Legal Blog

Real Estate Focus: Cottage Communities as a New Way to Live?

If you’re like me, you hear the word “cottage” and think quaint vacation spot or the setting for a fairy tale novel. However, a recent development in Washington, D.C. challenges this perhaps-common perception. Cottage Communities – or smaller single-family homes grouped in smaller pockets with a communal center.

Cottage Communities connect homes that are approximately 1,000-1,500 square feet with a communal backyard and common area (such as a kitchen and lounge) available to all residents. Such a layout has been found to be attractive to baby boomers, looking to downsize after years of owning a larger residence while seeking a sense of community.

Falls Church, Virginia recently opened to the market a community called the “Railroad Cottages,” specifically for consumers aged 55 and older. There are ten total cottages in this community, with each home including 1,490 square feet with two bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a parking space. All ten homes share a common house that includes a kitchen and entertainment space. The homes range from $750,000-$800,000 each.

While perhaps new to the D.C. area, Cottage Communities first emerged in Washington state during the late 1990s. A primary reason why they have not “skyrocketed” or taken off nationwide is likely due to zoning restrictions. Typically, local zoning ordinances regulate density or the number of units permitted on a piece of land. In the context of Cottage Communities, developers typically exceed zoning regulations by packing so many homes so close together – rather than including, say, one home on an entire plot of land.

However, as evidenced by the Railroad Cottages in Falls Church, there are ways around this requirement. The City of Falls Church granted its developer a special exception that permitted additional density and therefore granted permission to build. As the population ages and more people seek different and more comfortable ways to live, it is possible that Northern Virginia and other regions may change their zoning codes to allow cottage communities (perhaps creating new zones).  I will be on the lookout for this development trend to see if it takes off further.

If you have any questions about this or any other Real Estate topics, please contact me at or 703-745-1849



Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.






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