By Erika Webb
A housing concept that originated in 18th Century London could be coming to DeLand.
The City Commission unanimously approved July 7 authorizing staff to prepare a Land Development Regulation amendment to allow Cottage Neighborhoods.
Also called pocket neighborhoods, the community concept hearkens back to the days when neighbors were more like extended family than anonymous ships passing in early dawn or evening.
Bob Fitzsimmons, president of Gallery Homes, and Mark Watts, a partner at law firm Cobb Cole, explained their vision and answered questions.
Together they formed Cottage Neighborhoods of Florida and for the past 18 months have worked on housing models they believe would fit the pocket-style neighborhoods they want to create in DeLand.
An article Mr. Watts read in the New York Times around the start of the Great Recession outlined a "new" housing trend that was taking hold in the Pacific Northwest.
"It was an intriguing concept to me," Mr. Watts told commissioners.
Ross Chapin Architects designed Third Street Cottages, the first contemporary pocket neighborhood.
"Facing the same growth pressure as many towns across America, the City of Langley, Wash., (pop. 1,100) adopted an innovative 'Cottage Housing Development' zoning code provision to preserve housing diversity, affordability and character, and to discourage the spread of placeless sprawl," according to Langley-based Ross Chapin Architects' website. Langley is on Whidbey Island.
"It allows for up to double the density of detached homes in all single-family zones, providing the ground floor area is less than 700 SF and total area including the second floor is less than 975 SF. The cottages must also face a usable landscaped commons, and have parking screened from the street," according to the firm.
To ensure good fit within existing neighborhoods, each project proposed is reviewed by the planning and design review boards, the site states.
As cottage neighborhoods began to pop up in other parts of the country, Mr. Watts said he "followed it" and eventually got to work with Mr. Fitzsimmons on a plan for DeLand.
With 180 million people between the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, and an additional 30 million counting the Millennials' successors, Generation Z, this close-knit dwelling concept promises broad market appeal, Mr. Watts said.
Increasingly harsh northern winters and "delayed Millennials"-- those college grads waiting longer than their predecessors to "move into home ownership" are two conditions driving the demand for a different type of housing project here, he explained.
These community-oriented neighborhoods, which feature more green space in common areas and less (to mow) in yards, front porches, shared parking areas and other amenities are designed to foster human interaction.
"Our small-scale neighborhoods encourage friendship, helping hands and neighbors who look out for one another," according to the Gallery Homes project brochure.
Describing them as suitable for individuals and small families seeking "people-focused living," neighborhood safety, energy efficiency and sustainability, Mr. Fitzsimmons and Mr. Watts envision single-floor and two-story homes featuring front porches, grand rooms, master suites and lofts along with "all the modern amenities today's homebuyers expect and prefer."
Each of the design concepts includes two bedrooms -- or master bedroom and loft -- and two full baths, according to the brochure.
Community sizes from one acre to 10 acres are the lines along which the developers are thinking, explained city planner Mike Holmes.
The smaller neighborhood might have 12 homes while the larger parcel could have up to 40, he added.
"(These are) not for big, large houses," Mr. Holmes said. "(We) want to keep them small."
Minimal setbacks would encourage dwelling clusters.
"The density would be determined by the current zoning in place," Mr. Holmes explained.
When the city adopted the 80-acre medical overlay around Florida Hospital DeLand, a provision was included to allow pocket neighborhoods there. The overlay was chosen as a confined test area, and a specific set of standards was established, for the new style of development.
Mr. Watts and Mr. Fitzsimmons are looking to establish such a community outside the overlay boundary.
All across the country the developments are proving to be a sound form of infill, according to a city document prepared by Mr. Holmes.
Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick wanted to be sure homeowners wouldn't be petitioning the city for individual pools.
Clear disclosure of standards from the outset is planned, Mr. Watts assured.
Common facilities could include a community pool, but prospective homeowners will understand that individual units will not.
Lack of attached garages posed another concern for the vice mayor.
She illustrated a scenario: rain, groceries and walking, and "no storage."
"How successful do you think that's gonna be?" she said.
Each unit could have a garage -- in the common parking area -- for storage, and a short walkway would provide a quick trip from vehicle to doorstep, Mr. Watts explained.
"This is Florida and as the officials at NASCAR can tell you, it rains here," he joked.
"I think it's a great concept," Vice Mayor Matusick said. "I know you all wouldn't put something together you didn't think you could sell."
Mayor Bob Apgar said he too has read about the concept.
How parking is handled will depend on the approved density and amount of land, he offered.
He mentioned a trend in senior housing. Tiny, no-frills kitchens in each home are utilized for the basics, but large common amenities where residents share pot-luck meals encourage socialization, he said.
"That will be different than what Millennials will want," Mayor Apgar said.
Appealing to generational blends and opposite ends of the lifestyle spectrum could be challenging.
"It becomes a planner's nightmare to create that kind of flexibility," the mayor said, "so it has to be a nontraditional process."
Overall, he noted, the cottage neighborhood is "highly desirable."
"I think it's an intriguing kind of concept and something that we need," he said, agreeing the time is right to move forward to create regulations.
"Besides, I don't think Bob's quite ready to give up those single family developments (just) yet," Mayor Apgar said.
"Correct," Mr. Fitzsimmons replied, grinning.
After city staff prepares the regulations, they will be presented to the planning board. The board will then make a recommendation to the commission.