Urban is in. As more millennials consider purchasing a home, residential areas located in walking distance to shopping centers, restaurants and businesses where many work are peaking their interest. Often, the younger demographic prefers a minimalist style “tiny” home or condo to the typical suburban house with a sprawling landscape in need of maintenance.
This growing trend has increased real estate activity in the neighborhoods surrounding Old Town Clovis, which has that urban vibe with so many popular events and busy retail stores and eateries. According to Dwight Kroll, the city’s planning and development services director, there just isn’t enough property in Old Town these days to serve all those interested in moving there.
Knowing Old Town is a desirable place, Kroll and other city staff members came up with a plan that would not only create more livable space in Old Town, but would increase the value of existing properties. This plan—the Cottage Home Program—allows current homeowners with large backyards along the various alleyways to build a small home on the back portion of their yard, facing the alley.
Kroll said some residents have already shown interest in the idea, which would build on the revitalization efforts the city put into effect with its specific plan for central Clovis in 1983. That plan, which was updated last year, focused mainly on revitalizing the commercial areas, while some individual residents took it upon themselves to spruce up their properties. Even with many residents putting forth the effort to beautify Old Town, Kroll said he and several citizens on an advisory committee felt the city could do more to encourage reinvestment in properties, particularly those south of 5th Street.
“The advisory committee felt we could encourage some activity in terms of reinvestment in property and fixing up homes and this idea came about because a lot of these residential homes in Old Town have alleys and if you drive through an alley they are pretty unsightly,” Kroll said. “These lots are very narrow and long lots, about 150 feet deep and 50 feet wide, so you only use a certain percentage of your backyard and then you store your car in the back or junk like the old kids swing set. Touring around with the committee, one of the places we stopped in was Davis, California, and we walked around their old town and into this one neighborhood that was a fairly new subdivision with large homes up front and small homes on the back and the small homes were on trails.”
Since Clovis already has such a vibrant trail system, seeing the trails throughout the Davis neighborhood really sparked the cottage home program idea for Clovis. Instead of alleyways, Kroll said, if many residents took advantage and built a small cottage home facing the alleys, those alleys would be transformed into beautiful trails that would be clean and nice to walk through.
The idea was so well received by other city staff members that Kroll and his planning team took it beyond the idea stage and created three tangible plans that residents could use. The advantage of using one of the city’s designs is a resident wouldn’t have to pay fees normally associated with designing their own plan, plus the city’s designs are cohesive with the overall feel and architecture of Old Town.
“We designed and plan checked several different cottages that could be available free of charge to properties in Old Town that have an alley and if you use one of our plans, you have to build it to plan so it has to have a little bit of architectural character to it,” Kroll said.”It can’t just be a stucco box with aluminum slider windows, it has to be something kind of neat you would want to live in and if we get enough of these on the alleys, we start cleaning up the alleys and they become pedestrian streets. There is also additional value added to that property and it can be a rental property or a mother-in-law unit or an AirBnb, so that property owner might get a profit on it right from the get-go from the moment they build it.”
Each city-designed cottage plan has 400 square feet of livable space and residents can choose to make that space a studio-style apartment or a one-bedroom home. One design is French style with French doors and a porch, another is Spanish colonial with a long-lasting tile roof, and a third style is Victorian. The city is also working on getting a cottage plan approved for other Old Town residents without as big of a backyard. This additional plan would be a unit over a garage.
The plans have been checked and are up to current codes, which will be in effect for the next 18 months. Each plan cost the city about $9,000 to draw up—money residents would ordinarily have to invest to draw up their own plan.
“The efficiency is we only had to plan check three plans but there may be 100 homes that come out of this, so it is efficient for us to do it and we get to control the design to some degree so they look like Old Town,” Kroll said. “That doesn’t mean someone couldn’t have their own designer design some plans and come by here and have it planned checked, it would just cost them $9,000 or so to do.”
Currently, Kroll said there are 530 residents who may qualify for the program.
Kroll said the cottages, which are not like the average tiny homes showcased on HGTV—those are mobile while the cottages are permanent structure—are perfect for Old Town because there are so many students and professionals in the area that could live in them and walk or bike to work and school.
“We have the California Health Sciences University being developed in Clovis and their catalyst is right at Sierra and Clovis,” Kroll said. “Then, we are looking at selling our senior center and building a new one with the project at Third Street and the San Joaquin College of Law is interested in picking that up to create a law library, which would make them a daytime university and they would get federally accredited with a law library, so now we have another group of professionally-oriented students, and then Fresno State is only two miles away. Fresno State doesn’t have a college community like Chico or San Luis Obispo or Davis, but this could be the place.
“t’s not far from Old Town to Fresno State and if we can get things going with Centennial Plaza and the South of 5th Entertainment and Dining District, it may become more and more attractive for students or even professors or professional people who work here who can walk down for services, ride their bike to school and then they’ve got the trail systems and shopping nearby.”
Maria Spera, a city planning technician, said one family is already gearing up to be the first to build a cottage on their property, and other residents have expressed interest.
“So far we have booked 15 appointments and we’ve had a lot of people calling in and we’re seeing who fits into the whole plan and who can make this happen on their properties. We have received a lot of interest,” Spera said. “We have a family that sent us a plot plan and they plotted everything out, made measurements in their backyard and they are ready to go and want to do the second meeting. It’s exciting to see everyone else excited and to know this vision has a real possibility of becoming reality.”