- Amber S. Clark
For Ellen Sribnick, Linda Gluck, their families, and the other founding members, Legacy Farm Cohousing is already home even though after five years of intense, cooperative planning, barely a twig has been disturbed on its 56 acres of rolling meadows, ponds, and woods. The Rosendale property holds the promise of a 37-unit, clustered, multigenerational, cooperative community. No pesticides have been used on the farm for 83 years and the new owners hope to continue the trend by employing green construction technologies, including geothermal heating, cooling, and hot water powered by photovoltaic cells.
Units at Legacy Farm will range from 800 to 1,650 square feet and housing costs are expected to range from around $250,000 to under $400,000 per unit. In its business plan, Legacy Farm is described as a “cooperative intergenerational” neighborhood.
The cohousing concept isn’t new. Cohousing—a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods—originated in Denmark in the late 1960s at Sættedammen, the oldest known community of its kind. Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground, and a common house.
There are an estimated 113 cohousing communities in the United States today (the Cantine’s Island cohousing community in Saugerties is 12 years old), and approximately 100 in development. Hundreds of others exist around the world. For more information, go to www.legacyfarmcohousing.com.
What is the cohousing concept and why does it appeal to you?
Sribnick: Cohousing is more of a grassroots development model than a typical housing project. We’re participants in a cooperative decision process and, though this may take longer, the benefit is that by the time people are living in community, they have created the foundation for living together. We value the importance of green and sustainable living and design and the balance of privacy and community, where each household has independence and yet is encouraged to participate in community meals and events. The common house is the epicenter of activity within the cohousing model.
Gluck: Cohousing gives me a deep sense of belonging, of community, and of the satisfaction of living my values, and of being part of the solution. That means living simply and sustainably, close to the land, and it means learning to live cooperatively with people who know, accept, and support me.
Tell me about the individuals and families that make up your group.
Gluck: Cohousers tend to be pioneers, self-employed, independent idealists and, some say, overeducated and underpaid. So, we have all those types among our nine founding households—helping professionals, a nutritionist, a social worker, a school psychologist, a hand therapist, and a carpenter. Ellen’s a massage therapist and I’m a graphic designer.
What were some of the major obstacles you’ve encountered in getting this project under way?
Gluck: It has been a long [planning] process with many surprises, but throughout we could feel how much [the town planners] understood how great this would be for Rosendale. They understood it, but they had to deal with their own regulations and process. Also, real estate development is very highly regulated by the New York State Attorney General’s office and requires extensive protocol and documentation, which was very time-consuming and expensive.
How about sharing meals and a common living area, how does that work?
Sribnick: We hope to share meals about four times a week. If you’re a working person and you have kids, at the end of the day, if you’re exhausted and don’t want to be thinking about a meal, you just run over to the common house. You sign up, it’s cheap meals, healthy meals. And, if you’re in a cranky mood and you don’t want to be with people, you go over and pick up your food and go home. It’s not like you’re forced to participate, but I think it’s very inviting to be part of what’s happening. We’ll share this fantastic common house—
Gluck: So the extra square footage you would have in your house to accommodate company, to have an exercise room, a place for teens to hang out, a place for kids to play—
Sribnick: We’ll have all of that in the common house.
What’s the next step for Legacy Cohousing?
Sribnick: Our priority is to bring in new membership in order to be able to get financing. We’ll break ground in either late 2009 or early 2010. In addition to the nine founding households, we project that we’ll need another six by the end of the year in order to start building.
Has the economy made things more difficult for the group?
Sribnick: Actually, it’s been good for us. If we follow the path of where the economy is going and really pay attention to it, our timing couldn’t have been better. If we were building now, we would be in serious trouble because people could not sell their current homes in order to buy in. My projection is that the first houses will be available in late 2010, early 2011—by then the curve will be coming up again and people will be able to find value in their current homes and be less fearful of making this kind of commitment. Also, because there is a trickle down from the administration about the value of green and sustainability, it makes it much easier of us to market our community.
Gluck: When Obama talks about what has to happen, we feel like we fit the bill. The country is being forced to look at these issues and problems, which are the issues and problems we’ve addressed in designing what we want to do.
Sribnick: Cluster development is the wave of the future in communities and so, within the years of planning, the new Rosendale master plan was developed and we now fit those standards that the community is striving for. Our priorities for accessibility, for green, sustainable living and community are becoming mainstream.