Healey talks with Jason Koperniak, Mitch Bresett and Chris St. Cyr in the workshop.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Tiny houses are making a big impact on the state's smallest city.
On Monday, Attorney General Maura Healey was the latest elected official to take a tour of B&B Micro Manufacturing's workshop in the Windsor Mill, where six tiny houses at various stages of completion were lined up in a row. Healey was in the city to meet with community leaders on the opioid epidemic.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the company's growth has been a bright spot in reviving the city's manufacturing base, an integral part of its creative economy.
"You can say that there's going to be 100 new jobs when a hotel is being built and people here will say, 'OK'," he said. "Now you have 42 on the payroll since April in manufacturing and that, here, strikes a very cool chord."
B&B was started by Hoosac Valley High classmates Chris St. Cyr, Mitch Bresett and Jason Koperniak. They were in an old garage off Old Columbia Street in Adams but relocated to the city earlier this year when the space at the Windsor Mill fit their needs. They'd planned to employ up to 30 but now have more than 40, including marketing manager Katie Jackson.
Right now they're mostly cranking out contracted units for a vacation rental company but they also do custom tiny houses and their own designs. A finished-out Arcadia model is on display and all the units are built to Recreational Vehicle Industry Association building standards.
Koperniak said most of their supplies come from local dealers, although the rental units' outfitting are prescribed by that company.
Their show model was outfitted with a stainless three-burner gas range and oven, a two-drawer refrigerator, tiled shower, convertible couch and loft bed, along with plenty of cupboards and cubby for storage. The ceiling was blue-weathered barnboard from Potvin's in Vermont. The unit was also outfitted with high-end features such as Bluetooth switches, an HVAC unit and a back porch with fold-up stairs and unique branch railings.
"I'd totally move in," said Healey, standing on the narrow steps to the loft. "It's so cool. Unbelievable."
The small size of the home allows it to be outfitted with higher quality amenites, said Bresett, because, for instance, instead of putting in 50 electric plates, you only need four or five.
Koperniak sees the next step in creating larger units for families or small custom homes. These could be an affordable housing solution for young people or empty-nesters.
"If we can take a $70,000 unit and put in the Boston area on a tract of land that may not support a large home — east of 495, housing is an issue," he said. "Out here you can buy a very affordable large one ...
"But we're trying to be that architecturally chic niche where you can have something very nice in a small size, at an affordable price point, and relatively fast."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli visited the workshop and invited them to be at the Lenox Apple Squeeze this weekend. Koperniak said he told them that tiny houses could be an attractive option for the Lenox area.
But a lot of communities have building restrictions that can prevent tiny houses from being sited as permanent homes. The company has been talking with the Smart Growth Alliance, which is looking at zoning challenges when it comes to affordable housing solutions such as cluster housing. It's also been in touch with Habitat for Humanity.
"I live in the eastern part of the state so I totally appreciate what you're saying about the lack of affordable housing," Healey said. "It's a real problem ... and it's increasing."
Alcombright said there have been discussions on whether to create adequate zoning to allow such residences to be located in North Adams.
"We've had these neighborhoods that have been at risk for years and we've done some demolition and now you've got a whole bunch of nonconforming lots," he said. "So is there a way to locate some of these on nonconforming lots and create a blended neighborhood that could be really spectacular and spark investment in the other properties?"
Jackson said they were excited to be working with city and state officials on zoning issues.
"We're talking to a lot of people who are very excited about it and Massachusetts is at the forefront," she said. "Other states will follow once we push it through."
For now though, Koperniak said they're at a comfortable level of construction, with customers coming to them. But he can also see future expansion.
"It's been a fun ride," he said. "We've had a lot of positive energy."
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