New housing developments in the suburbs are not usually a beacon of innovation. But as cities strive to increase housing choice, encourage better design and strengthen their community, that often means a change to the typical suburban model.
Redmond, Washington, a neighbor to the east of Seattle, is taking a step in this direction. A 1.5 acre spot (see site plan here) called Sycamore Park, which recently sold its last unit, is the most notable project of Redmond’s “Innovative Housing Demonstration Program,” which began in 2005. The defining features are as follows:
- Design – Design features include recessed garages, front porches, and cascaded roofs. Unlike other homes in the area, parking is placed on side alleys for eight of the twelve units. Because cars and garages are not the dominant feature, the front porch and the street front are connected. The site also features a woonerf, Dutch for “people place,” which is a street designed without vehicles as the primary use;
- Public Spaces – The site includes a pedestrian park, and a couple community gathering areas. Shared public space exists between private property;
- Affordability – Due to inclusionary zoning, the site includes one affordable unit (defined as affordable to someone earning 80% of King County median income). In general, homes are much smaller than average, which should bring the price down;
- Density – The 1.5 acre site fits 12 units. This is markedly different, as adjacent zoning only allows for 6 units;
- Choices – A stated priority of the City of Redmond is to “emphasize choices and equitable access in housing.” Sycamore Park includes 6 detached and 6 attached homes, as well as 4 optional Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU). ADU’s are around 400 square feet and can be used as extra space for the owner, or rented out, creating another cost-effective option. The smaller size of the homes should also help meet affordability goals.
Naturally, the project met some challenges. Nearby residents expressed discontent with the added density; worried that it would not fit with the existing single-family suburban style. In a review panel report, it was noted that the developer would be the beneficiary of smaller, denser housing. The homes are cheaper than ones nearby, but in general, affordability is not the focal point of this project. However, the architecture blends well with its surroundings, and the final project has been generally well-received.
But what is “innovative” about it? Planners know how politically challenging change in single-family areas can be. Most of the area is zoned as standard R-4 (four homes to the acre), but this project reached 7.5 to the acre not including the four accessory dwelling units. Low-impact density, with increased choice, were the main successes of this project; no small feat in this suburban area.
The Innovative Housing Program in Redmond has expired. But successful elements, such as the woonerf, will influence future projects. The project should encourage adaptations to the zoning code to incentivize this type of building. The housing challenges we are facing, such as supply shortages, a lack of choice and affordability, and design flaws, will need innovation to be addressed.
What other suburban developments would you call “innovative?”
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.