The News-Press has learned that the Falls Church city council members met earlier this month with representatives of a nationally prominent architectural firm involved in the design of an attractive new affordable housing model, dubbed the “Katrina Cottage.” The council members were urged to host a demonstration of a unit designed especially for the Washington, D.C., metro area.
The Miami, Florida-based firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company sent two representatives to meet with the City officials under the auspices of the Falls Church Housing Corporation. The DPZ firm was involved in major architectural charrette near New Orleans last September in the wake of the devastation caused along the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.
The effort was aimed at coming up with modern, attractive “new urbanist” housing design alternative to trailers and other traditional forms of public housing projects. The architects sought something that would restore and enhance the appearance of neighborhoods while providing a solid, durable and affordable housing product. DPZ’s Andreas Duany is a co-founder of the “new urbanist” movement in architecture.
Cory Babb and Mike Watkins of DPZ met with Council members Hal Lippman, Dan Sze and Mayor Robin Gardner along the Housing Corporation’s Carol Jackson to explain the overall effort in mid-August. A Council work session to mull providing a location for a demonstration model in Falls Church is now slated to be held Sept. 18. In the meantime, the City planning staff is examining options.
Falls Church Planning Commissioner Bob Burnett, upon hearing the news of the proposal, told the News-Press yesterday, “The opportunity for Falls Church to be associated with DPZ on any project is a huge plus for us. They are a preeminent planning and design firm. Whatever they touch turns to gold.”
Since the New Orleans charrette a year ago, at least two dozen Katrina Cottage designs have emerged. The units consist of a kernel core including one bedroom and one bath at 550 square feet. But they can be expanded with pre-designed modular add-ons up to 900 or 1,200 square feet, according to Ben Brown, a consultant to USA Weekend magazine, which is promoting the project.
Brown said in an interview with the News-Press this week that USA Weekend has contracted for its own, unique Katrina Cottage, designed by Steve Mouzon, that it hopes to feature in an October magazine promotion.
It wants to demonstrate the home in Falls Church to the public throughout the greater Washington, D.C., metro area and culminate the effort on October 28, on “Make a Difference Day,” when it will donate the home to a family in this area that has relocated from the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Renderings of the design are available, but no one has yet seen the constructed version of Mouzon’s model.
The Falls Church-based Homestretch, Inc., non-profit is currently involved in helping to house a number of Katrina “refugee” families in this area, and would be a perfect partner for bringing this project to fruition, Brown suggested.
“From Falls Church’s point of view, the advantage to having this demonstration here will highlight a practical and attractive option for affordable housing, which is so desperately needed here and throughout this region,” Jackson said. She also noted that such homes would also be “a perfect fit” for the City’s many sub-standard residential lots and could help solve the problem of such lots being subjected to so-called “McMansion” development.
The issue for City officials about locating a Katrina Cottage here is to find a suitable location. USA Weekend officials want a permanent site for the home, but according to Brown, are willing to be flexible.
He said the idea of temporarily locating the demonstration on a piece of City land while a longer-term, more arduous process of finding a permanent location is underway, would work for them.
It means, hypothetically, that the demo could go on something like the back end of the City-owned Podolnick property adjacent the Post Office on W. Broad, since it will be a considerable period of time before that land will be developed as part of the new City Center. Then, perhaps in conjunction with a private party, the City could find a permanent location that could be anywhere around the area, and not even necessarily right in the City, itself.
The homes, including materials and construction costs, are being marketed for a target price of $100 per square foot, meaning a 1,000 square foot version would go for $100,000, Brown said. But unlike mobile or manufactured homes, which sell for less, these homes are built with the best materials and construction, including hardwood floors and quality siding, and are designed to be aesthetically-pleasing, permanent homes that, specifically, can withstand severe weather in storm zones.
Unassembled units are already going wholesale from Lowe’s Hardware for $45 to $55 per square foot, Brown said. Lowe’s has contracted for four designs of the cottages, out of some two dozen options, and can already deliver complete kits that include appliances.