Redeveloping Brownfield Sites for Energy-Saving Advantages

Zoning for small cottage developments offers energy-efficient value for developers


There is a tremendous challenge we face in the business of producing housing in this country. The lack of affordability has reached a critical stage, specifically in the most desirable regions. Not only did the recession put an abrupt end to construction for at least eight years or more, the flight of talented architects, interior designers, and tradesmen from the business has compounded the lack of qualified talent.

As the population continues to grow, young adults want to buy their first home, Baby Boomers want to downsize, and there is very little product to meet these needs. In many cases, there is no incentive for a home builder to produce a smaller home when the fees and infrastructure costs are the same regardless of size. Innovation is required.

One innovative solution for communities is to zone for cottage developments, or smaller homes, on small lots with common open space. Once such example is the Cottages at ClearPine in Sisters, Oregon. The owner and I worked for a year with the City of Sisters Planning Director, Planning Commission, and City Council to enact a reasonable Cottage Code in 2017 that allowed us to redesignate part of the larger master plan to include a cottage cluster of nine homes. The nine homes take up the same amount of land that four homes would have, increasing the density and profitability of the land.

Going smaller helps to meet the goals of both affordability and green building. When planning an environmentally-friendly development, it is best to avoid virgin land or green fields and build on previously developed property. The Cottages at ClearPine are at the heart of the larger planned community, which is located on a brownfield of open land. This land was previously a lumber mill for 50 years until shuttered in the early 1960s and the remnant buildings burned to the ground. It was vacant for years until the master plan was approved by Sisters City Council in 2015.

The developer treated the land with environmental sensitivity by donating trees that could not be saved to the local Watershed Council and placed with root balls intact in local streams to help restore river habitat for native fish species. Additionally, the site will contain a more than one-acre community park to embrace the open land and provide an amenity common space for residents. The community of cottages is within walking distance of all necessary services in downtown Sisters.

A conscious design decision was made to create right-sized homes of smaller size and flexible spaces to meet a need for greater affordability and to eliminate a wasteful use of resources. The cluster will contain nine homes home size ranging from 1,004 square feet to 1,162 square feet. Five of the homes are two-story with attached single car garages, while four are one-story with detached garages. All homes have a master downstairs to address the needs of an older population. The two-story homes have two masters allowing for flexibility and potential for multiple generations or unrelated adults living together.

A bedroom downstairs can easily be used for an office or larger common living area. Care was given to make the small spaces as flexible as possible for multiple uses. Large front and rear porches extend the living area outside. The choice of a clean simple farmhouse style compliments the small size of the homes and creates a harmonious community around a common space with its own community vegetable garden.

Energy savings are included throughout the homes. Energy Star appliances are included and increased insulation values are used throughout. Health was taken very seriously with low VOC interior paints and sealants. Floors are primarily hard surfaces where foot traffic is greatest. Fresh air inflow is provided by heat exchangers.

Water efficiency was also a focus for the cottages with Water Sense faucets and toilets. Low-volume irrigations systems, hydro zoning of low water use plants are used. Turf is limited, and trees of one per 1,000-square-foot of developed land have been planted. Lastly, infiltration systems for roof drains are used and bio-retention systems for 100 percent of onsite stormwater of the development.

The Cottages at ClearPine won a Green Building and Architectural Design award in the latest Central Oregon Builders Association Tour and was also on the Green Building Tour of Homes by the Bend Environmental Center where it has won much praise.

Katherine Austin, AIA is an architect whom specializes in affordable housing and green building design. She may be reached at