A Developer Owns up to the Mistake of not Planning for Small Homes

Celebration is a master-planned community in Florida developed by The Walt Disney Company. It was built just two decades ago, but today it's home to thousands of houses, offices, schools, and shops. One thing you won't find a lot of in Celebration, FL? Smaller homes — at least not very many. That, it turns out, is a big loss.

Homes in Celebration, FL (Source:  Cavalier92 )

Homes in Celebration, FL (Source: Cavalier92)

A recent blog post by a developer who played a key role in the planning process for Celebration owns up to the fact that not creating space for smaller homes limited options in the community and was ultimately a mistake:

There was a strong interest in smaller custom homes on smaller lots.  There were a handful of lots that, because they wouldn’t accommodate the footprints of the production builders’ designs, were made available for purchase by those wishing to have custom designed homes.  All of these lots were snapped up pretty quickly...

The developer also comments on the fact that planning only a few standard lot sizes on the larger end meant that the home builders who were engaged in the process were less prepared to be flexible and make the necessary adjustments to build smaller:

In hindsight, reserving a select number of lots throughout the neighborhood for custom homes at critical locations in master plan and identifying a few builders who were interested in and capable of building smaller custom homes would have been the smart things to do.  Having this option would have greatly benefitted the community and made it a richer more dynamic environment. 

Lot sizes might not seem like a particularly important topic but they can dictate the size and financially feasibility of so many things in our communities — chiefly housing, but also sidewalks, businesses, parking, and more. A larger lot limits the amount of homes that can fit on a given block and the options available to people with different family sizes and price ranges, restricting who can afford to — and who will desire — to live in the town. Larger lots also mean that each block is financially reliant on a smaller number of taxpayers to contribute towards municipal expenses, versus spreading the responsibility out over many residents. In Celebration, that meant that housing was only available to a select slice of the population who wanted a large home and could pay for one. The fact that smaller lots were immediately snatched up suggests an unfulfilled demand for smaller housing options.

But this doesn't just matter for master-planned Disney villages. It's something all of our communities can learn from. Look around your neighborhood by taking a walk or investigating on Google maps and you'll see how lot sizes impact your surroundings. One block might feel spread out and empty if it only has a handful of homes on it with large yards (much less if any of the homes are vacant). Another block with smaller lots might seem more active and lively with many residents and homes. Look beneath that outward appearance and you'll find that the block with larger lots must provide the same amount of street, sidewalk, pipes and electric lines for a much smaller amount of people and tax base, while the block with smaller lots has more taxpayers to cover the same amount of expenses.

When cities or developers find an opportunity to subdivide existing lots, they should consider embracing it to give more families the chance to find housing and more neighborhoods the chance to financially flourish with a robust tax base. 

Kudos to the developer in Celebration, FL for owning up to his missed opportunity and for giving us all an opportunity to learn from it.

Explore more housing and development issues from a Strong Towns perspective.