— Tiny home community pops up outside of Shepherdstown.
As a rule, most American’s like their homes big, but Danielle LaRock and Jonathan Carnill have a desire to live tiny in an 8.5 x 20-foot dwelling. They hope to develop a space for other owners of tiny homes to enjoy their “tinys” as well—in harmony with the belief that it’s important to be in a community with others who care about the planet, personal development, simple living, and helping each other while also being self-sufficient.
This idea, known as “Tiny Haven”—a place for fellow tiny home enthusiasts to gather—will sit on LaRock’s and Carnill’s property of six acres on River Road, four miles from downtown Shepherdstown—near the Christmas tree farm and Cedar Ridge Lane.
It was Carnill’s dad that got the couple interested in tiny houses.
“At first, I just thought they were cute, but never thought I’d want to live in one,” said LaRock. “Before we’d go to bed each night, we would look at photos of them on blogs. Over time, we became so interested in them that we decided to go tiny. We rented out our traditional house and worked with a tiny home builder to design and build our own tiny house on wheels.”
The couple’s passion for the Tiny Haven endeavor came from a shared love of Shepherdstown and tiny homes. Carnill has lived in the area for over 20 years, and LaRock since 2011. They believe the tiny house movement could be a contribution to Shepherdstown.
The mission is to provide a beautiful space for people to enjoy their tiny homes and Jefferson County, as well as lead education around the tiny house movement. Their values comprise simple living, community, working together, and sustainability.
“We understand that tiny living isn’t for everyone; we just want to help those who enjoy this type of lifestyle by giving them a special spot,” explained LaRock. “A common phrase in the tiny house movement is ‘home is where you park it.’ Tiny Haven is a place to park it.”
Because tiny living isn’t for everyone, there has been opposition from local neighbors regarding this effort.
“The biggest challenge has been opposition from our neighbors,” indicated LaRock. “Our intention was never to disturb our neighbors, but some have not liked the idea of tiny houses on wheels and a campground for ‘tinys’ near them. We have and will continue to do our best to address their concerns. Jefferson County has been a fair facilitator of the process and has taken into account everyone’s feedback and concerns, as well as our intentions and plans.”
To that end, on March 28, a zoning hearing took place at the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to address LaRock’s and Carnill’s request for a variance to reduce the required acreage for a six-site campground from ten acres to six, and to waive the requirement of a site plan to process a six-site campground. The zoning variance to be a six-site campground on six acres was approved, with the condition that LaRock and Carnill submit a site plan for the project.
Also presented to the BZA were several letters of opposition from local neighbors. One local neighbor, Wayne Bavry, is directly impacted, as his property sits on high ground looking straight down on what is now an approved campground.
“I am in direct and almost daily communication with many neighbors,” stated Bavry. “All are angry and disappointed by what they perceive as the failure of the Zoning Board of Appeals at the March 28 hearing to preserve our quality of life and maintain property values.”
A letter from the BZA to LaRock, dated March 21, clarifies that LaRock and Carnill understand that campsite occupancy is limited to 180 days, which is one of the worries of local neighbors. Other concerns include: Tiny Haven hasn’t met the legal requirements or minimum standards for either a campground or a subdivision; the potential loss of a 94-acre conservation easement along River Road; decreased property values; disruption of surrounding topography; and lack of a plan for sewage, road safety, and noise control.
“This is not a simple story,” added Bavry. “I believe it is a story about high-density, low-cost homes, being placed in the middle of rural parcels that in some cases contain expensive or historic homes that people have owned for decades.
“With respect to zoning, I believe Tiny Haven is coming in the zoning back door, via a variance, and not coming in the front door via code written for tiny homes—in total disregard of the negative impact as perceived by neighbors. The visual impact to River Road will be significant, as four tiny homes described at the Zoning Board of Appeal hearing on March 28 will front River Road and greatly impact the unique and scenic character of River Road in the area about four and a half miles outside of Shepherdstown.”
LaRock and Carnill have addressed these concerns by submitting a proposal to the BZA. Regarding the noise control, they plan to have quiet hours and do not plan to throw loud parties. They do not foresee their tiny houses creating any more noise than a typical family home.
They will address the safety issue by having an interview process for those who wish to bring their tiny homes to Tiny Haven for temporary stays. LaRock and Carnill will also be living at Tiny Haven as caretakers. If they travel out of town, they will have family take care of the property.
LaRock has a master’s in environmental science and is aware of the need to follow appropriate standards for sanitation, water, and runoff. She believes there will be less erosion, less potential for groundwater contamination, and less waste. To comply as a campground, they also will plant a vegetative buffer, which means there will be many more trees. The tiny homes will have composting toilets, and the waste is safe to dispose of in a landfill.
For the sake of appearance and aesthetics, the tiny homes that are currently on the property are built with the quality of stick-built houses and are certified as RVs. As future tiny homes are built, they plan to plant landscaping and install the traditional farm-like fencing to create greater privacy, sound barriers, and road appeal.
LaRock stated that many tiny homes move only once per year, and she does not foresee any significant increase in traffic on River Road due to people bringing tiny homes to the property. They intend to rent out the spaces that are not theirs to those who wish to stay 180 days. Therefore, only causing tiny homes to be moved down onto the property twice per year.
According to their proposal to the BZA, they will comply with all rules and regulations that pertain to campground zoning and operation. They do not foresee significantly altering the natural landscape for this project, which is why they submitted a request for a site plan variance to the BZA. However, this does not mean they wish to do anything ‘subpar.’ They’ve stated they are responsible landowners, business owners, and citizens, and do not want to cause any harm. If a site plan or other conditions are required to move forward with zoning as a campground, they will comply.
“The tiny house movement promotes simplicity, working together, connection with nature, environmental sustainability, and financial integrity,” emphasized LaRock. “We want to bring this movement to Shepherdstown and Jefferson County. We recognize that what we are doing is different, but we hope the community will appreciate that we do care, we are responsible, and that Tiny Haven would be a valuable contribution to Jefferson County.”By Robin Murphy