Pocket-Sized Living: Firm explores building cottage-style ‘pocket neighborhood’ in Eau Claire

Tom Giffey

KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. This drawing shows what a so-called “pocket neighborhood” in Eau Claire’s Cannery District could look like.
KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. This drawing shows what a so-called “pocket neighborhood” in Eau Claire’s Cannery District could look like. Image courtesy of Ross Chapin Architects (rosschapin.com)

A Milwaukee development firm has received the go-ahead to explore building a so-called “pocket neighborhood” in the Cannery District redevelopment area on the west bank of the Chippewa River in Eau Claire.

Such development would create a “community within a community,” said Chris Steinhafel of WiRED Properties.

The pocket neighborhood would be one of the first of its kind in the Midwest, Chris Steinhafel of Milwaukee-based WiRED Properties told the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority on May 16. A pocket neighborhood is a cluster of homes that are turned inward toward a shared green space, typically a courtyard or garden. The homes tend to be modestly sized and close together, creating a sense of community and walkability. Pocket neighborhoods are most commonly found on the West Coast.

The initial plans by WiRED Properties call for a 15-unit development with a shared clubhouse. The cottage-style homes would be in the 1,000- to 2,000-square-foot range and would all have front porches facing inward. Such development would create a “community within a community” that could appeal to everyone from Millennials to families with children to downsizing Baby Boomers, Steinhafel said.

The Redevelopment Authority voted to grant WiRED Properties a 90-day exclusive right to negotiate a purchase and development agreement for the two-acre, RDA-owned parcel on First Street in the Cannery District. The vacant property is bordered by First, Second, and Cedar streets about a block southwest of the High Bridge over the Chippewa River.

The Cannery District is a largely vacant former industrial area north of Madison Street that has been eyed for redevelopment by the city. The neighborhood includes the Brewing Projekt and the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre.

Now that it has received RDA approval to negotiate the development, WiRED Properties plans to conduct community outreach in Eau Claire to gauge the interested residents have in the project.

Inspired by cottages and commons of previous eras, pocket neighborhoods first made their contemporary appearance in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest and now can be found in various parts of the United States. One such development, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, has been slated for La Crosse, Steinhafel said. Pocket neighborhoods can provide a mix of affordable and market-rate housing and provide a bridge between suburban-style single-family homes and dense urban development, he said.

To solicit public input on the proposal, WiRED Properties will hold an “Idea Lounge” discussion at 7pm Wednesday, June 6, at the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, 1814 Oxford Ave.

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