Robert Orr has a vision of the future—and might get to build it on four Wooster Square parking lots, complete with “bungalows,” shared kitchenettes, and fold-out beds.
Orr, a New Haven architect, has spent years researching ideas around the world to figure out how to design low-cost, nice-looking, semi-shared, semi-private urban housing geared to 20-something “millennials.”
He has put those ideas together in a bid to put new homes on four underused parking lots the city is selling in the Wooster Square neighborhood.
Three teams have submitted proposals to buy the lots and build housing on them. A selection process has begun with team of city neighborhood staffers, Wooster Square Alderman Michael Smart, and two neighbors are reviewing the ideas. Ultimately Liveable City Initiative (LCI) chief Erik Johnson will pick a winner to submit to the City Plan Commission and Board of Aldermen in coming months.
Orr’s Chapel Street firm proposed paying the city $200,000 for all four lots, at 109 Olive St., 9 Brown St., 176 Chestnut St. and 494 Chapel St. Click here for a previous story describing how the city came to put them up for sale.
A firm called Triad Construction offered to pay $49,900 for just the Olive Street lot. It to build a “raised-entry,” “Wooster Square type” Greek Revival 1,650-square-foot three-family home there.
Retired police Capt. Andrew Consiglio, who for the last 27 years has been building homes and storefronts in town, offered to pay $40,000 for the Olive Street lot, $35,000 for Brown Street, $35,000 for Chestnut Street. In each case, he’d build a two-story two-bedroom red-brick house with a gable roof, “double-hung windows,” a private courtyard, and “porch detail reminiscent of a lot of porches in Wooster Square, according to his architect, Peter J. MacPartland. (Depending on further examination of the dimensions of the Brown Street lot, he might put a three-bedroom house there, McPartland said.)
Orr has three different, related ideas for how to build the lots. They come down to one theme: millennials. Twenty-somethings like his 24-year-old son.
Here’s how some of them want to live, Orr concluded from studying his son and others:
Many of them want to be able to afford to live in urban neighborhoods like Wooster Square. They want to be around other people their age to share meals, share ideas, all “spontaneously.” They also want to retreat to their own private domains to read or go on the computer. Not to mention go to use their own bathrooms.
“The millennials don’t like to share their bathrooms. But they’re happy to share the food,” Orr (pictured) said in an interview in a shared space of his own, the wide-open office floor he shares with others in the Bourse coworking space on Chapel Street.
“The whole idea with the millennials—it’s about interchange and breaking out of the confines of their parents, the scheduled life, play dates, revolving around the car. ... They want spontaneity. They love debate, throwing around ideas.” But they also need their private space.
Hence: rowhouses and a “bungalow court.”
In one initial set of plans Orr has drawn up, perhaps for the Chapel lot and/or the Olive Street lot, he envisions a four-story building with a possible commercial space on the bottom floor and a single loft apartment on the second floor. The building on Olive Street would look like a row house already standing next door.
The top two floors—each 16 by 24 feet—would each have two small bedrooms with private bathrooms, a shared kitchenette and closet area. The bedrooms would include fold-out beds he discovered in England; they include bookshelves and a desk that pulls out. Because of the shared kitchenette it’s not exactly a studio apartment.
The concept behind the small bedrooms: “The bedroom is where you sleep; the city is where you live.”
By keeping the bedrooms so small, he believes he can keep rents down to about $650 a month per bedroom. He figures he could keep the second floor at around $1,100.
He’d do that also by shipping in modular prefab interiors for the top floors. He has traveled to manufacturers in Vermont and Pennsylvania to inspect their work. He’d have the brick facade and first-floor cement block interior built on site.
He originally got the idea from seeing how builders in San Diego were finding ways to make attractive but affordable living spaces for young renters.
He picked up another idea when his firm spent 6,000 hours trying to help Mississippi rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The idea was how to assemble “teeny little houses” onto lots to enable more people to live in them while giving them a “pocket neighborhood” feel.
He’d do that on some of the other Wooster Square lots with a series of four of five “bungalows” centered around a courtyard. They’d rise one or two stories each and ideally rent for $600 to $800 a month. They’d have to “look good,” not “like schlock,” to work in that setting, he emphasized.
Like the other bidders for the properties, Orr considers his initial plans a starting point, not final designs by any means. He should find out in early 2013 if city decision-makers share his vision.