So where do nestles want to live? Well, the traditional three-bedroom, two-bath split-level house on 15,000 square feet of maintenance isnít the correct answer. They want attractive, traditional-looking smaller homes on small lots, with little or no upkeep responsibilities. They want to be near shopping and services. Walking trails and lots of maintained open space are important. Oh, and by the way, price matters too.
There is a good reason Billís seminars are always packed. Yes, he is an excellent speaker, not to mention entertaining (my favorite slide shows a dozen smiling people crammed into a smallish hot tub. Bill explained that high-density can be fun.) More important, anyone in the building industry needs to be aware that this is a vital, upcoming trend in housing ó an opportunity not to be missed.
And Iím not just talking about those of us in the private sector. We canít develop and build things bureaucracies donít allow (heck, we have enough trouble building things they do allow). A huge problem is that many jurisdictions still operate under codes and ordinances created in the Beaver Cleaver days. Some have been updated ó layered with gobs of spaghetti and other labyrinthine measures ó but the end product is still mostly unmanageable. New, simple, progressive-thinking codes are needed.
Bill showed several examples of urban infill projects that look great, fit with the character of the neighborhood, provide homes for many and increase the tax base of some lucky jurisdiction. Okay, so the projects made the developers wads of money too, but isnít that what win-win is all about?
Specifically, how is desirable high-density, low-rise housing accomplished? Here are a few tips:
- Use narrow lots, minimizing side yards and maximizing the number of lots per linear feet of road.
- Front houses on parks and other open space to give each residence the feel of a spacious yard/recreation area.
- Use landscaping to contain and disguise stormwater treatment and detention facilities.
- Use narrow streets. Not only does this allow more useable lot area, it decreases non-stormwater-friendly pavement. Fire marshals will be concerned, but there is ample precedence to demonstrate it can work well.
- Use alleys in lieu of avenues.
- Use carriage style homes (living space above parking areas).
- Use cottage style homes (homes fronting on common landscaped walkway areas with group parking in back).
- Mix in smartly designed multifamily dwellings. Bill showed several examples of multiplexes that looked just like another large house in the neighborhood.
- High-density can be a terrific product, but it wonít work everywhere. Case in point: there is a charming, brightly colored, well-built and planned cottage home community on the outskirts of a town near me. Itís not selling worth a hoot because it is too far removed from the downtown core. Nestles (apparently) like walking or taking the bus.
- Lastly, employ a good architect to help with layout and site design. Engineers have been cookie-cuttering Leave-It-To-Beaver neighborhoods for decades. Iíll be the first to admit I have no business trying to design the attractive neighborhoods Bill showed. Storm drainage and sewer ó fine, I can still handle those. Goes downhill; always has, always will. But when it comes to ďform,Ē well, thatís just not my bag.
Tim Garrison of ConstructionCalc.com, is a professional engineer, author and software producer for the building industry. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim reads every one.
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The views expressed in this article represent the personal views, statements and opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views, statements, opinions or policies of the National Association of Home Builders. NAHB does not necessarily endorse any of the views expressed by the author and NAHB is not responsible for any direct or indirect consequences arising out of the views expressed in this article.
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