Politics & Government

Wichita allows tiny house development to move forward; neighbors hire lawyer

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.

Saying they have no choice and over the objection of dozens of neighbors, Wichita City Council members on Tuesday approved the city’s first “tiny house” subdivision.

The neighbors left the meeting angry. They say they plan to sue to try to stop the development and plan to oppose the council members at the ballot box.

“This isn’t over,” said J.D. Munley, who lives near the planned development. “I have already talked to my attorney.”

The issue involves plans to put about 90 tiny houses on 15 acres of land just outside the city limits at Harry and 143rd Street East. More than 30 residents came to Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the plan. The site is surrounded by homes on large lots valued at $300,000 to $1 million.

The tiny homes are projected to be about 500 square feet plus loft space for sleeping and to sell for less than $100,000 each.

“It’s a great concept but a terrible location,” said Russ Hamker, one of the neighboring homeowners.

Neighbors said they’d been told by Realtors that they’d lose about 30 percent of the value of their homes if the tiny house development is built.

The developer, David Murfin, made two requests to allow the project to go forward: annexation to the city and approval of a plat for the development. According to Planning Director Dale Miller, annexation automatically rezones the land from a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet to 4,000-5,000 square feet. And if annexation was approved, the City Council has no legal authority to deny the plat, said Miller and City Attorney Jennifer Magana.

“Everything we know meets all the requirements on this platting,” said council member Pete Meitzner. “As emotional as it is and everything else that’s been said today and previously, but at this point we don’t have a (pause). It meets all the legal process today.”

The annexation and plat passed 7-0. But Edward Robinson, a lawyer representing one of the homeowners, said the city misinterpreted the zoning code. He said the land should have been annexed at the same required lot sizes as under county control and the developer should have had to seek a zone change.

He projected that homeowners will file litigation in a few weeks. He also objected to the lack of public notice and input. There were no public hearings on the plan. The only notice was a red-and-white sign required by planning officials to be posted at the site to notify neighbors that some kind of development was being planned. And according to city officials, even that sign had gotten blown off its signpost, although it could still be seen on the ground.

“Mr. Murfin, who was asking for this rezoning and submitting this plat, he wasn’t particularly interested in letting the surrounding neighborhood know what he was up to,” Robinson said.

Neighbor Debra Evans said she and other residents will immediately appeal their property values to the county appraiser, reducing the city’s tax income. And she said she’ll walk precincts opposing Meitzner’s bid to win a seat on the County Commission in the November election.

“It’s a little tougher with a replaced knee, but for this I’ll do it,” said Evans, a former Republican precinct committeewoman. “Right now I don’t care what party they are in. If they voted for this, they’re out.”

Moments after approving the development, the council revised the building code to make it easier to get approval for building tiny houses.

The change, called “Appendix Q,” relaxes city requirements on stairs and handrails, allowing ladders to be used to gain access to loft sleeping areas in tiny houses. It also allows for lower ceiling heights and escape hatches in the roof in lofts. That same code change was approved by the County Commission last week.

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