Illustrations from Westport’s affordable housing plan depict what cottage cluster developments might look like. 

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — An initiative to promote small-scale developments of affordable housing in town has taken a big step.

A text amendment that would permit so-called “cottage cluster” communities — small, single-family homes built closely together on town-owned land — was forwarded this week for review by the full Planning and Zoning Commission.

The cottage cluster concept was listed in the town’s state-mandated affordable housing plan as a way to help expand the town’s inventory of affordable homes.

The idea has been discussed favorably at meetings of the P&Z’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee over the last several months.

P&Z Chairwoman Danielle Dobin, who has advocated for the cottage cluster concept during earlier discussions, at Wednesday’s meeting called it one of the most popular ideas proposed in the affordable housing plan.

The draft amendment, Dobin said, “would allow entirely affordable cottage clusters on pieces of town-owned land with the hope that we could create a lot more diversification of housing in Westport in a way that looks and fits with the as-built feel of some of these pieces of land that are in mixed [zoning] districts.”

A feature that Dobin says is particularly appealing about cottage clusters is that all units in the small-scale developments would conform with “affordability” criteria set by the state. 

That contrasts with large apartment projects built under the state’s 8-30g law, which Dobin said, “allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations to build luxury apartment buildings with a 30 percent affordable component.” That means for every 10 units in an 8-30g project, seven can be leased for what she called “extraordinary amounts,” while only three are rented at affordable rates.

Main points in the proposed cottage cluster text amendment include:

  • The developments would be build on town-owned land, with at least 50 feet of frontage on an arterial road.
  • All of the units would be rented to residents who whose household incomes meet the state’s affordable criteria and do not exceed 80 percent of the state median.
  • No more than five cottage cluster developments would be allowed in town.
  • The average size of each cottage would not exceed 850 square feet.
  • There would be at least 10 feet between each of the units.
  • Each cottage would have at least 200 square feet of usable open space, and there also would be common green space for the overall cluster.
  • The buildings would not be taller than two stories or 26 feet in height.
  • Off-street parking would be provided for residents.

While no sites have been officially designated for potential development of cottage communities, Dobin said the regulation should allow enough flexibility to be applied to several possible locations.

Selection of the location for cottage clusters, she added, would be made by the Board of Selectwomen and not zoning officials.

The Linxweiler property at 655 Post Road East, however, has been mentioned as a likely site during several earlier subcommittee meetings.

The property is a 1.3-acre tract bequeathed to the town by Joanna Linxweiler. The house on the site is now an emergency shelter managed by Homes with Home for one family.

Gloria Gouveia, of Land Use Consultants, called the proposed text amendment “a wonderful regulation” and offered to work on a “demonstration plan” to illustrate how a cottage cluster could potentially be developed, under terms of the regulation, on the Linxweiler property.

Dobin, who said a cottage cluster demonstration plan had not yet been done, welcomed Gouveia’s offer.

Dobin then asked if the three P&Z members who joined the subcommittee meeting would support forwarding the proposed text amendment to the full commission for a public hearing.

With their agreement, Dobin said the cottage cluster proposal would likely be scheduled for a hearing sometime in September.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.