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Eastern Village in Silver Spring, Md.
At the heart of every cohousing community is the “common house,” which almost always has a large dining room and kitchen, lounge, recreational facilities and children’s play areas. Many cohousing communities also include a guest room, workshop and laundry room. Communities usually serve optional group meals prepared by community members on a voluntary basis in the common house at least once or twice a week as well as many “pot lucks” and celebrations of all kinds.
There are 113 completed cohousing projects in this country and another 111 in various stages of development, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. California leads the way with 27 completed communities. Other states in the cohousing vanguard include: Washington (13 projects), Colorado (12) North Carolina (seven), Oregon (six), and Michigan and Virginia (five each).
Cohousing first took root in either Denmark or Sweden and the concept made its way to the U.S. in the late 1980s. It is not for everyone. Some people don’t want to be that intimately involved with their neighbors. Many others just don’t care that much about how their community is designed or managed.
But for those who do want to live close to friends and to have more input in shaping their community, cohousing is an attractive option, says Ann Zabaldo, a cohousing advocate and principal in Cohousing Collaborative, LLC.
Zabaldo lives in Takoma Village, a cohousing community in the Takoma Park area of Washington, D.C.
She worked closely with developer Don Tucker of Bethesda, Md.-based Eco Housing Corporation to help create Takoma Village Cohousing and Eastern Village Cohousing, a community in nearby Silver Spring, Md.
Silver Spring’s Eastern Village
Eastern Village consists of 56 condominium units ranging in size from about 650 to 2,000 square feet. Shared facilities in the community include a large dining hall for meals, a living room, kids’ playroom, game room, yoga room, library, workshop, hot tub and a green roof with a playground for children. Eastern Village also has three guest rooms available to visitors for a nominal fee.
“It took 29 months from conception to completion,” Zabaldo said. “Don Tucker told me in October 2002, ‘I think I have a site.’ Then he said ‘go.’ We were putting a group together and moving ahead with design at the same time.”
The site was an abandoned office building built in 1957 that even in its best days had not been pretty. When prospective residents came to see the site, Tucker and Zabaldo had to sell them on ECO Housing’s vision for the community.
“We had been looking for a condominium for a while when we saw an ad in The Washington Post about a new co-housing community,” said Ed King, an Eastern Village resident. "The ad said ‘for more information contact Ann Zabaldo,’ so we did."
King and his wife, Joan, brought friends to the site before the redevelopment began, and the friends “were not impressed.” King’s friends saw an old building with broken out windows. In the central parking lot, surrounded on three sides by the U-shaped building, weeds grew up through the decaying asphalt.
“There is a stark contrast between how it looks now and how it looked before it was redeveloped,” King said. “It took a great deal of vision to see what could be done with this place. Now our friends are very enthusiastic.”
Ed and Joan King got involved in the community’s design and governance issues. “By the time we moved in it felt like it was the culmination of a growing friendship,” he said. “I know everybody in this building. I know them by face and by name, and I know a little something about everybody here.”
“It has been such an interesting experience,” King added. “There are good aspects and some negative aspects to this community. But there is a vibrancy to it — a sense that you like what you have but at the same time you believe you can improve on it.”
Tucker, an experienced affordable housing developer, had to find financing for the project. And even though Eastern Village was a market-rate development, he had to make seven of the 56 units affordable under Montgomery County’s Moderately Price Dwelling Unit program.
Zabaldo, who served as a cohousing consultant on the project, had to find residents for the new community. She did the marketing outreach and conducted orientation sessions to explain cohousing to newcomers. The key was finding a few committed individuals, because “they’re better at finding their future neighbors than I am,” she said.
And there were other stakeholders who had to be convinced. “The city [of Silver Spring] really liked the green and sustainability stuff,” Zabaldo said. “And we really won over the neighbors with our vision of what this cohousing community could add to the neighborhood.”
Eastern Village has won numerous awards and recognition from a range of groups, including NAHB’s Multifamily Council, the Washington Smart Growth Alliance and Environmental Design & Construction. The organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities gave the community its 2006 Green Roof Award of Excellence.
Eastern Village Cohousing reduced the impervious surface area at the site from 95% to 65% by replacing the central parking lot with landscaping and pathways and by replacing the asphalt rooftop with a green roof system.
The building’s Extensive Garden Roof from American Hydrotech includes a concrete surface conditioner, a membrane covering, a moisture retention system and a water storage and drainage system. Roughly two-thirds of the 12,000 square-foot roof has been planted at a cost of approximately $36 per square foot.
A Growing Niche
Cohousing can work for families of all ages, but the idea may appeal most to those in or nearing retirement, Zabaldo said. As folks make major life decisions about where they will live in retirement, the desire to live in a supportive community where neighbors are friends is often a key consideration. And these are people who have time on their hands and a strong sense of what they want in a community, she said.
Zabaldo said she sees real opportunity in cohousing for 50+ developers. “It’s a little niche,” she said. “But it’s a growing niche.”
To help explain cohousing, Zabaldo worked with Mid Atlantic Cohousing to produce a DVD that outlines the cohousing concept and discusses sustainability features found in many projects. The DVD also presents the stories of three nationally recognized experts in cohousing development — including Jim Leach, president of Wonderland Hill Development Company; Kathryn McCamant, Cohousing Partners, and ECO Housing Corporation’s Tucker.
For more information about cohousing, or to obtain a free copy of the DVD, e-mail Blake Smith at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8583.
Rooftop playround at Eastern Villlage
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