With land in short supply, modern-day builders are looking for infill spots in older neighborhoods to make the most of existing communities. Most prevalent in single-family neighborhoods and teardowns on lots that previously held single homes, these spaces are transformed with the development of newly-built town homes, condos, duplexes or multi-family homes.

Infill neighborhoods build on established community strengths and are typically stable communities that development parcels were never fully built out, or, where the demolition of older buildings has left vacant space. They can be in the form of additional units built on the same lot, by dividing existing homes into multiple units, or by creating new residential lots by further subdivision or lot line adjustments. These neighborhoods generally have secure infrastructure and hold precious real estate value.

Infill development trends align with the new urbanism and smart growth designs that encourage the reduction of the need for cars and allow for more “walkable” cities. Among one of the latest building trends to save energy and enhance the sustainable living movement, infill development will continue to gain momentum in the years to come due to cost-justification in a sluggish housing market and strong consumer backing.

Why infill development?

There are several reasons for builders to embark on the creation of infill neighborhoods. Some of the more popular include:

  • Short supply of land, i.e., less areas to develop due to growth management.
  • The ability to regularly yield cost-effective, profitable results.
  • Record high gas prices forcing today’s workforce to reside in areas closer to their jobs in order to save on gas-related costs and valuable commute time.
  • A variety of housing choices such as, a traditional public realm, transit access and commercial amenities within walking distance of one another.
  • The existing infrastructure is usually adequate enough to provide all the needs for utility and other services.
  • They do not require the subdivision of greenfield or agricultural land and natural areas.

Which of the nation’s regions are experiencing the trend?

The NAHB showcases several “smart case studies” on its Web site for those builders looking to embark on infill development. One of the featured projects was developed in Seattle, Wash., in the form of Victorian town homes. A turn-of-the-century apartment building with inadequate on-site parking was slated for rehabilitation and conversion to condominiums. To supply an additional 60 parking spaces for the condominium conversion while minimizing the impact of a needed garage on the surrounding historic neighborhood, the plans called for construction of a new, partially underground, two-level parking garage with housing above in order to accommodate its affluent, politically active, and design-conscious neighborhood residents.

In Alexandria, Va., the Portner’s Landing project incorporates an existing Civil War-era brewery on one corner of the site, paying homage to the familiar urban patterns, textures, and architectural details that distinguish nearby streets while implementing additional housing options that include 20 town home condominium units within a brewery building, complete with below-ground parking, as well as 38 apartment flats within a new four-story condominium building adjacent to the brewery. Much of Portner’s Landing’s success is attributable to the project’s unique design, particularly the loft-style condominium units and town home condominiums literally inserted into the shell of the brewery.

The AIA also recently recognized the works that exemplify excellence in urban design with its 2008 Institute Honor Awards. The recipients’ projects are featured in states like Arkansas, California and New York.

In Colorado, the Birch Street Group develops everything from upscale townhouses in the more modest North Denver Highlands neighborhood, to multi-family units near 17th and Downing streets, to 5,000-square-foot homes in Cherry Creek, according to the Denver Business Journal. With a track record of over 100 completed residential projects, the Birch Street Group began its infill development creation with two “fix and flip” renovations on Denver’s Birch Street in Park Hill.

And, in some areas like Seattle and Bellevue, high-rise infill development has become the norm.

Which consumer groups are buying into this new movement?

Infill housing primarily attracts existing residents, as these are the individuals who have invested the time and money into the area’s homes and businesses from the get-go. Friends of existing residents and those familiar with the neighborhood are also primary marketing targets. The more the local community remains a part of the new housing choices, the better the opportunities for superior real estate value, both short and long term.

Additionally, infill construction appeals to affluent buyers, young families who desire a safe urban living experience and an ever-growing population of empty-nesters looking to be closer to the action. Furthermore, as immigration rates continue to display record-breaking numbers, the need for multi-family housing options will continue to rise, driving the infill development craze.

Looking for more information about new building trends?

The K&A team will be reporting every day from the International Builders’ Show. Stay tuned daily, February 13-16, at www.kleberandassociates.com, to receive up-to-the minute information about the latest and greatest findings from this year’s show.