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Cottage-style developments in Kent: Moving away from 'cookie cutter'

Project Manager for Blueberry Cottages J.B. Ruth walks by the cluster of blueberry bushes Tuesday, at the East Hill project site.  Each cottage will receive an original blueberry bush to preserve some of the existing plants on the site. - CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter
Project Manager for Blueberry Cottages J.B. Ruth walks by the cluster of blueberry bushes Tuesday, at the East Hill project site. Each cottage will receive an original blueberry bush to preserve some of the existing plants on the site.
— image credit: CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter

As J.B. Ruth walks away from a cluster of blueberry bushes and eyes the large cedar and Douglas Fir trees near the edge of 4 acres on Kent's East Hill, he visualizes how well he expects the city's first cottage housing development to work.

"We know Kent needs a shot in the arm," said Ruth, project manager for Renton-based W.E. Ruth Real Estate Inc., about housing developments in the city. "Kent is not as good as it was. But this is a new way of thinking."

Ruth and his father Bill Ruth, a longtime Kent developer, are excited to build 30 cottage units on the northwest corner of Southeast 240th Street and 116th Avenue Southeast. They hope to start construction next year under the city's new demonstration ordinance that allows developers to build as many as two cottage-housing projects in the city. Ruth filed a preliminary plat application in August with the city about his plans for the site.

Cottage-style housing developments feature small, detached single-family homes clustered around a common open space with garages and parking located away from the homes.

The two-and-three bedroom units will range from 800 to 1,500 square feet. Cottages will sit in clusters of five or six homes with garages a short walk away in a detached building.

"This will not be box housing," J.B. Ruth said. "People will not stand for that. They want things out of the ordinary. They cannot stomach the normal things anymore."

Construction could start next year, but an exact timeline has yet to be set, Ruth said. Crews will remove a vacant home and other structures currently on the property.

"We would like to construct them next year," Ruth said. "Will it happen? A lot depends on how the economy recovers. We do not have big pocketfuls of money saved away. The economy's been tough on us like everyone else."

Ruth will call the development Blueberry Cottages after the cluster of blueberry bushes that still remain on the property. Crews will move a blueberry bush from the cluster to be planted next to each home.

The cottage units will share a common area and coordinated design that allows higher densities than a typical single-family neighborhood while minimizing impact on adjacent residential areas.

Cottage homes also are less expensive than traditional single-family housing, but no prices have been determined at this point, Ruth said.

"It will not be an entry-level price but it will not be top of the line either," Ruth said. "It's going to depend what the economy is like."

Each cottage owner will have to pay homeowner's dues for a company to maintain the common areas.

Two community centers are scheduled to be built along with the cottage homes to allow residents to have a larger area to gather for neighborhood meetings, parties or large family gatherings.

Most cottages will feature a covered front porch as well as a small yard or garden area.

The Kent City Council voted two years ago to approve a demonstration ordinance in an effort to give residents a new style of housing options.

"It's a housing niche that the Council thought would be interesting for Kent," said Katie Heinitz, a city planner assigned to the project. "It's a different style. It's high quality but rather than large homes with private yards they are smaller homes with a small garden and more community interaction. It's innovative living that the Council wanted to try out. That's why it's a demonstration ordinance before we allow them anywhere."

Developers have built cottage-style homes in Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle and other neighborhoods over the last several years.

Grey Byler, who has lived 25 years in Kent, served as one of two city residents along with five city officials on a cottage housing committee to evaluate and approve the Blueberry Cottages project as long as it met the city's ordinance.

"We're excited about it," Byler said. "We see the project and product as being a great showcase program for the ordinance. It's designed to encourage people to create a larger sense of community."

Byler, a licensed architect, likes the plans for smaller, single-story, detached homes to create more density.

"It's higher density than the conventional single-family homes but it's not one story stacked on another for apartments or multi-family housing," he said.

Byler expects people will want to buy the cottages.

"One of the aspects of cottage housing is it's more of a neighborhood and there is more social interaction," Byler said. "I think if they are priced right, they will do well."

Ruth expects a lot of interest once the project hits the market.

"I think we will have single people who are looking for smaller housing," Ruth said. "We'll have young couples. I don't see it being a development with a lot of kids, maybe one or two kids, because of the size of the homes. I think we will see empty nesters who live in big homes that Kent has but they are 65 years old and their kids are gone and they wonder what they are doing with such a big house."

Although this marks the first cottage housing project for Ruth Real Estate, they hired architect Ross Chapin of Whidbey Island to design the project. Chapin has designed cottage housing projects in the Pacific Northwest and nationally.

"Ross is an absolute genius at new housing," Ruth said. "The city has enough flexibility in its ordinance to allow Ross to think outside the box."

Chapin designed the Danielson Grove community in Kirkland, completed in 2005 by developer The Cottage Company. Kent city officials looked at that community to help come up with a demonstration ordinance.

Ruth said they plan to preserve as many trees as possible, including a grove of about a dozen old growth cedar and Douglas Fir trees. Other large trees will serve as a natural border between the cottage homes and properties to the west and north as well as along 116th Avenue Southeast.

Kent resident Kathi Jones also served on the cottage housing project selection committee. Jones, a real estate agent, came away impressed with the design of the Blueberry Cottages.

"I like the style and combination of the house with the large front porches and the variety in terms of the sightline from windows," Jones said.

The homes will have staggered windows so that nobody looks directly out of a window across to a neighbor's window.

Jones said many buyers want smaller homes so she anticipates the cottages will sell.

"The trend had been to mega-homes and now we're seeing a trend to smaller footprints," she said. "I'd like to see the project move forward as quickly as possible. We need to move away from the cookie cutter, large homes."

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