The city of Brainerd took a big step toward smaller houses this week.

The City Council voted Monday to change the zoning code to allow construction of smaller houses ­— as small as 500 square feet — on the hundreds of odd-sized and otherwise unusable lots around town.

The vote followed several months of debate about how small was too small when it comes to housing. Tiny houses are trendy these days, but opponents worry that they could drive down the property values of their larger-scale neighbors.

The original plan called for houses as small as 400 square feet. Bumping the limit up to 500 square feet puts Brainerd on a par with Minneapolis, where houses can be as small as 500 square feet and 350-square-foot efficiency apartments are legal.

"We went from tiny to small," said Mark Ostgarden, Brainerd city planner.

So far, he said, no developers have approached the city with plans for small-house construction.

If anyone does want to build small in Brainerd, there are limits. The houses can be built only on older lots that are too small for the city's standard 750-square-foot minimum for houses. Builders of tiny homes would also have to secure a special permit from the city.

The only no vote to the plan came from City Council Member Dolly Matten, who, according to the Brainerd Dispatch, objected to the idea of houses that could be as narrow as 18 feet wide.

The vote adds Brainerd to a growing list of communities that are embracing smaller homes as a way to make housing more affordable and available. New York recently legalized 275-square-foot apartments. Madison, Wis., plans to use tiny houses to shelter the homeless.

Jennifer Brooks • 612-673-4008