Case Study

41 NE Skidmore

41 NE Skidmore.jpg
Building Data:  Neighborhood: Humboldt Year Built: 2017 Typology: Townhouse Units: 3 Stories: 3 Site Area: 7,456sf  (est.) Building Area: 6,800sf FAR: 0.9:1 Density: 17.5du/net acre                                Zoning: R2.5 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Humboldt
Year Built: 2017
Typology: Townhouse
Units: 3
Stories: 3
Site Area: 7,456sf  (est.)
Building Area: 6,800sf
FAR: 0.9:1
Density: 17.5du/net acre                             
Zoning: R2.5
Is it Legal? YES

This is a fairly attractive variant on a popular 21st century typology, the townhouse with a ground level garage. In this case, two smaller townhouses bracket a larger one in the center. The two eastern units share a curb-cut which provides access to one-car garages. The western unit has a detached garage at the extreme northwest corner of the lot, where it fits nicely due to an irregular lot shape.

Like many infill typologies, this works much better on a corner lot, since the new sub lots can re-orient toward the long side and still face a street.

This developer resisted the urge to make the cars occupy most of the ground floor and make up the lost residential square footage with a third floor. The mini tower format certainly maximizes the amount of house the developer is selling, but it leads to a home with little to no relationship to the outdoor space, and leads to a lot of climbing stairs, which is less desirable for older residents, and irritating to just about everyone.

41 NE Skidmore site plan.

41 NE Skidmore site plan.

It’s noteworthy that this project was developed as condos. The three units sit on a single lot and the owner is listed as the Home Owners Association (HOA). This may be a result of the fact that land divisions to create new lots out of a larger parent lot take a long time and add cost and complexity to a project. 

 

5900-5920 N Albina Ave

5900 N Abina.jpg
Building Data:  Neighborhood: Humboldt Year Built: 2014 Typology: Plex / One Story / Bungalow court format Units: 6 (Pair of identical triplexes on separate lots) Stories: 1 Site Area: 10,000sf Building Area: 5,040sf FAR: 0.5:1 Density: 26du/net acre                                   Zoning: R2 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Humboldt
Year Built: 2014
Typology: Plex / One Story / Bungalow court format
Units: 6 (Pair of identical triplexes on separate lots)
Stories: 1
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 5,040sf
FAR: 0.5:1
Density: 26du/net acre                                 
Zoning: R2
Is it Legal? YES

This project is the first attempt we’ve seen to replicate the 1920s single-story bungalow court format. There several great examples of the original prototype just north of here, along Albina Ave. There are a few caveats. This is actually configured as a pair of separate linear triplexes. They are on separate lots. Both lots are 5000 sf and are zoned R2a, which allows one dwelling unit per 2000sf of site area. The “a” overlay denotes Alternative Density Design Overlay, and it’s provisions likely facilitated the total unit count of 6 DU on 10,000sf.

6337 N Albina - Example of a typical 1920s courtyard building.

6337 N Albina - Example of a typical 1920s courtyard building.

 

These triplexes represent a very attractive typology, from a resident’s point of view. Individual front doors give the units a home-like presence on the street, as opposed to an anonymous shared hallway in an apartment type structure. All units have at least two window walls and end units have 3. This particular development has small fenced private back yards. This makes this typology more attractive to families with children. Ideally, these buildings could link up and form a U-shape around a central courtyard.

We’d love to see more of this type of building, for all the reasons above. We’d also like to build a picture of the kind of parameters that would make it sensible to build this way. We wonder if perhaps so few of these buildings get built is because doing a single story apartment with no off street parking amounts to “leaving money on the table.” We have observed several similar sites redeveloped as three story

 

4063-77 NE Cleveland

4063 NE Cleveland 1.png
 

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Boise
Year Built: 1944
Typology: Plex / Single Story / Bungalow format
Units: 4
Stories: 1
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 2,470sf
FAR: 0.25:1
Density: 17du per net acre (35 for one lot) Zoning: R2.5 (2 units on a standard 5000sf lot)
Is it Legal? Technically Yes

This is a variant on the bungalow court building type, in it’s smallest variety. Each unit has at least two window walls, and the end units have three. Front and back doors exit directly into the open air, giving this many of the formal benefits of a single family house. This building is single story, so it’s unlikely a developer would do it today, as we have no zones that cap height at one story, and an investor would be foolish to “leave money on the table.”

While it is legal to build this building on this lot under current zoning (R2.5) it’s worth noting that this is a double lot. The four-plex fits entirely on one half (a 50x100 lot) and only it’s garage and backyard occupy the second lot. However, on a 5000sf lot, it would definitely be illegal to build this, since it would be twice the allowed density.

If zoning permitted, a second small building or a couple ADUs could potentially fit on the west half of the site, including converting the existing garage.

If zoning permitted, a second small building or a couple ADUs could potentially fit on the west half of the site, including converting the existing garage.

Note the corner condition. This works because the long side of the building faces the street, along the long side of the lot. This can only happen when the long side of a lot faces a street. It wouldn’t work as well on a single lot mid-block.

Oddly enough, the building straddles a lot line rather than sitting on one half of the site. Imagine it rotated 90 degrees and sitting on the northern half. That’s what I would do if I were building this, but somebody did it this way, for… reasons.

 

303 NE 22nd

303 NE 22nd 1.jpg
Building Data:  Neighborhood: Kerns Year Built: 1926 Typology: Plex / Bungalow court format Units: 4 Stories: 1 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 2,520sf FAR: 0.5:1 Density: 35du/net acre                                 Zoning: R1 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Kerns
Year Built: 1926
Typology: Plex / Bungalow court format
Units: 4
Stories: 1
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 2,520sf
FAR: 0.5:1
Density: 35du/net acre                                 Zoning: R1
Is it Legal? YES

This is a style of apartment that was very popular in the 1920s, and it’s easy to find examples in Portland’s inner neighborhoods. We call this type of multifamily building a bungalow type apartment. It’s a close relative of the bungalow court, which we’ve profiled in other posts. These buildings give residents many of the most attractive features of single family homes – a front door facing the street, a back door, at least two window walls (three for end units), and in some instances, even a private basement. 

303 NE 22nd site plan.

303 NE 22nd site plan.

These really only work on corner lots, since their orientation places the doors along the long side of the building. Of course, you could do this on a mid block site, it would just be a lot less appealing. Additionally, the 150 lineal feet of curb allows room for about six cars to park (this particular case study building actually has a single car garage!). Bungalow four-plexes like this are often highlighted as exemplars of missing middle, but it’s worth asking whether or not this typology is something today’s builders would create, given the choice. We’ve found precisely one modern example of this type. Far more prevalent are three story townhouses with garages occupying most of the ground floor.