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Tiny House

Lane and Emily Van Horn were constructing a tiny house in their backyard in Lincoln in 2015.

Journal Star file photo

Building a little house — aka a back house or a granny house — on your property will become slightly easier under city code changes expected to be approved by the Lincoln City Council next week.

After a lengthy planning process, the city Planning Department abandoned an earlier, broader proposal in light of opposition from older neighborhood groups that don’t want to see more rental units in their neighborhoods.

No one from those neighborhoods showed up to protest the more modest version at last week’s public hearing before the City Council.

However, representatives of developers, who support the changes, told the City Council they’d really like to see more liberal rules in the future.

And they raised the two big family reasons often given for building little houses behind a larger family home.

Builders have seen an uptick in requests for this type of project, often associated with families caring for elderly family members, said Ann Post, a Lincoln attorney representing the Home Builders Association of Lincoln. And she believes demand for this type of housing is only going to increase.

These small units are also used for “children who are not moving away from home but need to move away from home,” said Lincoln builder Dan Klein.

Allowing smaller houses on more lots will give builders added flexibility to meet needs of families, he said during the public hearing.

Basically, if you have enough room on a lot to build a duplex you will be able to add a small home, no more than 800 square feet, with no more than one bedroom, under the new rules.

In an area zoned for duplexes and for single-family homes, you need no extra permission, but will have to meet design standards and size and setback rules when getting a building permit for the smaller house.

In areas zoned for apartments, the amount of land required to build two houses is reduced from current standards to duplex-size lots.

Citywide, about 27 percent of all residential-zoned lots are big enough for a duplex and thus would qualify for a small house, sometimes called an accessory dwelling, said Andrew Thieroff, a city planner.

In single-family areas, about 20 percent of the lots would be big enough for this second home.

The little houses will have to be compatible with the main home architecturally and fit into the neighborhood, under design standards for the smaller units.

In areas that allow single-family homes and duplexes, the property owner will have to live in one of the two houses on the lot. But both can be rentals in areas zoned for apartments, under the new code.

Enforcement of the rental rule will be complaint-based.

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The new rules will also allow a separate structure that could be used as a rec room, a pool house or a studio.

Today, technically, anything that has a finished floor and is heated or cooled has to be attached to the house, Thieroff said.

Older neighborhood homeowners were concerned the original, more liberal accessory dwelling proposal would have increased density of units in older areas.

“They were worried that these will be the slip-ins of the next decade,” he said, referring to small apartment buildings that were “slipped in” on lots where large, older homes once stood.

But since the new rules require a lot to be duplex-sized, density hasn’t changed much, he said.

In an earlier hearing before the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission, neighborhood association leaders pointed to the low demand for these additional small homes.

“We don’t object to new, well-planned tiny home neighborhoods. But there is no need for expanding the requirements for accessory dwellings beyond what we have in place,” said Vish Reddi, representing the Near South Neighborhood Association.

The Planning Commission sent the proposed rules to the council on a 7-0 vote. The council will vote on the plan at Monday's meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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