Cottages at Greenwood


Location: 8770 Mary Lane, Jessup, MD 20794
Date: Phase I completed in 2012
Building Type: Single family housing community


The Cottages at Greenwood were designed with three goals in mind: universal design, green design, and affordability. The first Phase of development completed 10 craftsman style bungalows, each one featuring 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and 1,300 square feet of living space on a single level. What sets this community apart from many universally designed residences is its focus on affordability and availability. The Cottages at Greenwood are available for purchase by moderate income families who earn up to 80% of the Baltimore HUD area median income. Rather than viewing Universal Design as something to consider only after a client has experienced accessibility difficulties, the Cottages at Greenwood have incorporated Universal Design features into their houses from the very beginning, following the philosophy that Universal Design really is beneficial for everyone.

Perspectives and Goals

The Cottages at Greenwood were developed out of a partnership between Howard County Maryland, Mark Thomas Architects, Louis Tenenbaum LLC, Hamel Green Construction, Stavrou Associates, Inc., Robert H. Vogel Engineering, Inc., and Poole Design. Mark Thomas Architects brought their experience in affordable housing, sustainability, and elder care facilities to the project, while Louis Tenenbaum, a Universal Design and Aging-in-Place expert, consulted on the many Universal Design elements that had to be considered. Since the houses were built without specific clients in mind, the team had to design the homes to accommodate a variety of users with a range of abilities. The homes include a degree of adaptability as well. For instance, blocking was provided in all bathrooms so that the future residents could install grab bars where they personally need them the most.

According to Tenenbaum, the design process included many meetings with the entire team to analyze the benefits and affordability of each element. The group went through numerous iterations of plans to balance design, functionality and marketability. This was a project that challenged the usual way of doing business and each team member had to consider alternatives to familiar design practices. The team engaged in a ‘corollary benefit approach’, that is, balancing the sometimes higher cost of a desirable universal or green design element with other savings either immediate or over the lifetime of the product. Tenenbaum points out that the zero step entry for example, requires careful grading but savings are realized by not having to construct and install steps, porches and railings.


The Site

  • No grade changes between floor levels of homes, carports, and patios.
  • Walkways require no steps or ramps.
  • Housing is grouped in clusters to foster familiarity, strong community connections, and opportunities for support.
  • All travel paths are hard surfaced materials for easy negotiation.
  • Material differentiation makes a pedestrian path easily detectable on a shared road.
  • Raised planting beds reduce the need for stooping or bending.
  • Customized landscape, color choices, and exterior details to enhance house identification.
  • Warning strips provide a detectable visual and textural alert at the transition between the driveway and shared road.

 The Exterior

  • House numbers are visible with high contrast and easily identifiable.
  • Concrete slab on grade provides at grade access to all areas of the house, porch, patio, and driveway.
  • Carport provides height clearance for a lift equipped van and provides cover from weather at the side entry for easy paced door operation.
  • Entry doors feature a half-lite window to allow a view from multiple heights to identify visitors.
  • Easy access to outdoor storage.
  • The front door is well designated for intuitive entry.
  • Low wall is provided at the front entry for seating or package shelf.
  • Porch provides cover from weather at the front entry for easy door operation.
  • Large windows provide accessible egress and a view at multiple heights.

 The Interior

  • The kitchen includes accessible appliances such as a stove with front controls and a side-by-side refrigerator. Kitchen and cabinet layout provide sufficient clearances for wheelchair use. Accessible storage includes drawers, pull outs, and low mounted wall cabinets. Multiple work surface heights are provided for a variety of users. Accessible plugs and controls for lighting, disposal, fans, and outlets.
  • Clear definition of public vs. private, intuitively identifying zones of use. Visible contrast provided at edges of floors/walls, cabinets/countertops, etc.
  • Knee space is provided under the lavatory either with a built-in open space or with a vanity that can be converted to provide adequate space.
  • Ample turn around and transfer space is provided in the restrooms.
  • Bathtub with a built-in seat and a curbless shower, both with offset controls. Ample blocking will be provided for grab bars.
  • All doors are at least 2’-10” wide within each bungalow. Excellent maneuvering in circulation spaces.
  • All mechanical systems, outlets, switches, etc. are mounted at accessible heights. All closets and storage systems are height adjustable.

 Green Features

  • Innovative staggered stud wall construction with high R-value insulation in the walls and roof provide a tight thermal envelope.
  • Deep overhangs and covered porch to block summer sun.
  • High SRI roofing shingles to reduce the heat island effect and summer heat loading.
  • Winter sun penetrates large, double paned, low-emittance, insulated Energy Star-rated windows.
  • Insulated concrete slab on grade provides thermal mass for solar gain during winter months. Low or no-VOC paint finishes throughout the home.
  • Stained, polished concrete flooring providing thermal mass in common areas, and green label certified carpet in the bedrooms.
  • Low flow water fixtures (sink, toilet, and shower) and high efficiency ventilation in all restrooms.
  • Mechanical: Small, high efficiency system with short duct runs to minimize energy loss.
  • Solar hot water heaters in all units.
  • High efficiency front-loading laundry equipment, including Energy Star-rated washer and gas powered dryer.
  • Energy Star-rated appliances in the kitchens, including refrigerator and dishwasher; low flow sink fixture; and high efficiency ventilation hood.
  • Counter top and backsplash are made out of recycled and fast growing materials (recycled glass backsplash, eco-top counters).


The homes were awarded LEED Platinum status, and are expected to reduce energy consumption by 62% when compared to a typical house of that size. This trifecta of green, universal and affordable has resonated with buyers in Howard County. All units in the first phase of the Cottages were sold well before the project was completed. The team is just beginning Phase II and is considering new features in keeping with the values and practices they demonstrated in Phase I.

Project Credits:

Project: Cottages at Greenwood
Clients: Howard County Housing Commission
Architect: Marks, Thomas Architects
Construction: Hamel Builders Engineer: Robert H. Vogel Engineering, Inc.
Developer: Stavrou Co. and Howard County, MD
Site Development: Poole Design
Landscape Design: Poole Design, E Landscape LLC
Universal Design Consultant: Louise Tenenbaum LLC
Sustainability Consultant: Hamel Green Construction
Size: When completed there will be 35 houses (1,313 sf each) on 3.44 acres.
Cost: 17 million

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.