April 10 2014

Sycamore Park: An Example of Innovation in Redmond, Washington

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;

Sycamore Park, Redmond, Washington

  • 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.

Sycamore Park, Redmond, Washington

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.

Colin Poff

Colin Poff is a recent graduate from Western Washington University where he studied Political Science and Economics. He currently interns at the City of Redmond, where he is providing research and analysis for the long-range planning department. While traveling in Europe and in China Colin became a critical observer of modern cities, and curious about how policies can be crafted to facilitate economic development with community values in mind. In his career, he would like to make cities more dynamic and livable by encouraging mixed-use areas and people-focused design. Next fall, Colin intends to pursue a Masters in Urban Planning. When he is not in the city, you can find him in the mountains, skiing with his friends.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 10th, 2014 at 9:27 am and is filed under Architecture, Colin Poff, Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Housing, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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