Something old and something new in Petaluma pocket neighborhood
A new neighborhood tucked in to Petaluma’s historic west side completely reinvents the 20th century notion of a subdivision.
Keller Court Commons features eight compact contemporary homes, clustered around a common green. Walk under the colorful portico filled with brightly painted mailboxes - color coded to match the front doors of each home - and you enter a serene space void of cars, roads, curbs and mawing garages.
Each house evokes the old farm buildings that once stood on the site. They center around a common green and a community room, patio and bocce ball court. Each has a front porch or deck wide enough for relaxing on a warm evening and close enough to neighbors to call them over for a glass of wine or cold beer.
There are no roads through the heart of this Planned Unit Development, just walkways. Single-car garages equipped with electric charging stations are hidden out of sight in a driveway that runs behind the homes, as alleys did in the olden days. None of the homes have back doors, thus encouraging people by design to be seen and to mingle with their neighbors.
It is the first true “Pocket Neighborhood” in the North Bay. It was developed by Jim Soules who, with partner Ross Chapin, pioneered the concept 20 years ago in Washington state. Since then their efforts have contributed to a national movement to create neighborhoods of smaller homes and shared open space that encourage community. Unlike co-housing projects, pocket neighborhoods are not so-called intentional communities. There is a homeowner’s association but no communal boards and responsibilities required. But with each house set close beside the next on roughly 3,000-foot lots, residents will find themselves frequently nose to nose with their neighbors. And to Soules, that’s a good thing.
“This is bringing back a sense of community,” said Soules, who has three buyers lined up already. “These people are going to know each other. They’re going to talk to each other. They’ve going to support each other.”
That’s one of the things that drew Dee Ballantyne to reserve one of the homes. The 78-year-old Healdsburg woman currently lives in a 7,000 square foot chateau on 10 acres in the Alexander Valley that she built with her late husband 30 years ago and filled with traditional and antique furnishings. Now she’s excited about downsizing and having neighbors for company and security.”I was attracted for years to these community type settlements that are small and where you own your own house and can sometimes share facilities,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to one that was so structured like Spring Lake Village and I didn’t want to be way out in Oakmont and I’m not ready for assisted living. So a small community like Keller Court was appealing to me and they are modern and that’s interesting.”
She said she intends to completely shake up her interior decor with modern furnishings.
At 1400 to 1600 square feet, and listed at an average of $1.4 million, the two bedroom homes are far from starter homes, twice the median price for a home in west Petaluma. But Soules said for a project that he hopes will be a local prototype for similar types of people-centric development, he wanted to put his best foot forward with top-shelf materials, construction and design both inside and out.
He enlisted Petaluma architect Chris Lynch of MAD Architecture to design the site and the homes - as well as his own home at the entrance to the commons.
They are built using what Lynch characterizes as “honest materials:” concrete, corrugated metal, asphalt shingle roofing, reclaimed wood board, fiberglass windows and natural wood, some of which is darkly weatherized using the traditional Japanese burning technique shou sugi ban.
While the homes are reminiscent of farm buildings, inside they are cleanly contemporary in design with vaulted nine-foot ceilings, open living/kitchen areas, almost commercial-grade aluminum windows, custom tile work, high-tech lighting and porcelain countertops.
Each home has one or more colorfully painted decks made from industrial fiberglass, an ultra-durable and easy-to-clean material used in chemical plants.
The homes, equipped with solar panels and radiant floor heating for energy efficiency, are set in a half circle and have one of Petaluma’s best views, looking out over the city and Sonoma Mountain beyond.
“The whole planning of the site had to do with maximizing the views,” said Lynch. He added zoning would have allowed for two more homes on the property but that would have taken away from the panoramic vista and meant the loss of more mature oaks.