- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Jim Lane is something of a 21st century pioneer.
He has established his homestead on a piece of farmland that will someday be a bustling community, but now it's just him and a couple named Dan and Earlene Duncan. Soon the others will come. A few have started building houses, a few more just have empty lots.
Some day, not too far off, there will be 28 families living here, on this piece of land in Frederick County. Some time in the future, they plan another 10 homes, for a total of 38.
The fledgling community is called Liberty Village, and it is known as a cohousing community, the first in Maryland and furthest along of seven cohousing communities in the Baltimore-Washington area eight if you count Gettysburg.
Liberty Village is a planned unit development with clustered housing, most of it semidetached homes.
Some other cohousing communities are condominiums. Cohousing communities can be urban, suburban or rural, wherever a group of people get together to buy and develop their own property in a way that encourages living as an extended family while each family also enjoys the privacy of its own home.
Characteristics of these communities include a lack of through roads. Residents park their cars at a periphery parking lot and walk to their houses, picking up their mail and chatting with neighbors on the way. There are no garages. Houses are designed with front porches and kitchens in front, so that residents can keep an eye on children at play and greet neighbors passing by.
"I chose it because I like the idea of having a community where you know everybody," said Mr. Lane, who is a single father of three grown children. He is a communications engineer who commutes to Montgomery County.
In traditional communities today, he observed, "In general, you don't know your neighbors." In Liberty Village, all the homeowners can be friends as well as neighbors, and partners in developing and maintaining the community.
So far, there are about 20 partners, according to Beth Arnone, who serves as an information officer for the group. Ms. Arnone, husband Mike Johnson and their two young children plan to move into their Liberty Village home within a few months.
Ms. Arnone is a nurse-midwife, and her husband is a physical therapist. They are renting a home until theirs is built.
Once a month, Ms. Arnone presents a slide show at the auditorium next door to the United Methodist Church in Libertytown, about a half-mile from the Liberty Village property and east of the city of Frederick.
The presentation is designed to spread the word about cohousing and to encourage people to consider buying into Liberty Village. Other members of the group are present to answer questions and then conduct visitors on a tour of the site, including the homes of Mr. Lane and the Duncans.
"Rather than selling houses, we're selling community," Mr. Lane said. He joined the group in June 1995 "when we first bought the land," he said. There were five families then, and they paid $425,000 for a 27-acre horse farm, called Pride and Joy Farm, with a loan of $325,000.
They sold a large brick, 200-year-old manor house on the property and about 4 acres in June 1998 to pay off that loan. Meanwhile, they struggled through the zoning and site plan approval process and, in December, finished getting roads and sewers installed, which they paid for themselves.
Now they are building the houses. Most will be duplexes of varying architecture, designed to look like one large single-family detached house. The two families that will live in each have coined the term "dupemates" to describe their relationship.
At a recent presentation at the church's auditorium, Ms. Arnone explained that the cohousing concept was born in Denmark in the early 1970s. The first cohousing community in the United States was created in California in 1991. Today, 35 cohousing communities have been completed in the United States. Liberty Village is among about 150 others in development.
The communities generally have 25 to 30 families, Ms. Arnone said. The smallest, in California, has 12, and the largest, in Colorado, has 45, she said. Home prices vary from community to community.
In Liberty Village, prices range from about $160,000 to $232,000, depending on options chosen. Homeowner association fees are currently $75 a month. Residents will own their house and a small lot, plus a share in the extensive common property. They will govern themselves by consensus, meeting every two weeks. The homeowners association has no board of directors. Each family has a vote.
Ms. Arnone listed four characteristics that distinguish cohousing communities:
They are designed by the partnership of residents that initiates the development. While it is likely the residents need professional help, sometimes a member of the group is a professional who can provide necessary services. A member of Liberty Village, Ron Petralito, is an architect who has worked on the community design and zoning requirements and is now designing individual houses. He will live in the community with his son Briston.
They are managed by the residents. There is no management company. Residents form committees teams is the word they prefer to take care of such things as finances, marketing, setting up meetings and landscaping. Everyone is expected to participate.
There are extensive common facilities, primarily a large common house. This common house has a community kitchen and dining room, where residents take turns preparing dinners two to four times a week for any and all neighbors who wish to partake. This is among the major drawing cards for single people who tire of cooking and eating alone. The common house also has a playroom for children and recreation facilities for adults, from a pool table to a game of Scrabble.
Plans for the Liberty Village common house show a laundry room where people can socialize while doing their laundry, although the individual houses also have laundry rooms. There are guest rooms for visitors, although the individual houses will have as many as five or six bedrooms.
A planned workshop in the common house gives people the option of sharing tools rather than equipping individual workshops in their homes. At some future time, the Liberty Village homeowners hope to build an indoor swimming pool at the common house. The site now is a field of hay.
Homes in an urban cohousing community might look like apartments in a midrise condominium, but homes in suburban and rural cohousing communities are clustered around the common house. This, and the lack of garages and roadways, encourages interaction among residents. In many suburban communities today, Ms. Arnone noted, people coming home from work drive directly into their garages, opening and closing the door with an automatic garage-door opener, and disappear inside without seeing another soul.
"I hardly know my neighbors," said Martie Weatherly, a registered nurse and future Liberty Village resident who now lives in Silver Spring. The mother of four grown children and grandmother of 12, Mrs. Weatherly said, "I'm tired of eating alone."
The first question people ask when they see the plan for the periphery parking lot, Ms. Arnone said, is: "How do I get my groceries from the car to the house?"
The answer to that and other questions is that the residents will find a way to work it out. There can be a fleet of carts, even golf carts, to carry things around, Ms. Arnone said. Besides pedestrian paths, there is a private one-lane road around the edge of the community for emergency vehicles to use, but private cars are banned.
Ms. Arnone acknowledged that mortgage lenders were leery about making loans for Liberty Village homes at first, primarily because they have no garages. Now appraisers are familiar with Liberty Village homes, and they have three regular lenders, she said.
Asked about resale value in cohousing communities, she said prices have skyrocketed and most of cohousing communities have waiting lists. Most of the houses in Liberty Village are being built by R&J; Builders Inc., a Frederick-based firm that bid on Mr. Petralito's plans. The builder offered good quality and excellent references as well as the right price, Ms. Arnone said.
Liberty Village abuts a 105-acre county park called Libertytown Regional Park, land that will never be developed and which the residents can use in addition to their own 15 acres of open space.
Mr. Lane acknowledged that cohousing communities sometimes face a challenge in maintaining cooperation among the residents, but, he said, "We're all walking into this with our eyes wide open. Everybody knows it's going to require part of their time [to participate in running the community]. I will be the first to acknowledge that there will probably be problems, but those things you work out by communicating with each other."
Serious disputes between residents might require "seminars on conflict resolution," Mr. Lane said. Otherwise, "the community comes together" to resolve problems.
Other cohousing communities in the Washington area include Blueberry Hill in Vienna, Proximity in Leesburg, EcoVillage near Taylorstown in Loudoun County and Takoma Village in the District. For more information about Liberty Village, visit the Web site at www.libertyvillage.com or call 800/400-0621.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide