Cottage Communities

Cottage communities are defined as a grouping of small, single-family dwelling units clustered around a common area and developed with a master plan for the entire site. They are often developed in infill areas within existing suburban neighborhoods in order to encourage sustainable community development. Also called pocket neighborhoods, cottage communities provide connected backyards, create a pedestrian friendly environment and are designed to encourage community involvement and social interaction.

First introduced in 1996, “Third Street Cottages” in Langley, Wash., were made possible with the adoption of an innovative cottage-housing zoning code which enabled high-density housing on residential lots if houses were less than 1,000 square feet, oriented around a shared garden, and provided parking screened from street views. While suitable for all ages, cottage communities are attractive to the aging population. They are small and easy to maintain, energy efficient, and are suited for those with mobility limitations. Cottage communities are gaining popularity, especially around the Pacific Northwest, where cottage housing ordinances have been crafted to provide residents with housing options that improve affordability.

Benefits and Obstacles to Development

Cottage communities can be built in small clusters, within existing neighborhoods among single-family homes to maximize land use and minimize sprawl. Aging baby boomers, seeking to downsize from larger homes, can enjoy quality housing in a supportive community. Local regulations, however, can be a drawback for cottage communities. Many zoning codes regulate maximum densities and minimum-size requirement for houses and lots. Codes can be amended to allow for the development of sustainable and affordable cottage communities.

Cottage communities are defined as a grouping of small, single-family dwelling units clustered around a common area and developed with a master plan for the entire site.

Successful Cottage Communities

In 2004, Port Townsend, Wash., adopted the Cottage Housing Development Design Standards within its zoning code to, “Encourage affordability, innovation and variety in housing design and site development while ensuring compatibility with existing neighborhoods, and to promote a variety of housing choices to meet the needs of a population diverse in age, income, household composition and individual needs.” The Port Townsend cottage housing code details the number of cottages per square foot that are allowed, as well as the minimum lot size for a community. An example of a successful cottage community in Port Townsend is Spring Valley Cottages, a green-built community, within walking distance to the town and service centers, with compact features, and a strong sense of community.

Inglenook, a cottage community in Carmel, Ind., features a series of six to ten cottages with front porches facing a common green space. Concord Riverwalk, a community of thirteen small homes in Concord, Mass., embodies the state’s sustainable development policies, which call for energy-efficient homes build near jobs, transit, and services.


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