On West 34th Street just north of Hemphill Park in the North University region of Central Austin, you’ll find a nearly century-old style of housing that barely exists in the city at the moment — the cottage court. The project, known as the 34th Street Cottages, contains five small homes and dates back to the 1930s:
The cottage court, also known as a bungalow court, typically creates a number of small cottage-style homes oriented around an internal courtyard, and was enormously popular as a multifamily housing style in Southern California prior to World War II as a method of providing working-class people with homes that didn’t require the land cost of a single-family home built on a larger lot.
They’re considered a style of “missing middle” housing, since aspects of Austin’s current land use code like minimum lot sizes heavily discourage their construction — but that could change soon, with City Council approving a resolution initiating a number of exciting potential changes to the city’s single-family zoning that could reduce the limitations on this kind of multifamily housing. The first goal of the resolution is why the 34th Street Cottages are on our minds. We bolded the last part:
“…reduce the minimum lot size in single-family zoning districts to 2,500 square feet or less so that existing standard-size lots can be subdivided, and be developed with a variety of housing types such as row houses, townhomes, tri-and four-plexes, garden homes, and cottage courts”
Seeing cottage courts called out like this in the text of the resolution was music to our ears, since it’s an under-discussed type of dense housing compared with the more common styles of duplex, triplex, fourplex, rowhouse, and so on.
Another of the city’s few cottage court-style developments, built as affordable housing in East Austin by the Blackland CDC in the 1980s.
While the density of a cottage court can’t match the affordability of a taller apartment-style structure on high-value land, the ability to place six or more detached homes on a piece of property roughly the size of two current single-family lots would be a great tool for adding housing in existing neighborhoods without relying on taller buildings.
The design gurus at Missing Middle Housing lay out some ideas for getting more density into these projects without compromising their scale. For instance, a cottage court of four or more homes can coexist with a small apartment structure in the rear of the property that contains parking spaces on its first floor. What’s neat about these projects is that their design is appealing even to people who ordinarily shun density, and we can prove it — next time you’re in the area, take your most suburb-brained buddy past the 34th Street Cottages and ask them if they think it’s cute. We’ll wait.