Jaussi] was making" but encouraged him to take the size issue to cities in the county, according to a story in the Sanpete Messenger.
"I have a lot of sympathy for those who can't afford their own homes the poor of Sanpete County. But I don't want to make housing so cheap we import the poor from other cities," said Stewart, according to the newspaper. "We get someone who can't afford to build a bigger home, so they buy this one and fill up the rest of the [5-acre county lot] with junk cars …we don't want people to come to Sanpete County for that reason."
Greg Johnson, an Iowa resident who is president of the Small House Society, said living in smaller spaces is a growing trend across the country as a result of lifestyle preferences, economics, and social change among young people who don't necessarily marry before buying a house.
He believes environmental issues people wanting to create a smaller carbon footprint are also a factor. And so-called McMansions are increasingly considered an extravagance.
He said technology also plays a role in the demand for smaller places.
"People now can get their mail, books, TV and other entertainment on an iPad or iPhone," he said. "You don't need a lot of bookcases when everything is digitized."
Cities and other counties in Utah all have their own rules on home size, with many regulating where smaller housing units can be located, such as in mobile home parks. Other restrictions may be imposed by homeowner associations.
In Sandy, for example, there is no minimum dwelling size requirement although there are other building standards and larger homes are forbidden in some historic areas.
Salt Lake County also does not have minimum requirements for single-family units, but county zoning administrator Curtis Woodward said all homes, including mobile homes, must be on foundations and have pitched roofs.
Jaussi's small homes start at $31,000 for the kit and $58,000 for his crews to build the structure, including concrete and finish work.
Jaussi initially went to Sanpete County's zoning commissioners to pitch his undersized homes. When the commission said existing zoning wouldn't permit him to sell them, he appealed to the county commission. Commissioners sent the matter back to planners for further study.
Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett said it is time to revisit the minimum house-size issue. "We want to relook at the [issue] and decide what is appropriate."
Jarrett said a public hearing would be required before such a change could be approved.
Commissioner Steven Frischnecht said he is waiting to see what the Planning and Zoning Commission recommends, adding that he sees no problem with Jaussi's smaller house designs.
"They are nice little homes," he said, adding they might be more appropriate as mountain cabins.
He believes the current ordinance was adopted so the county wouldn't be cluttered with "house trailers" sprouting up around the county. Jaussi's small houses would be good for younger people and even older retired residents, he said.
Johnson said smaller houses can be well built and aren't afflicted with the stereotypes that burden mobile homes.
"With stick-built homes, there is the perception of a good income and certain affluence while those in trailers are seen as more [transient] and often looked down on. But there is nothing wrong with taking a [mobile home] and fixing it up," he said. "Everyone should be able to own a home."
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