Planning Commission

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Jun 28

Fitting Garages into a Townhouse

Posted on June 28, 2016 at 5:47 PM by Michael Stokes

We are addicted to our cars.  They are convenient and often fun to drive (when we are not stuck in traffic); but they really mess up our built environment.  To store our several ton metal friends we build massive parking lots that add to our stormwater woes and blight our communities. To get to where we want to go, we build wider highways that make walking nearly impossible in many areas.  Cars even make the design of housing more challenging since we need to build garages and driveways to store them.  

Take for instance the townhouse.  As the suburbanized version of the urban row home, the townhouse provides a great housing choice that fits well into many types of properties and is popular for home buyers of all ages.   Since the 1980s, more townhouses have been developed with garages making their design more complex.  Consider the 20 to 24 foot wide townhouse with a 9 x 7 foot garage door and driveway in front of it.   It leaves little room for the front door and front yard and the design gets even worse when a second parking space or two-car garage is added to townhouse property.

Placing the garage in the rear of the house provides several benefits and greatly enhances the look and function of the front of the house.  In that type of unit you could even sit on a front porch, drink your coffee and say hello to the neighbors.   The only problem with placing the garage in the back is that now you have to share the back yard with your car and more pavement is needed to get the car into the back. 

As you can imagine, there are no easy answers for townhouse design when cars need to be accommodated.  Generally we would all agree that townhouses along developed streets in existing boroughs should not have garages in the front.  Yet in other types of townhouse developments, there may be a compelling reason to place the garage at the front of the unit.  In these cases, good architecture, limitations on the size of garages and driveways and effective landscaping are needed to minimize the impact of the garage and maintain a front façade and yard that is oriented to people, not cars.

When you think about it, the townhouse design dilemma is like the 45 records that were a big to some of us in our teenage years.   On those records, one side (the a-side) contained the hit and was fabulous; the other side was often very unmemorable.  That was until the Beatles started putting out some great 45s with two a-sides like the one that contained the upbeat Paul McCartney classic Penny Lane with the dreamy John Lennon masterpiece Strawberry Fields on the other.  Can we do the same for townhouses with two great sides that address community, aesthetic, personal and environmental needs while also taking care of our large metal beasts?   Creative juices need to flow on this one.  Certainly we could do better than we have in the past. 

A nice local street with townhouses

The garages for those townhouses are on an alley at the rear

Six garage doors and five townhouse units

One option is a side loaded garage on a townhouse

The backs of townhouses with garages can be challenging designs

A sea of parking and garages and no front yard is what we should avoid


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