When architecture firm Newman Garrison + Partners, of Newport Beach, Calif., took on the task of designing an affordable housing project for the city of Buena Park, Calif., on a 2-acre urban infill site, its directive was to creatively maximize density while providing ample outdoor areas for future residents, keeping construction costs low, and minimizing impact on an adjacent residential neighborhood.

The four-story design that recently was approved by the Buena Park City Council employs a strategy Newman Garrison developed to more efficiently and effectively divide small parcels of land for high-density development. Called "New Block," the concept can be used for nearly any low-rise residential or mixed-use project on any 2- to 4-acre site without depending on concrete structures, allowing a density of up to 45 units per acre with surface parking, according to the firm. "This allows us to utilize a different typology that doesn't include concrete, but it maximizes density and keeps overall construction costs low," says Kevin Newman, CEO of Newman Garrison.

With the New Block concept, the firm was able to provide the necessary 70 apartment units—at a density of 32 units per acre—in one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans ranging from 661 to 1,192 square feet. The $21 million project is being built through a public-private partnership between nonprofit affordable housing developer Jamboree Housing and the Buena Park Redevelopment Agency. The community will be targeted at residents earning 30 percent to 60 percent of the county's area median income, as well as at special needs residents. Much of the city's previously built affordable housing projects have been aimed exclusively at senior residents, and there is high demand for apartments for younger low-income residents.

Though the surrounding commercial and residential neighborhoods are decades old, the design for 8850 La Palma Avenue manages to fit the context while adding a contemporary flavor, Newman says, and it pays careful attention to the residential area's scale, views, and privacy.

"We didn't want to impose too much on [the residents'] quiet and enjoyment of their property," notes Michael Massie, Jamboree's manager of development.

The project's L-shape wraps two edges of its site, creating a protected courtyard occupied by an enclosed 142-space surface parking lot. A green roof planted with grasses and other vegetation will cap the single-story parking garage, providing more than 20,000 square feet of outdoor recreation space for resident adults and children. Two stairways and an elevator will provide access to the green roof/recreation area for all residents, including those with physical disabilities. The green roof will help reduce the project's urban heat island effect and manage stormwater runoff. According to Newman, the green roof's amenities are still being finalized, but they likely will include a mix of passive and active covered and uncovered spaces, such as tot lots, shuffle boards, and barbecue/picnic areas.

At the ground level, the parking structure's west and south perimeters will be screened from the nearby neighborhood's view with plantings. "Making sure we fit in with the rest of the community is always our starting point from a design perspective" and is key to an affordable project's success, Massie says. "Our goal in any community is to be the ‘A’ product in the market—not just the affordable housing ‘A’ product. That's how the next affordable housing development gets built." As with all of its affordable housing developments, Jamboree will retain ownership and manage the property.

Currently, the sustainable features—aside from the green roof and measures required by the state—are mostly undefined, but Massie says that the project will exceed Title 24 requirements by 10 percent. A sustainable development charrette will help the design team determine which additional green strategies will be incorporated and whether to apply for LEED certification.

Jamboree plans to begin construction on 8850 La Palma Avenue in the first quarter of 2011, with completion targeted for 2012.