Tucked In: Blue Star Corner, a Bay Area infill project, fits 20 townhome units, 26 parking spaces, six bicycle spaces, and three tranquil courtyards onto .7 acre.
courtesy David Baker + Partners Tucked In: Blue Star Corner, a Bay Area infill project, fits 20 townhome units, 26 parking spaces, six bicycle spaces, and three tranquil courtyards onto .7 acre.

Settlers in America connected the dots from the Atlantic to the Pacific long ago, but today’s builders are grappling with frontiers of a different nature. In the landscape of the current recession, the issues of the day all seem to involve questions about density, whether the challenge is to eke a small profit out of a leftover scrap of land, to make homes more affordable for credit-crunched buyers, or to ease the energy ­crisis by aggregating more people around shared infrastructure, jobs, and transit. As our world becomes more populous, higher-density housing is, frankly, inevitable. Builder looks at four small, attached ­projects that have addressed density ­head-on and done it delightfully well.

Plug and Play

Flexible Condos fill the holes in a master plan.

It’s not uncommon for a master plan developer to end up with scattered bits and pieces of unused land once a major phase of the community nears completion. It’s happened a few times in Stapleton, the famed airport redevelopment outside Denver that’s become a model for New Urbanism.

“Forest City [Enterprises] often comes to us when they need to solve a problem,” says Caroline Hoyt, co-founder and concept adviser at McStain Neighborhoods. “The problem this time was that there were little leftover pieces of land sprinkled throughout the community, such as odd-shaped tracts that don’t subdivide themselves into a typical New Urbanist ­alley/street configuration,” she explains.

One of McStain’s earlier responses to such a challenge materialized as a series of small carriage homes stacked above garages, which could be plugged into all sorts of odd nooks and crannies. When these coupe-sized homes sold out quickly, the builder realized they were filling a void not just in the site plan, but also in the marketplace, catering to smaller households and single buyers. The latest variation on that theme, The Casitas, places 22 units—­similarly designed with living spaces atop garages at grade—on roughly an acre (110 feet by 450 feet), with homes separated by walking paseos. Each mix-and-match plan can stand alone as a detached house or can become part of an attached cluster in which units are conjoined at the garages.

“The building forms are like LEGOs. You can attach them in many different ways so you almost never have to repeat a building,” Hoyt says. “As long as you have a site that’s relatively flat, you can make these fit on the strangest piece of ground imaginable.”

The first enclave of Casitas opened in late September and snagged five reservations within a week. “Sometimes the most challenging restraint can produce the most gratifying result,” Hoyt says. “Here’s something you can do with an oddball, unwanted piece of land and get something great out of it—in this case, at 20 units to the acre.”

Location: Stapleton, Colo.
Builder: McStain Neighborhoods, Denver
Developer: Forest City Enterprises, Cleveland
Architect: Wolff Lyon Architects, Boulder, Colo.
Web site: www.stapletoncasitas.com

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA.