While Rome-Floyd County Planning officials try to sort out issues related to the growth of the tiny-home industry, Rome businessman Ed Watters’ Little River Escape tiny-home community on Lookout Mountain in Chattooga County is finally beginning to pick up momentum.
Watters revealed plans for his tiny-home community along the East Fork of the Little River in April 2015. More than a year later, six homes are planted firmly on lots in phase one of the development.
Meanwhile, Rome-Floyd County Planning Director Sue Hiller said her office would probably take another month to try to address the growing interest in tiny homes, which are typically 400 to 600 square feet.
“We’ve had requests from people about trying to do tiny-home communities that would be upscale and tiny-home communities that would be affordable housing,” Hiller said. “The idea is they would be pretty high density development.”
Issues from a planning perspective involve the quality of the construction and how the small domiciles are used.
She said the tiny homes could be built as recreational vehicles for very temporary shelter. They can be built to the same standards as a mobile home or they can be built to single-family, industrial modular standards. The latter could essentially be used the same way as any other single-family dwelling.
Hiller said the larger issue involves standards for lot sizes and setbacks, but the more clustered, higher density development areas ideal for the tiny homes also need to be discussed.
Watters did not have to deal with any of those issues on the mountain near Cloudland because Chattooga County doesn’t have any zoning in the unincorporated areas of the county.
To make his Little River Escape plans work, basically all he had to do was make sure he could get approval for septic tanks from the health department.
Watters said he learned he would have to get U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval if he disturbed more than one acre — which is why the lot size was set at three-quarters of an acre.
The tiny homes at Little River Escape are built to RV standards and single-family modular home standards.
Watters said he’s had a home on Lake Lahusage since 1993 and has enjoyed canoeing and kayaking on the East Fork of the Little River for decades. Several years ago, he was riding his bike in the Chattooga Century Ride when he passed a sign indicating a 50-acre tract on the mountain was up for sale.
“I wondered if it backed up to Lake Lahusage and my mind kept thinking about it,” Watters said. “I wanted a place with water access on the mountain.”
When the ride was over he quickly learned the 50-acre tract ran up against the river, and the seed for a tiny-home community was planted.
Before development started, Watters toured a number of tiny-home communities and at least a dozen manufacturers before deciding to work with two companies, one in Alabama and another in South Carolina.
“I was amazed at all the floor plans,” he said. “I can place an order and it’s here in six to eight weeks. They deliver it, and I can have it (connected to power and septic) in three days.”
Watters said he’s made a concerted effort to tuck away his tiny homes into wooded lots. “You’re not going to see your neighbor,” he said. “It is quiet and peaceful, that’s for sure.”
Phase One also includes a pool and pool house, which Watters and his staff at Watters Landscaping and Associates designed in the manner of a tiny house. The development also includes a dock and access to the river.
“A lot of people look at it as a vacation home; others look at it as a retirement home,” Watters said. Homes sell for anywhere between $35,000 and $70,000, and Watters is leasing the lots to clients.
He also said several couples have expressed an interest in forming a business partnership to share ownership of the homes and use them as rental property when they are not spending time on the mountain.
Watters said he has no problem with that concept but that he has no desire to get into rental management himself. “My plate is full,” he added.
At this point, one person is living full time at Little River Escape. The other homes are being used as weekend getaways.
Little River Escape is less than an hour northwest of Rome, close to Cloudland Canyon State Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve and DeSoto Falls State Park.
“A lot of people have been looking in the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, but they are so overpriced,” Watters said.