land, zoning and tiny houses

We are looking for unrestricted land within 30-45 minutes or less of the Asheville area (in North Carolina or Tennessee) for our tiny house homestead. Our plan is to build out two shipping containers with a covered deck and an outdoor kitchen in between. Our two tiny houses on wheels will serve as bed and organic breakfast vacation rentals.

We need to find unrestricted land, however,

unrestricted zoning does not mean you don’t have to follow building code. It just means you might not have to, or you may have limited code to follow. A tiny house on wheels is considered an RV (or a trailer), and is titled with the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state. Most areas will only let you live full time in an RV for a certain amount of time (anywhere from 30 days to 6 months), unless you are parked in a designated RV park. One of the options we have considered is getting our property zoned as an RV park, since we will eventually have one or two tiny house vacation rentals. Other areas will let you live in an RV while you are building your main house, and some areas may not have any limit to the amount of time you can stay in your RV while building.

But building codes vary from county to county, and even sometimes property to property, as we have recently discovered. We ran across some property in an area we liked in Burke County (within an acceptable distance from Asheville), and Marg filled out the Contact Us form on the Burke County Community Development department’s website for more information. This is the question she posed:

I am looking to start an off-grid project in North Carolina and wondering if Burke County zoning would allow my project. I am looking to set up a homesite on unrestricted land of 2+ acres. The project involves building 2 tiny homes of approximately 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, plus a barn, and a garden shed. We want to use off-grid power (solar), composting toilets, and for water, a well with that wastewater recycled in a grey-water system used to water our garden. I am most concerned about dwelling dimension requirements in your county, as well as septic requirements, as we want to use composting toilets instead of a septic system. Would this project be allowed or could it be with a permit?

And his response was:

Thank you for contacting Burke County Community Development. Concerning your email below, I can only speak from a Land Use (zoning) standpoint on your request.  I have copied this email which includes your request to the other two development departments (Environmental Health – well and septic) and Building Inspections – state building code) so that they can respond as well.Zoning would require you to meet the minimum lot size for two dwellings.  Zoning does not have a minimum dwelling size standard, but it does have a minimum lot size per dwelling standard.   The minimum lot size requirements depend on the zoning district, the availability of public water and sewer versus private well and septic.   We do not have provisions built into our minimum lot size requirements for the type of electric/waste water systems which you are proposing.   We will have to use the requirements we currently have.   Our minimum lot size per dwelling varies between 0.50 of an acre in the R-1 district if public water and public sewer is available, to 5.0 acres per dwelling in the Estate Conservation District using wells and septic.If you have a specific parcel in mind, I would be able to give you the specific acreage requirement for two dwellings.   I would need the Parcel ID number in order to determine this. As I said, I cannot comment of the Building Code and Environmental Health requirements.Please let me know if I can assist your further.

Best Regards,

Peter Minter
Zoning Administrator, CZO
Burke County Community Development

After Marg replied that as she understood it, we would need to find the parcel first and THEN ask the questions, he gave us some additional, SUPER HELPFUL information:

Though not mandatory, I would highly encourage you to subdivide any parcel that you chose in order that each dwelling is located on its own lot.    Even if you chose to locate both dwellings on one lot, they would have to be separated to where if the property was subdivided in the future, they would each have enough land separation to meet the subdivision standards.

You can search the zoning district of parcels using the county WebGIS.  Once the map is shown, use your mouse to click the “Layers” tab on the left side of the page.    Scroll down until you find “Zoning County”.  Check both boxes and the map will redraw showing the county zoning.   You can chose parcels using the “Search” tab.  You will need to enter a parcel Record number, a parcel PIN number, Deed Book and Page number, or an address.

Section 1001 Minimum Lot Area

Section 1001.01 Residential Uses
Within zoning areas permitting single family residential uses, minimum lot areas shall adhere to the requirements in Table 1001-1 Minimum Residential Lot Sizes.
Table 1001-1: Minimum Residential Lot Sizes
Zoning District
NO Public Water or Sewer
EITHER Public Water or Sewer
BOTH Public Water & Sewer
RMU
Rural Mixed Use
(Low Density)
50,000 sq. ft.
(1.15 Acres)
40,000 sq. ft
(0.92 Acre)
30,000 sq. ft.
(0.69 Acre)
R-3
Residential
(Medium Density)
40,000 sq. ft
(0.92 Acre)
30,000 sq. ft.
(0.69 Acre)
25,000 sq. ft.
(0.58 Acre)
R-2
Residential
(Medium-High Density)
30,000 sq. ft.
(0.69 Acre)
25,000 sq. ft.
(0.58 Acre)
21,780 sq. ft.
(0.50 Acre)
R-1
Residential
(Medium-High Density)
30,000 sq. ft.
(0.69 Acre)
25,000 sq. ft.
(0.58 Acre)
21,780 sq. ft.
(0.50 Acre)
District                                                             Average Density Per Unit (sq. ft.)
C-DE Estate Lot Conservation District                  217,800 (5.0 acres)
C-DL Low Density Conservation District               152,460 (3.5 acres)
PRMU Planned Residential Mixed-Use                  21,780 (1/2 acre)
District                         Minimum Lot Size in Lake Overlay
R-1, R-2, R-3              0.5 acre if served by public water
                                         AND sewer
                                         1.5 acres if served by public water
                                         OR sewer
                                         2.0 acres if served by NEITHER
                                         public water or sewer
 I hope this information helps.
Peter Minter
Zoning Administrator, CZO
Burke County Community Development

I don’t think we have heard back from the other two departments yet, but this information gives me hope that we will figure it all out and find something suitable! It seems that recently zoning departments in North Carolina have been fairly flexible with people like us looking to live in off grid tiny houses. They are working with people to achieve their goals because they can see the value in what we are trying to do!

6 thoughts on “land, zoning and tiny houses

  1. Great information. Hubby and I lived in Asheville and hope to return someday with our Future Tiny Home and my parents have a house in Burnsville NC. We currently live Hollywood, Florida and it’s to HOT. I have really enjoyed reading your blog this evening. Best of Luck, maybe someday our paths will cross until then I will continue reading 🙂

    • Hi, Stacie! Funny, MY parents just bought a house in Franklin, NC! Keep us posted on your adventure, and thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  2. I have also been considering a move to Asheville for some of the reasons that you have mentioned. We have teenagers in common. My daughter is 16 years old. Any chance you have checked into high schools in the region? What I am reading is that the Asheville city high school is rating well above the outlying county high schools.

    • I have. We have decided to either home school or do public virtual school through either Florida or North Carolina. My daughter will have dual residency because her father lives in Florida. She is taking an advanced math class this summer through Florida Virtual School so that she can skip ahead a year to Honors Algebra for a new program, and we really like it so far. Then we plan to supplement her education with dance classes (she is considering dance school) and arts in fabulous Asheville!

  3. Jealous!! I have been advocating the Tiny Houses for years and love Tennessee Tiny Homes for his passion and attention to detail. Have friends in Asheville and Brevard so hoping in two years I may find the right situation for me and my crew. (six dogs/2 cats) we just may see each other at one of the many festivals they host! 🙂
    Interestingly, I am also Sarasota native 🙂
    Best wishes for a successful transition!

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