On a whim last fall, Loren Schirber paid $65,000 for a 3-acre strip of land on St. Paul’s east side that looks like a useless patch of broken-up blacktop and overgrown weeds.
But he has a vision for the plot: an entire cooperative neighborhood of tiny houses with 52 units, gardens, chickens, a community center and a dog run.
Before construction on the “East Yard Cooperative” can begin, however, Schirber has some big hurdles to overcome.
• Previously: A look at the tiny house movement
For starters, the land is bordered by two active rail tracks — locals know it “Railroad Island.” The noise is so great that neighbors across the street are skeptical of Schirber’s project.
“Gosh, I wish ’em luck but, no. I don’t know how anyone could live there,” said Dick Goulet, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years. “Even at night we get used to them trains sometimes they hump and they bang when they take off, I’ll tell you this old house’ll shake.”
The houses Schirber wants to build would likely feel the trains’ impact more. They’re tiny: between 280 and 530 square feet, plus a sleeping loft.
However, they won’t look quite like the more common tiny houses on wheels — building codes require foundations and plumbing.
First, though, Shirber would need to get his land cleaned up. The land used to be a toxic waste dump and a railyard, so there’s mercury, lead and arsenic polluting the ground.
St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen thinks it’d be a good use of public money to pay for cleanup efforts. She thinks the tiny house co-op is an exciting idea. Part of it would fall in her ward.
“I love the idea of a co-op, and something kind of new in an area that has been, you know, had its challenges over time, but is really kind of becoming [an] area of…