Smaller Townhouses Help Address Missing Middle Housing Issue

Housing Affordability

NAHB continues to dive into ongoing concerns over housing affordability, including its “Diversifying Housing Options with Smaller Lots and Smaller Homes” report. The report provides an overview of regulatory and design options, and focuses on examples of codes and projects that were developed at market rate without an expectation of subsidies. These projects are helping to fill the “missing middle” in housing development across the nation.

The report identifies ordinances and codes that enable the construction of more varied housing types and smaller, more affordable homes, including the form-based code for greenfield development used in the Mews Townhouse Units in South Jordan, Utah. The project is part of a larger 4,150-acre master-planned Daybreak community, designed using a traditional neighborhood development model where all homes are within a five-minute walk or bike ride of a major commercial or civic amenity.

“The uniqueness of the Daybreak community is the diversity of housing types,” noted W. Don Whyte of Deseret Cattle & Citrus, who was involved during the years three to eight of the project’s development. “It filled a void in terms of size and location. It feels comfortable and walkable, even though it’s a high-density project.”

The house-scale Mews Townhouses are attached with compact footprints ranging from 26x26 feet to 26x52 feet. Each unit is oriented with the longer side facing a pedestrian passage, atypical for conventional townhomes, but it allowed the units to fit on narrower lot sizes left over after conventional townhouses were laid out on predetermined block sizes.

Each building contains two or three units. The Mews development walk shed includes a light rail station and a large park. Many of the home designs were inspired by historical neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, 18 miles to the north. They include large front porches and alley-loaded garages and were built by multiple developers. The community is currently divided into several neighborhoods, designated as villages, that were created using the form-based development standards.

“The project was designed to be affordable, so it has a sterile appearance,” said Stephen James, director of planning and community design at Daybreak Communities, of the initial phase of this two-phase development. “We will continue to evolve such designs based on builder interest, capability and market demand.”

Form-based codes are aimed at generating a broad spectrum of housing types and intensities, and typically have more standards about physical form than other zoning standards or ordinances. The code for greenfield development for the Daybreak project replaced a previous land use requirement and existing review procedures. It was carefully prepared to fit the range of physical conditions and intended physical characteristics through an analysis of historic patterns in the area while integrating flexibility.

Through the project, the developer:

  • delivered an entry-level price at the highest square foot sales price of any of their product
  • became the first townhomes to sell in the developer’s project area
  • turned a constraint (awkward lot configuration) into a successful, small-scale project through an unconventional approach
  • provided more opportunities for light and air than a conventional townhouse through unique orientation
  • allowed for private outdoor living areas for each owner
  • made for strong market appeal from two-story interiors and extended garage sizes for additional storage

But challenges also arose from awkward lot configuration, accommodating grading at the front entrances without having stairs protruding into the pedestrian court, and issues with installation and space for HVAC units.

The mixed-use Daybreak project was the first in the region to reclaim surplus mining land and create opportunities for market-rate affordability without additional subsidies. The largest master-planned community in the state, it is slated for more than 20,000 units in a city of about 66,000.

To learn more about the Mews Townhouse Units at Daybreak, and other case studies in the “Diversifying Housing Options” report, visit NAHB’s Land Use 101 toolkit.

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