During Monday night’s Alamance County Commissioners meeting, the board made the decision to approve a new manufactured home park community in Haw River, to be known as Cranmore Meadows.
Cranmore Meadows is the brainchild of Callie Brauel and Nathan Huening, who are creating a large eco-village on a 30 acre plot of land along Highway 54. 13 lots were approved for tiny houses, which will be for lease or rent only. The community will include a gathering event space, as well as more than 20 acres of nature for a wildlife preserve and permaculture farming.
“Five years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to start building a tiny house RV on wheels for full-time living, inspired by a trend that was sweeping the nation,” Callie Brauel wrote to the Alamance County Planning Board back in mid-May. “Our goal in living in this tiny house was to live a simpler, more sustainable, and affordable lifestyle. A few years in, we decided that we wanted to make this lifestyle available to others in our community and saw a clear demand with close to a thousand folks on a Triangle tiny house mailing list who attended local meetups to learn more.”
Brauel and Huening’s vision is to create a community similar to one currently just outside of Asheville, which has proven to be immensely popular. The lots cannot be sold individually, and the tiny houses will not be available for sale. The ABSS school districts for this property are Alexander Wilson Elementary, Hawfields Middle School, and Southern Alamance High School.
“We think there’s a demand for this,” Huening told the Commissioners. “The land is beautiful but very challenging. There’s no flat ground anywhere. We don’t know of anything like this in the Piedmont at all. We’re excited to be on the forefront of this.”
Huening indicated that the property is not far from the Swepsonville Honda Plant, , and that he and his wife have been working with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission to create a nature preserve on the property.
“It (the property) is half wooded, half open meadow,” he said. “The land is not suitable for anything else except maybe grazing. There is a substantial flood plane, and significant slopes that have been challenging. We think it’s a fun idea. It’s attractive for young professionals that might want to come to Alamance. Because they’re so small, the infrastructure that you need is much smaller.”
One of the reasons why this specific property is attractive for this type of mobile “Tiny House” community is that the land’s topography is not ideal for conventional construction. Almost half of the acreage is classified as moderately erodible clay with steep slopes of anywhere from 15 to 45 degrees. The property also contains a large spring-fed pond, multiple intermittent channels, and mature mixed hardwood and pine forests.
In addition, approximately half of the Cranmore Meadows property is bordered by Haw Creek and FEMA-regulated flood zones, which contain a considerable portion of the existing open land on the property, but is excluded from building sites and septic drain fields. The applicant requested a couple of variances from Alamance County’s manufactured home park ordinance in order to avoid septic drain fields and other trouble spots on the property.
The developer requested a variance from 45 feet to 35 feet for structure setbacks from the travelway centerline for lots 1 through 7, in order to avoid septic drain fields. The developers also asked for a waiver on the 100 feet of road frontage on the travelway, in order to prevent mass grading and land clearing, and the detrimental impact to neighbors and natural resources.
“The purpose of tiny house RV living is to introduce a new, more ecologically-focused model,” wrote the applicants. “It appeals to residents who are content to own less but do more, who value experience more than possessions, and who wish to live lightly on the land. We ourselves, as owners, live full-time in a tiny house on wheels - about 250 square feet total - and want to make the lifestyle available to others in our community.”
“Cranmore Meadows is a community that puts people and planet first and serves as an example as to what a more sustainable and interconnected future could look like. We accomplish this by providing affordable tiny housing, alternative green building, and other sustainability workshops, community gatherings focused on connecting with the land and each other, and farming practices that enhance ecosystem processes on our land. Every decision we make is guided by putting the health of our land and its inhabitants above all else.”
County planning manager Tonya Caddle indicated to the County Commissioners that despite the issues regarding setbacks and roadway frontage, the applicant met parking requirements, lot size requirements, and other components of the manufactured home ordinance.
“They’ve done the necessary things to keep the units apart,” Caddle explained.
The proposed community is also harmonious with the surrounding area, which includes the nearby Star Mobile Home Park, as well as other manufactured home park communities.
“This is not unlike the surrounding area at all. These are just modifications that are needed because of the type of land we’re working with here,” the County Planning Manager added.
Bobby Tucker, a local engineer assisting the applicants, told the Commissioners that half the property is bordered by a major creek and jurisdictional flood plane, and the property is covered by steep, wooded terrain. He indicated that it would take a great deal of mass grading and clearing to do anything traditional construction-wise on the land.
In what was a quasi-judicial hearing - a first for multiple members of the current Alamance County Board of Commissioners - the elected board heard testimony from the applicant and the County Planning Director. Based on the legal terminology of “substantial competent material evidence,” as explained by County Manager Clyde Albright, the Commissioners established a series of “Findings of Fact,” and then debating the merits of the project.
“The project is 13 tiny houses on wheels, with all hookups,” said Commissioner Chair Amy Scott Galey. “The applicants have filed a request seeking a modification of the manufactured home park ordinance because of the 45-foot structure setback from the travelway center line is, they say, a hardship No. 1. Hardship no 2 is the 100-foot road frontage on the travelway, which is met for 3 of the 13 home lots.”
“Quoting the testimony of the planning director, the drive(way) is good,” Galey continued, reading through the Commissioners Findings of Fact. “The community well and septic, as proposed, are adequate. There is a flood plane and an existing pond, and the property is joined by the Haw Creek. There are moderately erodible sleep slopes. There are existing mobile home parks in the general vicinity of the property. The applicants have proposed modifications to keep the units apart and protect the public safety. There are moderately erodible steep slopes.
The proposed community was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Tim Sutton provided the lone dissent.
“I don’t like being hamstrung with what I can ask,” Sutton said, indicating his displeasure with the Quasi-Judicial evidentiary hearing process, which limits what questions can be asked of applicants by the Commissioners. “In 24 years, this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. I don’t think the aesthetics of the units should warrant approval or disapproval. I don’t know the square footage of the units. I don’t know if there’s permanent foundations. I don’t know if there’s tie-downs. You’re looking at aesthetics versus factual. There’s so much I don’t know. I can’t vote on anything that seems so vague to me.”
“The structure isn’t relevant to whether they’ve demonstrated their hardships,” explained Commissioner Galey in response to Sutton’s comments. “The minimum lot size is 8,000 square feet. The ordinance has met the 20 foot travelway, 50 foot clearway, and 8,000 square feet (requirements), the two parking spaces for each unit, and some road frontage. It doesn’t have enough road frontage.”
“To me, we’re splitting some fine hairs here, and I just can’t be a part of it,” Sutton said.
Bill Lashley motioned to approve Cranmore Meadows - a motion that was seconded by Steve Carter and voted in favor of by Lashley, Carter, Galey, and Eddie Boswell.
Prior to his second on the matter, Carter inquired whether the gravel driveway through the property would be adequate for Emergency Management services. The Planning Department said it was adequate.
“I think it’s a great location for this particular RV park,” Lashley said moments prior to his motion to approve. “I’ve rode down there and driven around as far as I could go. It looks like to me it’s ideal for what they’re looking for.
“I’d reiterate from my perspective that it’s important the public health and welfare is secured,” Galey added. “It’s adequate for septic and well. The ordinance has been substantially met. We look forward to seeing it. It sounds very interesting.”
“I think the fire and safety is a big aspect. I think you have met that,” added Commissioner Boswell.