This tiny house caused a big stink

This tiny house caused a big stink
This tiny house has caused a big stink in Park Hill.

Nissa Rost-Rothman greets the two hippies from northern Virginia who have been staying at her home, the back half of a single-story duplex in south Park Hill. For $145 a night, Airbnb guests rent her place and she couch-surfs. Though Rost-Rothman doesn't feel well, she's bubbly as she shows off her soon-to-be-finished tiny home in the back yard, which she hopes to rent for additional income or stay in when her house is occupied.

Her contractor recently put the axles back on the tiny house's trailer, but she warns visitors to tread lightly until he is certain construction is up to par. The freshly painted interior includes a sleeping loft, a bathtub, a couch that turns into a bed, and a kitchen. It will not be a complete kitchen, Rost-Rothman explains, because structures with full kitchens fall under the city's definition of an "accessory dwelling unit" and require building permits. So while she plans to have a sink, she will forgo an oven and stove and instead equip the house with a microwave and a hot plate. For similar reasons, she has scratched plans to tap into city utilities and is figuring out a backup plan for generating power.

On the other side of the fence, Patricia Taylor sits on her back porch, looking northeast over peonies, irises, dahlias and pansies. She doesn't want to look south anymore. When she does, she sees Rost-Rothman's fifteen-and-a-half-foot slab of gray paneling buttressing her fence and blocking her once-idyllic view. From this angle, the so-called tiny house looks gigantic. "As you can see, it's not small," Taylor says.

Nissa Rost-Rothman in her tiny house.
Jim J. Narcy
Nissa Rost-Rothman in her tiny house.

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Two windows cut out of the gray slab face her small back yard, which she once considered "a paradise." Now she never knows if someone is peering out of those windows into her yard. "It's been pretty fucked," she says. "It takes a hell of a lot to get me upset. I don't know why I'm letting this bother me so much."

But as she tells her story, it becomes obvious. "I was a runaway at fourteen, and I never looked back," Taylor says. "I am still estranged from the people that I ran from. It was a long, hard road, and everything I have achieved, I did by myself." When she was a teen, she lived with other runaways in motels. Her boyfriend died of an overdose in her bed. An older computer-science teacher took her in and gave her an education in culture and the arts. They traveled Europe together. At twenty, she left him and moved to Denver. She gave birth to her son, Max, when she was 24. Together they spent many cold nights in a Geo Metro parked near City Park, where she turned homelessness into a game to entertain her young son.

With a kid to support, Taylor took the GED test, which she miraculously passed. She struggled through two years of remedial classes — basic courses such as division — to get to the college level. Initially, she planned to study to be a dental hygienist, but slots were limited. Her chemistry teacher suggested that she become a nurse. Maintaining a stellar GPA, she earned grants that paid for her entire education.

Years of homelessness prepared her for the stress that nurses contend with. Working in a long-term acute-care unit, she deals with people on the edge of death, victims of car accidents, shootings and full-body burns. Ninety percent of the people she sees will be dead in three months. She works with patients and their families in those last days, as they decide how long is too long to let their loved ones stay in a coma. She says she has "euthanized" more people than she can count, pulling the plug when the patients or the families finally decide it is over. Toughened by the streets, she never sheds a tear.

When she comes home, she escapes into the garden. That's why she bought this house — the first house she has lived in since she was fourteen.

She scrolls through photos of last summer's crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and broccoli. This year, she's not sure she'll bother planting. She fears that vegetables will not survive the shadow of her neighbor's tiny house.

Rost-Rothman has seen tough times, too. Her father was an American labor-studies professor always looking for stable employment; he'd grown up in a left-leaning Jewish family during the McCarthy era. When he was a kid, the FBI raided his basement during the Rosenberg trials.

Her mom was a workaholic entrepreneur who was rarely at home for the kids. When she wasn't working on her business, she kept busy with the American Indian Movement, serving as a moderator in the Wounded Knee trials, where she protected indigenous witnesses from government harassment.

Having grown up in a family that had firsthand experience with state repression, Rost-Rothman says she has little tolerance for government scrutiny.

She moved to Denver four years ago, when her fiancé was offered a gig here. She landed a position with the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance; she was thrilled to find a job at which she could use the skills she learned at DePaul University — where, she says, she racked up student loans she is "still paying for and probably always will."

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22 comments
cleekmaker00
cleekmaker00

The determining factor whether or not the concept of 'tiny houses' will succeed is entirely dependent on selling the City and County of Denver on the concept. That's City Council, The Zoning Department, Neighborhood Planning and Development... the list goes on and on. Until that happens, stories such as Ms. Rost-Rothman's will be the norm. 

While I applaud Ms. Rost-Rothman's initiative and desire to own a tiny home, she ran afoul of a system that's very set in its ways, means and methods; from both a regulatory standpoint, and a 'culture' standpoint. Construction and Zoning departments are steeped in a culture of 'it's either this way, or not at all'.

 

pt2710149
pt2710149

check out 7 news online article" Parkhill resident wants zoning changed for short term rentals" AirBnB.

pt2710149
pt2710149

Have you ever been in your neighbors backyard since you built your accessory dwelling unit?  As you state that their is plenty of sunshine in both yards determined by your 4 landscape architects. did they ever enter the neighbors yard? 

If you believe in communication and mediation was your neighbor ever communicated with prior to construction? 

You spend $30,000 to build a structure without checking to see if you even need a permit at the least? Seems like you didn't do any of these responsible forms of communication for a reason.

mariposabzzz
mariposabzzz

Though I think Kyle's intentions were good in writing this, unfortunately there are some gaping inaccuracies. Examples: I was given the message of "please disregard the Stop Work order" once it was discovered that the building was on a trailer; the City was referring to this as an illegal RV due to its (inaccurately) recorded length until I insisted that they come measure to confirm that it was indeed within the 22 foot length limit. Then they changed the language to "dwelling unit", even though they said on record that it doesn't legally constitute one; it was built within 1 week and activity was halted once I received the first order to Cease and Desist. That was in December and I couldn't get a Hearing date before April 1, which is why its been there so long. I would like to add that I was working under the guidance of a consultant. The language of our zoning codes is very vague in this regard.


 I'm very glad to see that my neighbor found a platform to share her side, and I hope she feels that it was reflected accurately in this piece. I do wish she would have accepted my invitation for Community Mediation so that we could have come to a peaceful resolution on this. (another vital detail that was left out of the article). I also wish that the Greater Park Hill Neighborhood Group would have responded to my invitation to meet with them so that I could fill in some of their enormous information gaps, hear their concerns, and consider their feedback. They may have learned how to harness the value all of this potentially could bring to our community. I believe in collaboration and communication. Instead they treated me like a criminal.


estremoz
estremoz

Ms. Rost-Rothman - do you have letters of support for your tiny house from all of your adjacent neighbors - meaning directly north, south, east and west of your property? (shared property lines and directly across the alley and street).

estremoz
estremoz

It isn't a random act of enforcement.  She didn't do her homework or seek the advice of the Authority Having Jurisdiction (City of Denver Development Services).  This past Great Recession has been a horrible time for many, including myself, but I never resorted to anything illegal or that would impact my neighbors in order to make ends meet.  As an architect, I never liked Ayn Rand and this smells of individualism....


1. It is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and those are only allowed in residential zones that allow two units on a lot. It must be an accessory to a single family home. This tiny house has been built on a lot as an accessory to a duplex (two units already exist). Also, the zone lot must be a minimum of 4,500 square feet, and this ADU is located on a 3,307 square foot zone lot.

2. It was built without permits and has hard (permanent) connections to utilities: gas, water and electricity (rather than flexible/plug-in connections like in an RV park).
3. ADU's must be in the rear part of the zone lot, 5 feet away from the property line. This structure is only 3 feet from the property line.
4. This ADU is also protruding into the required 'bulk plane' which is an invisible 'envelope' that goes from the ground at the required 5 foot setback, up 90 degrees to a height of 10 feet, and then a 45 degree angle towards the center of the lot. It measures 18 feet tall at three feet from the property line.
5. The intended use for this tiny house was as a short term vacation rental. Any rental less than a 30 day term is not allowed in residential zone districts. The half of the duplex by the same owner is currently also a short term vacation rental.
6. The maximum lot coverage of the duplex plus the ADU and any other accessory structures (detached garage, storage shed, etc) is 50%. The lot size is 3,307 square feet. The duplex is 1,553 square feet. The maximum square feet of coverage is 1,653.5 square feet. The tiny house is listed at 176 square feet. This is a total of 1,729 square feet, nearly 80 square feet over the allowable, not including any other structures that may be on the property (unknown).

rockymissouri1
rockymissouri1

Taylor could have put up a trellis, and had a living screen to block the view.... After going through such hardships of life, one would think she would a bit tougher and resourceful than to be undone by the sight of a lovely Tiny House...!!

pt2710149
pt2710149

@cleekmaker00

This isn't about the system- It is about the negative impact that this very large accessary dwelling units has had on the property and owner to the north. Homeowners/ renters live in neighborhoods, consideration is not regulated, to most its just expected.

Actions like the building of this accessary dwelling unit will only lead to more regulation! Do you believe the builder of this ADU cared at all about the impact this would have on the neighboring home? That is why regulation exist, to protect all residents and their right to quality of life.

A true tiny house is not illegal in Denver, if this builder would have worked with the above mentioned systems she would likely have been able to build a legal tiny house and avoided all of this.

mariposabzzz
mariposabzzz

@pt2710149 There were attempts to contact my neighbor, yes. The city told me I did not need a permit to build on a trailer. I have it in writing. I also have pictures of the backyard with full on sun. The only shadow being from the portion of the tree that I had offered to have trimmed. I did not receive a response that could have allowed that to happen.

mariposabzzz
mariposabzzz

@estremoz You don't have all the facts right. No utilities, for example. Also, it was NOT intended for short term rental. That is simply not true.

berniejdavis
berniejdavis

@brady30 No she obnoxiously imposed on her neighbor in violation of city ordinances. It's even worse when you view it in person, I did.

berniejdavis
berniejdavis

@brady30 You should check it out in person. I have, it's spectacularly obnoxious.

estremoz
estremoz

@rockymissouri1 It is not lovely.  It looks like a temporary classroom trailer.  She even painted it the color 'temp hemp'.  


There is a reason why fences are only allowed to be 6 feet tall.  Anything taller than that is oppressive.  Property rights are not all about the individual property owner, it is the properties on either side as well, and this is the reason for zoning and maximum heights, and setbacks, and uses, etc.  With the duplex and the tiny house for short term rental - it is possible that up to 8 unrelated persons could be 'inhabiting' the property at any one time.  Up to 3 is allowed by zoning. One of the reasons that people purchase homes is to get away from the transience of the rental market.  Ms. Taylor worked hard to achieve the stability of her own home, she deserves some privacy for herself and sunshine for her garden.

pt2710149
pt2710149

@rockymissouri1 

If you can put up a 24 Ft long and 18 Ft tall trellis, that receives no sunlight. educate me. Westword did not show pics from my side of the fence. Its not so lovely, the tiny fence behind the "tiny house" is a 6 Ft. privacy fence, the "tiny house is as I stated 18 Ft. tall on my side and slopes down to about 8-10 Ft. on the owners property.  If your so passionate put it in your yard, its for sale. 

estremoz
estremoz

@mariposabzzz @estremoz No utilities?  Where does the water come from for the full bath and where does the waste go?  What is powering the light fixtures and and the fireplace?  Is it a gas fireplace or electric?

mariposabzzz
mariposabzzz

@pt2710149 @rockymissouri1 More inaccuracies. Its just under 15 feet, and there is TONS of sunlight to both backyards. Mostly because after consulting with 4 landscape architects that confirmed it was the main cause of shade, I had a tree trimmed...which was on the other side of the property line. (the branches were on my side, the trunk on hers.)

 
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