Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Building momentum for tiny homes

Battle Ground contractor’s small houses could fill big need, but there are hurdles in the way in unincorporated Clark County

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Derek Huegel, owner and founder of Wolf Industries in Battle Ground, is pursuing his latest project: tiny homes. Huegel is hoping to begin selling the homes, such as this 250-square-foot unit, later this year, but the homes aren't allowed currently in unincorporated Clark County. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian)
Derek Huegel, owner and founder of Wolf Industries in Battle Ground, is pursuing his latest project: tiny homes. Huegel is hoping to begin selling the homes, such as this 250-square-foot unit, later this year, but the homes aren't allowed currently in unincorporated Clark County. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A Battle Ground contractor has big plans for tiny homes.

Derek Huegel, owner and founder of Battle Ground-based contracting company Wolf Industries, is adding his own contribution to the tiny house movement sweeping the nation. The 27-year-old has nearly completed two model tiny homes, which in general are homes on wheels that are smaller than 400 square feet, and hopes to start selling them later this year.

But there are some obstacles for Huegel before he can take his tiny homes — made popular by shows such as HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living” — across Clark County.

In the city of Vancouver, tiny homes are considered the same as any detached dwelling unit, such as mobile homes, meaning a cluster of them could be placed on property in multifamily zones, said Chad Eiken, director of Vancouver’s Community and Economic Development Department. A single one could be placed on property in a single-family zone, he added.

But zoning in unincorporated parts of the county doesn’t allow for tiny homes, Community Development Director Marty Snell said. County code does not allow for mobile homes smaller than 846 square feet. So far, Huegel has built a 250-square-foot model and a 300-square-foot, wheelchair-friendly model. Huegel, however, is proposing that Clark County loosen its restrictions to allow for smaller homes.

“If you talk to anybody, that’s their biggest challenge,” Huegel told the Clark County council at a recent board time meeting. “Where can we place them, how can we monitor them, how can we inspect them, how can we ensure life safety?”

But regulatory issues are not the county’s to bear alone. Many tiny homes, including Huegel’s, are on wheels, meaning they straddle the line between recreational vehicle and permanent dwelling. County code prohibits people from living long term in RVs or trailers outside of an RV park. Before Clark County can move forward with Huegel’s request for zoning changes, Snell said, Huegel’s homes first need to be approved by Washington’s Labor and Industries department.

“We’ll have to wait on what the state agency says,” Snell said.

Long term, Huegel’s vision is to work with government and nonprofit organizations to provide affordable rentals to low-income residents, similar to Olympia’s Quixote Village transitional housing complex, or simply to people looking to save money as housing problems continue to plague Clark County.

“You could put a pretty sweet little community together,” he said.

Fair market rent for a one-bedroom home in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., area is about $1,021 a month, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department. Huegel, however, estimates rent will start at about $650 a month for the tiny homes, and a tiny home would have a sale price of about $36,000 — a “very positive development” if they become available, Council for the Homeless Director Andy Silver said.

“We do see a significant number of people who are homeless who are simply in need of low-cost housing that would rent to people with housing barriers, and we would welcome any type of apartment or home that could fill this need,” Silver said.

In the meantime, Huegel said, he’s already sold both tiny houses and is just adding the finishing touches before they’re delivered to their new owners. Both are complete with hookups for water and electricity, granite counter tops, full-size fridges and vaulted ceilings that make the small space feel much larger.

“If you want to work in town, you may want your own little space,” Huegel said, rattling off a list of possible uses for the homes. “You can do it as a cottage dwelling. Hunting cabin. There’s so many options.”

Hurdles aside, Huegel said his experience working with Clark County and Labor and Industries have been positive so far, and he’s taking the challenges as they come. The county council showed interest in Huegel’s proposal at the board time meeting, and he’s optimistic that he can start manufacturing and selling the homes on a larger scale soon.

“Everyone’s receptive, everyone wants to help,” Huegel said. “Everyone’s attitude is ‘This is neat.'”

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