Beachfront New Urbanism
By Douglas Kallfelz and Robert Brenna, Jr.
Heritage Sands is Cape Cod’s first new oceanfront cottage community in more than 50 years. Now, 63 new cottages are clustered around common greens to create intimate neighborhoods interlaced with crushed shell paths that wind down to more than 600 feet of private beach.
The 8-acre site was formerly a seasonal trailer park that hosted 150 RVs and 15 cottages on cement slabs. The developer’s inspiration to transform this site came from the rich history of Cape Cod’s summer communities, populated by families returning every year. This tradition began with tent sites and evolved over time to dense cottage neighborhoods, a land plan style that was unique to the Cape.
The developer’s goal was not to recreate the wheel after 50 years, but instead to leverage technological advances (such as modular home building, energy efficiency and storm compliance) with tried-and-true strategies for traditional neighborhood design (pocket neighborhood layout, ample front porches, shared common space). The result is a highly unique community that has a deep sense of place.
It’s beachfront New Urbanism, and the town warmly embraced it as a welcome break from fenced-off trophy homes that had dominated new Cape Cod waterfront construction for decades. The target market was looking for a sense of community, a neighborhood that did not include McMansions. Heritage Sands mimics the old-style cottage colonies, where families bonded and grew together, summer after summer. The architect created pocket neighborhoods with the front porches of clustered cottages facing onto common greens and crushed shell pathways where casual daily interactions among neighbors could occur naturally.
The design intent was to achieve an upscale but relaxed feel through simple craftsmanship. From the curve of a winding path to the strength of every roof rake, no detail at Heritage Sands was overlooked. The architect used gray cedar shingles and white trim to accentuate the cottages’ classical forms and simple lines. The interiors were designed to maximize the small footprints of each of the 10 cottage prototypes in this neighborhood. With homes ranging from 900 to 1,350 square feet, 1 ½-story compact floor plans combine open common space with tall, lofty ceilings and smaller private rooms. Finishes are high quality and selected from a neutral palette.
Intimate scale defines a pocket neighborhood’s unique character. When designing these neighborhoods in larger increments, it is challenging to maintain that intimacy. At Heritage Sands, careful attention was paid to the design of the site plan. Small clusters of six to 10 homes surrounding common green space were grouped with the goal of creating smaller “neighborhoods within neighborhoods.” These small house clusters are connected through winding walking paths and all homes feature front (and some side) porches to encourage social interaction between neighbors.
An additional challenge was to design the site in such a way that views and connection to the water were available to all cottages, thus increasing property values throughout the community. The design team resisted the temptation to line the waterfront with homes, which would have blocked views to the rest of the cottages. Instead, linear greens were arranged to draw views and create pedestrian connections to the water for the whole neighborhood.
As with all compact neighborhoods, privacy was also a concern, so home types were selected and staggered so that most windows were not directly aligned. Attention to this design detail helped mitigate the negative associations with density by incorporating a sense of privacy between homes.
The target market of seasonal residents wanted a custom home built to their specifications, but didn’t want to wait months on end. To deliver cottages in a timely fashion, the developer chose modular construction. Completed cottages were delivered to Heritage Sands buyers as soon as 14 weeks after contract, which helped residents move in by summer.
The team found that the benefits of modular included a climate-controlled build environment, as opposed to the unpredictability and challenges of a coastal setting. It also minimized on-site staging and materials storage, sped delivery, and reduced construction noise and disturbance for owners and the surrounding neighborhood.
Each cottage was carefully designed to dovetail with the parameters of modular construction without compromising any of the character associated with a classic Cape Cod cottage. Each home was also built to exacting coastal standards, with steel straps that bolt homes to their foundations and hurricane-rated windows to withstand coastal storms.
Planning for the future
The team worked carefully with the town selectmen, town manager, town planner, a host of town municipal boards and committees, the local business community, and the year-round and seasonal residents of Dennis to create a new “seasonal resort” zoning provision aimed at preserving neighborhood character and securing the continued viability of cottage communities for the next 100 years. The Dennis town planner anticipates that Dennisport’s new cottage-friendly zoning will reap benefits for the town’s year-round residents and businesses by bolstering second-home inventory and drawing cottage owners back to the Cape throughout the year.
As of May 2017, 61 of 63 available cottages had been sold. The project received NAHB’s prestigious 2016 Best of American Living Community of the Year award as well as NAHB’s Best Residential Community (under 100 homes) and Best Project in North Atlantic Region. Additionally, it won gold awards for modular homes and for production home under 2,000 square feet at the 2016 Professional Builder awards, and Best Land Planning, Best Multi-Unit For Sale Community: Detached Homes, and Best Detached Home under 2,500 Square Feet at the 2016 Prism Gold Awards.
Most importantly, Heritage Sands has proven that the seasonal residential market on the Cape responds positively to housing options that favor well-designed density over conventional development. People were looking for a community where they could develop lifelong relationships with neighboring families, and they have found it at Heritage Sands.
The original article was published in the Summer 2017 Issue of Best in American Living.
Douglas Kallfelz, AIA, LEED AP, CNU, is Managing Principal at Union Studio Architecture & Community Design in Providence, Rhode Island.
Robert Brenna, Jr. is a developer at CapeBuilt Development LLC in Dennisport, Massachusetts.