10/3/23 - The Curious Geometry of Our Pocket Neighborhoods

Here we find the ur-pocket neighborhood as presented in the ZAP. This diagram seems quite reasonable. It's 8 units. It has the required 8 parking spaces. The parking is not between the common area and a public right of way (a requirement that precludes loading the parking off an alley to the rear of a common area). The diagram also calls out the required 50' wide common space in the middle of the units. That's where the dimensions end and reality rapidly divorces from the tidy drawing in the code.

Without knowing the actual dimensions of the houses shown in the diagram, let's assume that we just build 8 of the Loganberry Heights by Artifex Cottages. This is it right here.

This total cutie is 24' x 48' with an inset front porch for 1,032 sf of easy, breezy single story living that's all the rage these days (but no longer allowed near the lake in Charlotte). 

We also need to assume the front setback, but we're allowed +/-20% of the block average, so I need you to trust me when I say that assuming 16' should work just fine for our purposes. We're required to leave 15' around each of the other 3 sides of the development. Parking spaces are 18' deep. Left out of the zoning code is the building code requirement for 10' of internal spacing between each building on a lot to meet fire safety requirements (without adding sprinklers or otherwise protecting the buildings). So what does this diagram look like with all these numbers added to it, then?

Let me grab a calculator real quick here. Looks like we're at 152' wide and 229' deep. That's 34,808sf, or 2,808sf more than these same 8 homes would take up on 8 40'x100' city sized lots. Even if you took this design and made it 2 stories with the same square footage (now a 24' x 24' house), you'd still need 152' x 157' or 23,864sf for the project. That's still almost the same thing as 8 30'x100' city lots. A quick rule of thumb is that a pocket neighborhood should allow you to roughly double the density you could get from single family homes on the same land. Nevertheless, neither of these hypothetical, but 'permitted,' pocket neighborhoods would fit on any of these conveniently cherry-picked lots around town...

Suffice to say, the pocket neighborhood regulations are facially impossible, and I would bet any of you reading this a beer that the diagram above with measurements on it does not exist at city hall. This work was not checked against any reasonably developable property in Rochester, NY. 

In closing out, I want to change gears a little bit, and take a look a some example pocket neighborhoods for inspiration. All of these were built by The Cottage Company, and the reason for using them for examples is that they provide good technical details about their projects that I've reproduced here (thanks fam!). It should come as no surprise that each of these neighborhoods showcased are denser than the ZAP would allow. 

Third Street Cottages

Site Size: 31,000 SF

DU/Acre: 11

Number of Homes: 8

Square Footage Range: All < 900 SF

Ericksen Cottages

Site Size: 39,772 SF

DU/Acre: 12

Number of Homes: 11

Square Footage Range: 1049-1090 SF

Greenwood Ave Cottages

Site Size: 34,755 SF

DU/Acre: 10

Number of Homes: 8

Square Footage Range: 768 - 998 SF