As Zack Smithey began building his shipping-container home in St. Charles last May, the controversy around it grew along with the house.
Compliments came, but also complaints: Even after Smithey painted the red metal gray, it just didn’t look like other homes in the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted to categorize such dwellings as “conditional use” buildings. That means anyone who wants to build one will have to seek city approval to do so. The council also decided that container homes must include a pitched roof, and be fully sided — using vinyl siding, brick, wood or some other material.
The new rules don’t affect Smithey’s home. But he said they would have added $50,000 to his $125,000 project. He predicts the restrictions will prevent future container homes.
“I guess this will be the only one in St. Charles,” Smithey said.
It’s not just the money, he said. Building container homes is about reusing existing materials.
“One of the reasons we chose this is for sustainability,” Smithey said. “I don’t want to cover that up for aesthetic reasons because people can’t handle something different.”
‘We could have a hodgepodge’
In July the City Council voted down a proposal to limit the structures to mobile-home parks.
That’s when council member David Beckering decided to sponsor the new ordinance. He said he never intended to prevent more container homes from going up.
“I absolutely do not want to ban them,” Beckering said.
But Beckering said he believes St. Charles needs the restrictions to promote consistency throughout the area.
“If we didn’t [have them], we could have a hodgepodge of, ‘Well, in my ward, I want it this way; in your ward, it should be that way,’” Beckering said.
St. Charles architect Steve Hollander, a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission, agrees with the conditional-use idea.
But Hollander, the architect for Smithey’s house, thinks the roof and siding requirements go too far.
“People should have that opportunity to express what they want to do the way they want to do it,” he said. “Not with some preconceived notion of what it should be, [that would] kind of box them into a one-design-fits-all sort of situation.”
At one time, Smithey had plans for more container homes in St. Charles. Now, he’s abandoned that idea.
“I’ve got other prospects going on in St. Louis,” Smithey said.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL