A developer wants to build four to eight tiny houses in Grand Forks.

Cody Bartholomew, a mechanical engineer by day who wants to build the homes on the side, told City Council members on Monday, Sept. 9, that he can fit four homes of about 785 square feet each on a single 100-by-140-foot lot. The homes would share a communal area with possibly a fire pit and each would have a single-stall garage.

Council members are expected to discuss Bartholomew’s plan at a Sept. 30 strategic planning meeting, and city staff members said they’re working to determine how tiny houses would gel with existing city zoning ordinances, inspection criteria and bigger-picture questions, such as where the homes might fit best within the city.

“I feel like there’s a need for affordable housing in Grand Forks,” Bartholomew told the Herald, adding that each house would cost less than $200,000, depending on how much the lot costs. “I think this is a good option to work together with the city to provide an affordable housing option other than apartments. Something like this would give a person an option to be a homeowner for probably roughly the same cost as they’re paying to rent an apartment in Grand Forks.”

The developer plans to form an LLC and take out a loan to build the houses. The plan, for now, is to build one or two batches of them. Bartholomew declined to say which specific locations he’s scouted.

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“I want to work with the city, and I’m just following their lead,” he said. “I want to put the ball in the city’s court right now to find a location that works with the city of Grand Forks.”

City staff said Bartholomew has mentioned the Kingsview area of Grand Forks, which lies to the east of King’s Walk Golf Course near the city’s southern edge.

“Everyone has an idea of what tiny houses are, and these probably aren’t going to be similar to what you’re seeing on HGTV,” Bartholomew said. “They’re not mobile homes; they don’t have wheels on them. These aren’t modular homes. These are stick-built houses on a foundation, they have high-end finishes and they’re going to be very energy efficient.”

City hall staff said Grand Forks has no formal definition for affordable housing.

So how good of a deal might Bartholomew’s tiny houses be?

A few Grand Forks real estate agents said $150,000 -- three-quarters of the maximum Bartholomew told Council members and the Herald -- could readily net a homebuyer a house that’s larger than 750 square feet. But those houses, they cautioned, would presumably need several thousand dollars' worth of work: a new furnace or air conditioning system, for instance.

“You’re probably looking at a house that hasn’t been updated in a while,” said Josh Steinke, a Berkshire Hathaway realtor in Grand Forks.

The closer a 785-square-foot home’s price gets to $100,000, the better of a deal it would be, he said.

Bartholomew characterized the houses he aims to build as “glove” houses, meaning no square footage is wasted.

“It’s just less carbon footprint, more energy efficient,” he said. “Your monthly bills are smaller. Your taxes are smaller.”

Should Grand Forks incorporate the concept of small homes into its zoning?

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