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A Smart Single-Family Infill Development Recalls Traditional European Charm and Detail

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A Smart Single-Family Infill Development Recalls Traditional European Charm and Detail

A compact infill lot transformed into a community of seven luxury single-family homes serves as a model for smart land use and engaging design


By Michele Lerner December 6, 2023
Aerial view of the Downton Walk infill development in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The cluster of seven single-family homes is built on a former industrial site within walking distance of downtown Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Race Course. Each home features a unique stone or stucco exterior, and the community is unified by the use of matching custom cypress trim on the homes’ stoops, bracket details, and porches. | All images: Randall Perry Photography
This article first appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Pro Builder.

What would you do with a deteriorating industrial building on a 150-by-230-foot lot within walking distance of downtown Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the town’s historic horse-racing track?PB+ digital extra icon

If you were John Witt, you’d envision a compact, dense community of luxury single-family homes. “Most people wanted apartments on that lot, but the zoning board was against it,” says Witt, president of Witt Construction, a local custom home design/build firm. “My idea was to design seven high-end single-family homes for a unique urban setting.” That community would eventually become Downton Walk.

After persevering to finally gain approvals for multiple zoning variances and overcoming initial neighborhood opposition, Witt began site remediation that included demolishing the old building and removing its oil burners, doing asbestos abatement, and installing a new water line to the development. 

He also set up the project as a condominium development so the parcel could be treated as one piece of land. That facilitated a zero-lot-line arrangement, which helps to minimize outdoor maintenance. 

“This project was a very smart use of land,” Witt says. Because of the condo concept, each single-family home has exclusive use of a fenced yard with rear access to its attached garage. For privacy, the homes are designed so no windows look into other people’s yards. “A couple of the homes even have pools,” Witt adds. All seven homes, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 square feet, sold during the preconstruction phase for $1.2 million to $2.5 million each.

Downton Walk infill project specs
Streetscape and home exteriors at infill development Downton Walk, a BALA winner winner
The single-family homes were designed for privacy despite the high-density neighborhood. Both the homes' exteriors and interiors include details reminiscent of English or European village homes.

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Inspiration + Influences

Before putting pen to paper to design the homes and determine their siting, Witt sought inspiration while on retreat in Maui, Hawaii, where he solidified his concept. “I sat in a sugarcane field watching surfers and then drew and laid out the first floor of every unit to scale with the lane and driveways to make sure it would work,” he says. 

Then came a different type of design influence: snow. Due to the project’s northeastern location, what to do with the inevitable white stuff presented a challenge. The solution: install hydronic radiant-heated paving for all of the walkways, driveways, and the common lane down the center of the parcel to melt the snow (read: no shoveling). A communitywide boiler buried under one of the home’s garages provides heated water for the system.

The central court in the Downton Walk infill development
To ease snow removal, the lane, walkways, and driveway have radiant heating from a community boiler.

Witt also created a unique layout for each home. Two are smaller cottages of 2,500 square feet with three bedrooms (each with an en suite bathroom), while the five larger homes are about 5,000 square feet on three levels and feature first-floor primary suites and two or three additional bedrooms. 

All of the homes have open floor plans on the main level and most gave buyers the option to add or reconfigure second floors and finish out a below-grade level.

The kitchen and dining area in Downton Walk, an infill BALA winner
This kitchen includes an oversized island, a window seat, and opens to the family room and living room.
Kitchen and living areas in Downton Walk, an infill project BALA winner
Each three-level home has a unique design but shares common themes: highly efficient floor plans that maximize space in a small footprint and European-style design elements such as arch details, exposed wood, niches, and built-ins.
Interiors of Downton Walk, an infill development BALA winner

 

On the outside, to add texture and detail, each home features different stone or stucco claddings and bespoke English- and Tudor-style touches (the largest home also has a turret; another has a decorative crow’s nest). The cypress trim used on all of the homes is consistent throughout and creates a cohesive feel for the pocket neighborhood. Each home also enjoys private outdoor space, such as a covered porch or a veranda.

Rear yard with a pool in Downton Walk, an infill BALA winner
Each house has a private backyard enclosed by a fence or the garage of the neighboring home. Several homes include a private swimming pool.

“I spent a week in London and in the Cotswolds region in central-southwestern England gathering inspiration from the homes there because I wanted an English- or European-style feel for the community,” Witt says. “And Europeans design great little, dense neighborhoods.”

Witt’s vision and follow-through earned Downton Walk a Gold award among infill communities competing in last year’s Best in American Living Awards.

“America needs better-designed projects,” Witt says, “and I think other builders could replicate this kind of land use in other areas.” 

First floor plan of #4 home in Downton Walk, an infill BALA winnerSecond-floor plan of Downton Walk, an infill BALA winner

 

Optional lower-level plan of #4 home in Downton Walk, an infill BALA winner

 


Michele Lerner is an award-winning real estate journalist in the Washington, D.C., area.

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