Small, cozy cottage may start new trend

January 10, 2011 12:30:44 PM PST
Berkeley is hoping small houses will make a big difference in the city's effort to accommodate its growing population. Mayor Tom Bates will cut the ribbon on one of these mini-homes on Saturday; they're calling it "smart growth."

Behind a non-descript house in Berkeley is what city leaders are hoping will be the big new trend in housing. It's a backyard cottage, also known as an in-law unit.

"People walk in and say this has such a sense of place," says Karen Chapple.

Chapple took out a $100,000 equity loan to build the secondary unit she plans to rent out. She's a city planning professor at UC Berkeley and this was her way to not only add value to her property, but to help accommodate a growing population and curb suburban sprawl.

"We need to lower our energy costs as a society. We need to be more sustainable. So how are we going to get there? Well this is one strategy that is not obtrusive, we call it hidden density or invisible density," says Chapple.

These backyard units aren't for everyone. Her cottage is tiny, just over 400 square feet and to get to the bedroom, you have to climb a steep ladder.

But beyond the small confines, there are concerns over the potential impact to the neighborhood, primarily parking, which is why the city of Berkeley requires that in-law units have their own parking spots.

"We want to make sure that it doesn't necessarily load up neighborhoods with more cars. So we want to make sure that as we see these develop that people actually live there, but also hopefully figure out a way not to have impact with more cars on the street," says Bates.

Chapple's renters are scheduled to move in soon, but before they do, she'll be hosting an open house Saturday, in hopes of inspiring others that they too can build in their backyard.

"And not just Berkeley. El Cerrito, Oakland, Albany, many of the East Bay cities have the capacity to do this kind of development," says Chapple.

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