CLARKSVILLE, IN (January 17, 2023) – Home ownership has always been a major part of the ‘American Dream,’ but achieving that dream is becoming more difficult in 2023. Housing prices and rising interest rates are making it difficult for first-time home buyers to successfully purchase a home. Adding to that problem is a housing shortage in many parts of the country.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the Louisville/Southern Indiana area is in the middle of a ‘high housing shortage,’ the most severe rating according to the association’s housing tracking software. This problem can be even more of a hinderance in places like the Town of Clarksville, which is landlocked and without room to expand. Experts say land prices in Clarksville are so high that it does not make financial sense for developers to build single-family homes.
With no room to expand outward, one of the only options for communities like Clarksville is to expand upward. Since early 2022, developers have broken ground on more than five separate apartment complexes in the Town of Clarksville ranging from luxury to contemporary living, with more on the way. While these new complexes may be a solution for some, others prefer the life of homeownership. Now, the Town of Clarksville’s Planning Department is stepping in to provide some relief.
According to the Town’s long-standing building code, any new homes being built must be at least 1,200 square feet and built on a lot approximately 7,200 square feet or larger. However, many first-time home buyers do not necessarily need or want that much space. Some prefer to have a smaller and more affordable home, but they do not want to rent an apartment. Clarksville Planning Director Neal Turpin refers to this as the ‘missing middle.’
“The way most American cities are built – and have been built for decades – allows for larger new homes and apartments, with nothing in between,” said Turpin. “That space in between is usually called the missing middle, and includes things like townhomes, smaller homes, row houses, which have historically been a path to homeownership that has been ignored. This ordinance would help fill that gap and help more people become owners.”
The ordinance being referred to by Turpin is a new push to make smaller homes a possibility in the Town of Clarksville. Although the details still being worked out, the plan is to pass an ordinance to allow single-family homes as small as 500-600 square feet to be built on much smaller lots. The change would make it easier to build smaller, more affordable homes in Clarksville.
“We already have some smaller homes in Clarksville, but each time the developers of those properties were required to spend extra time and money applying for variances,” said Turpin.
Turpin says variances are exceptions to the Town’s building codes and that they should only be required for special circumstances, not a common occurrence such as plans to build smaller homes. Turpin says this new ordinance is the result of several factors including Clarksville’s lack of available land, the current housing shortage, and support from Clarksville Town Councilman Mike Mustain (District 4).
“About 8 months ago, Neal (Turpin), Jacob Arbital (former Planning Director), and I sat down to discuss the smaller home zoning idea,” said Mustain. “As part of my work on the Council and Plan Commission I observed many empty lots, especially in the south Clarksville area. Lots where homes once stood and now for whatever reason sit empty.”
Mustain says an abundance of multi-family dwellings or apartments seems to be what no one wanted, but many of our building standards handcuffed developers wanting to build single family dwellings. Additionally, he says the building codes are such now that minimum setbacks, minimum lot sizes and minimum dwelling square feet are not affordable for many and do not fit on those vacant lots.
“As I see it there is a need, a demand for the smaller footprint home, the ‘bungalow’ if you will,” said Mustain. “Many young folks want to own their home but can’t afford it, many of the older generation are wanting to downsize from the large home they once had when raising children.”
Although this new ordinance would allow for much smaller homes, it would not include ‘Tiny Homes’ such as those you may seen on cable television shows. Planning Director Turpin says tiny homes have their own set of building standards and are classified as 450 square feet or less.
As for the smaller homes ordinance, Turpin says he and his staff are finalizing the details before presenting it to the Clarksville Planning Commission at their February meeting. The Commission would then vote on the ordinance at their March meeting, and if passed, would send it to the Town Council for approval.
While some may say the small homes ordinance is a great idea, Turpin stresses that this is nothing new and that smaller homes or cottage style homes have been used for more than a century. He says we just need to look at our history and figure out what works best for the area we have.
“Sometimes some of the best planning ideas are old ideas,” said Turpin.