HAMPTON FALLS — "Can we all fit?" asked state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, as he walked Tuesday into Brianna O'Brien's 128-square-foot tiny house in her parents' backyard.
Sherman, joined by state Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood, visited O'Brien Tuesday to get a first-hand look at life in a tiny house as a legislative committee is being formed to study tiny homes.
Morgan hopes to be appointed to the committee and help it form guidelines for cities and towns to regulate tiny homes, as the concept is new to many communities like Hampton Falls. O'Brien is currently working on getting her tiny house permitted as a legal dwelling space by the town, which has zoning language that does not account for tiny homes.
"Tiny homes I think are a really exciting way to be addressing some of the most critical problems we have in the state, namely affordable housing," said Morgan. "Not if, but when, we move forward with tiny homes, we just (need to) get the regulatory environment that's for the New Hampshire way."
O'Brien gave the lawmakers a tour of her small home on wheels, which is hooked up to her parents' electricity and water and uses an incinerator toilet. She has been allowed to continue living in the home pending her request for two variances from the town Zoning Board of Adjustment. Her meeting with the board is set for July 25. She needs the variances to get the home permitted as an unattached dwelling unit with the wheels removed to stay in the house, which the recent college graduate bought to afford living in the Seacoast, where she grew up.
The committee, created by a bill signed into law June 18, will be charged with examining how tiny homes can fit into New Hampshire communities and producing a report on its findings later this year. The impact of allowing tiny homes is a concern for some municipalities. Two Hampton Falls selectmen having said granting O'Brien her variances could set a bad precedent for the town.
Sherman, who said he hopes Morgan is appointed to the committee, represents Hampton Falls in District 24 and said municipalities need to be considered when changing laws that impact zoning. He invited town officials to join them Tuesday, but said he was told they could not attend because of O'Brien's pending hearing with the ZBA. He said he hopes to meet with them in some form to hear their perspective so he can balance the needs of his constituents.
"It's something that works for you beautifully," said Sherman. "The question is, how can we make it work for the town?"
The bill establishing the new committee originally sought to require all New Hampshire communities to allow tiny homes in their zoning, but it was amended in the House to strictly form the committee. Morgan said he would not support legislation that would mandate towns to allow tiny homes, but rather enabling legislation that allows towns to easily begin putting tiny homes in their zoning.
Listening to O'Brien talk about life in her tiny house, Morgan gave O'Brien words of encouragement.
"This is the choice you've made, so we'll do what we can to make sure you can continue to live that way," said Morgan.
Sherman added, speaking to O'Brien, "It might not be in time for you, because this is a slow process. But there's always got to be somebody who is setting the trend, who is really pushing people to start thinking outside the box," said Sherman.
"Or outside the tiny home."