Carrie Rengers

Tiny homes controversy is anything but small and cute

Tiny homes planned in Wichita, renderings show

(FILE VIDEO -- MARCH 2018) Brady Sherman and Abby Nelson have founded MicroMansions, a startup with the goal to create a tiny home village in east Wichita. Currently they're testing the market to see if people want this kind of living.
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(FILE VIDEO -- MARCH 2018) Brady Sherman and Abby Nelson have founded MicroMansions, a startup with the goal to create a tiny home village in east Wichita. Currently they're testing the market to see if people want this kind of living.

The emailed threat read like dialogue from 1930s pulp fiction.

“We’re going to tell you this once,” the message began that told Jonathan Endicott to give up his fight against the MicroMansions tiny homes development planned near his Cambria neighborhood, just south of Harry and 143rd East.

“If not we will use all of our resources, money and means to stop you. You’re dealing with powerful people that have no problems attacking your business, life and family if you choose not to stop.”

Endicott reported the note to police, though he says an officer told him since there weren’t specific threats of bodily harm he couldn’t file a report.

The email came on Friday morning from someone claiming to be named Jim Ryun, but MicroMansions developer Abby Nelson said via email that she doesn’t know anyone by that name, “nor have we asked anyone to help on our behalf.”

Dave Murfin, who owns the land where the development will be built, didn’t return calls to comment.

Zoning cases often get contentious, but MicroMansions — 90 homes that would be nestled among houses ranging from $300,000 to more than $1 million — is inspiring much more.

Things get testy

Endicott says he’s trying to keep his battle against the development somewhat private, but someone who is Facebook friends with Nelson publicly called him out about it on social media by saying she and her family are interested in a tiny home and “that doesn’t mean we are white trash.”

“Stop being judgemental and snobby and btw. . .THIS IS THE RISK you take when you build a home next to vacant land. . . get over it and get over yourselves.”

Even Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner was left a bit testy following contact by a lawyer who represents one or more of the neighbors, some of whom have turned to Meitzner for help.

“I don’t mean to be mean about it, but then I get a notice from an attorney about it,” he says. “So what am I supposed to do to help? Or just send if off to legal staff and let attorneys worry about it?”

The way County Commissioner Jim Howell sees it, the heart of the issue is that Wichita and Sedgwick County need to update their zoning laws related to tiny homes — and quick.

“The tiny home movement I think is here to stay,” he says. “Our laws need to catch up with what’s going on in this cultural movement.”

A Wichita first

MicroMansions, which Nelson is building with her boyfriend, Brady Sherman, would be the first tiny homes community in the Wichita area.

It would be across from Cambria on 15 acres that Murfin, an oilman and developer, owns but will sell, according to Nelson.

Neither Sherman nor Nelson returned calls for this story, but Nelson did email to say they’re calling the development Home Base.

She said the $75,000 to $100,000 homes, which include the lot and moving services, will be minimalistic but with upscale finishes. The development will have a homeowners association and covenants.

In a previous Wichita Eagle story, Nelson and Sherman said they planned up to 120 homes with five floor plans ranging from about 400 square feet up to 576 square feet.

The plat now calls for 90 lots, which means no more than 90 homes.

‘Biggest fear’

Hundreds of residents whose neighborhoods would surround Home Base have signed a petition against the development and some have reached out to Murfin, including people who know him personally or through business.

Property values — or perceived property values, says Endicott, who says he’s actually a fan of tiny homes — are at the heart of the issue.

“My biggest fear . . . is what this looks like if it’s a failed concept,” says Ryan Schweizer, who lives in Sierra Hills behind where Home Base would be.

Schweizer and others worry the development eventually could become rental homes with “the loss in desirability in the area and therefore property values falling.”

“It’s fairly clear what history has taught us.”

No notification

Jim Groff, who lives one neighborhood over in Equestrian Estates, is particularly concerned about traffic issues he believes will result from the new development.

He says he’s also upset about “the way this thing’s gone down the pike and been so rubber-stamped and passed through.”

Other than a development-application sign that was placed at the property, the public wasn’t notified about MicroMansions. That’s because it wasn’t required.

“The only reason people know it’s tiny homes is the developer has said that,” says planning Director Dale Miller.

“They did not circumvent anything,” Meitzner says. “It’s a routine process for a . . . new housing development area.”

The property currently is in the county and is zoned SF-20 single-family residential, and every lot would have to be 20,000 square feet or larger.

However, the developers have applied to have the property annexed by the city, and it automatically would be rezoned to SF-5 single-family residential.

“With the annexation, they don’t have to ask for a separate zone change and go through a public hearing like you would with a zone change,” Miller says.

SF-5 requires a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet, though there’s a provision that would allow that to be decreased to 4,000 square feet as long as there is open space to compensate.

‘Almost impossible’

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider the annexation and the plat.

“It’s almost impossible for the city to deny it because they would have no basis to deny it,” Miller says of the plat.

“That would be a lawsuit,” says Howell. “There is no history of this ever being denied.”

However, Howell says that even though procedures have been followed, it is a problem that neighbors didn’t know what’s going on or have a chance to comment.

“That’s what I think has got these folks really wound up,” he says. “We really need to get a zone designation for tiny homes so people can have a say in the process. . . . People have a right to weigh in.”

The County Commission recently approved some building code changes related to tiny homes, which the City Council also will consider on Tuesday.

Howell says some residents may have wanted the Commission to deny the changes as a way to stop the MicroMansions development. He says developers could have achieved the same changes through an administrative variance process at the planning department, but it would have taken up a lot of staff time.

“By amending the code, we’ve just streamlined the process.”

‘Final warning’

Miller says the subdivision committee of the planning commission and the planning commission itself have already looked into the tiny homes development. At no point did any traffic concerns arise, he says.

“Single-family homes generate on average 10 trips a day, and one trip per lot in the peak hour,” he says.

“Compared to other uses,” he says of commercial developments, “that’s not a lot of traffic.”

Howell says he knows of at least two other potential tiny homes developments in the works in the Wichita area, though he won’t say where.

“I can tell you this is going to come back.”

Endicott says the police told him to come back if he receives more specific threats.

“This is the first and final warning,” said the email from the person claiming to be named Ryun.

“We own Wichita, good luck with that.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.
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