Missing Middle Housing Urban Design Small Towns

Micro Units and Courtyard Housing: Are They Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate?

I wanted to share a short summary of an infill housing project we are working on that I am excited about. I feel that this can serve as a great model that can inform other projects focused on including smaller units, or micro units, as a tool to deliver attainability, but without compromising on livability. Maybe this is something you have been considering?


Based on what we are seeing with costs of housing and the desire to live in walkable urban locations, I feel this type of micro unit housing could be viable in most markets, even in smaller towns.

Key Elements: Quality Living at 120 du/acre

This project is on a 72’ x 80’ lot, has 20 units ranging in size from 219-390 square feet, and generates a density of 120 du/acre in a 2-3 story building. Its design orients around an intimate, thoughtfully programmed, 2-3 story courtyard. The building has no elevator or shared corridors, and all units activate the courtyard or can be accessed through the courtyard.

Program Summary:
Lot size: 80’ x 72’ (7,211 SF, .19 acres)
Number of units: 20
Density: 120 Du/Acre
Building Area: 9178 SF
Unit site range: 219-390
Parking: 5 spaces (.25/unit)
Bike parking: 20 bike lockers, 2 space

It Started with a Sketch: Santa Maria Project Origin Story

This is a sketch that I did when originally thinking about how to organize varied massing around a small, intimate courtyard, and how to accommodate parking without compromising the quality of the overall design. The building uses the required on-site parking to step the massing down to adjacent single family home, keeping in mind that these lots will also likely transition to larger scale buildings in the future.

Being Thoughtful about Costs within the Design Execution

The City’s recently adopted Downtown Specific Plan identifies Spanish Revival as one of the required styles, and applying this style to this courtyard building was fundamental to the design approach. The client, a local builder, is well-versed in this style and supported the execution of design details cost effectively. Overall design costs were vetted frequently to ensure the project met the client’s targets.

Achieving this ideal balance between cost and optimal design is something Opticos has become quite adept at over the past 5-7 years. And a beneficial outcome is the building’s look and feel evokes a higher-end impression and high-quality design.

New Density-Free Zoning and Low Parking Made this Possible

Part of what made this project possible is that the new zoning adopted by the City of Santa Maria as part of their Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) eliminated density caps and focused on regulating a maximum building form (form-based zoning). This is an approach Opticos has been promoting now for 20+ years with public sector clients.

However, DSP details that don’t solve every issue factor into the project. The Plan still required 1 parking space per unit, which would have made infill on a small site nearly impossible physically or infeasible economically, so as part of the entitlement process Opticos submitted a request for a variance to reduce parking. The plan is currently going through planning approval.

If you would like to discuss this project and potential application of similar design approach or other Missing Middle approach to a site you have targeted, reach out to Opticos directly.