Homes on Narrow Lots

An essential characteristic of traditional Vermont neighborhoods is a narrow but deep lot. Homes sit close together along the street, but have deep back yards so that there is a balance between accessibility to the public realm and the privacy of one’s own yard. This pattern puts density where it matters – along the street where people can interact or walk or bike to local destinations. Narrow lots often mean that garages will be in the rear. They can be attached or detached, but they will not dominate the streetscape.

To achieve a pattern of narrow and deep lots at walkable densities, consider the following strategies:

  • In village and town centers, zone for densities of approximately 3-8 units per acre for residential areas. Have both a maximum density and a minimum so your community can achieve the desired density to create walkable neighborhoods and smaller homes. Have both maximum and minimum lot widths.
  • Because narrow driveways may not be able to accommodate visiting cars, allow shared driveways, on-street parking and provide occasional guest parking spaces in neighborhoods.
  • Make extensive use of pictures in your town plan and zoning bylaws to illustrate to developers and residents, who may be leery of density, just how a well-designed neighborhood can look.
  • Carefully review zoning ordinances suggested by consultants or other communities. Most zoning ordinances separate uses too much and are overly concerned with making sure cars are accommodated, at the expense of other goals. These ordinances are often borrowed from one community to another even if they are not totally appropriate for every town. Look for ideas from smart growth, livable communities and new urbanist sources.