How to create walkable urban housing? One answer: Look to the middle

Think about those fourplexes you see in some of Tampa's older neighborhoods -- two long and narrow apartments on the ground floor, topped by two more on top, stacked like cigar boxes.

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Richard Danielson
, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer, Tampa Bay Times

Think about those fourplexes you see in some of Tampa's older neighborhoods -- two long and narrow apartments on the ground floor, topped by two more on top, stacked like cigar boxes.

They're more than just a charming anachronism from the Jazz Age days of Hyde Park or Seminole Heights.

They are examples of what some urban planners call "missing middle" housing. That's low-rise housing built at a scale compatible with single-family houses, but at higher densities, making them candidates for meeting a growing demand for walkable urban housing.

And the fourplexes are one example. Around the Tampa Bay area, the historical inventory of such housing goes back at least to the late 19th century with the construction of shotgun-style casitas so Ybor City immigrants could live near their cigar factory jobs. It has grown to include duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, courtyard apartments, apartments over storefronts and multiplexes with fewer than 10 units.

"It's not an intimidating type of structure. It fits into the existing neighborhoods very well," said Brett Burks, a program planner at the county planning agency Forward Pinellas, during a panel discussion Monday organized by the Suncoast chapter of the American Planning Association Florida. Such projects can serve as a bridge between suburban style neighborhoods of houses on bigger lots and edges of downtowns or busy commercial corridors. "You increase density without impacting the character of existing neighborhoods."

Here are some of the main takeaways from the conversation, which took place at the Oldsmar Library:

• Middle housing could add to the diversity of housing stock, pricing and home buyer opportunities. In Pinellas County, detached single-family houses constitute nearly half the housing stock, yet more than 77 percent of county households do not have children. Missing middle housing with two to nine units makes up 13 percent of the housing stock.

• Missing middle housing can appeal to first-time buyers, childless couples, smaller families, residents with disabilities, retirees who want to scale down and people ready to give up one or all of their cars.

• Parking and driveways are de-emphasized, with garages often located in the backs of homes accessible via alleys. That's where the trash and recyclables get picked up, too.

• Because they don't fall into traditional zoning or land-use categories, such projects can be challenging for local communities. They may require rewriting zoning regulations to allow for higher densities, narrower lots, and smaller setbacks from neighboring homes.

In Dunedin, the skinny homes and bungalow courtyard housing in Carl Krave's Glencairn project are one pioneering example of contemporary missing middle development.

Another is Hayes Park Village in Oldsmar, a team effort between the city, which assembled the land, and home builder John Bews, who put 52 homes, most of them townhomes built 7 feet from their neighbors, around a neighborhood green with a fire pit ringed by a half-dozen Adirondack chairs.

Ten years in the making, Hayes Park Village has seen one of its homes, which typically sell in the mid to upper $200,000s, featured on HGTV's House Hunters.

"The idea here was it was a community from the start," Bews said. "It wasn't to maximize profit. It was to maximize architecture, to maximize the community itself."

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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