Living room: Community housing makes a comeback in Crozet

In typical cohousing fashion, homes face a pedestrian area and cars are relegated to the neighborhood’s periphery. Courtesy of Peter Lazar In typical cohousing fashion, homes face a pedestrian area and cars are relegated to the neighborhood’s periphery. Courtesy of Peter Lazar

Choosing to live in cohousing may be a difficult decision for some, but for Charlottesville residents James and Rebecca Gammon, signing on to be future residents of Emerson Commons in Crozet was a no-brainer.

“It makes life easier for everybody,” Rebecca says. She and her husband are currently raising their 21-month-old son, Connor, in their Locust Grove home. The first set of houses at Emerson Commons—6.1 acres located on the edge of the growth area in Crozet—is scheduled to be ready for move-in by next June.

Though they’ve never lived in cohousing before, raising Connor in the right environment by way of “free-range parenting,” they say, was a major factor in choosing to pursue that lifestyle.

James and Rebecca Gammon, situated outside of Emerson Commons’ common house, look forward to raising their son, Connor, in cohousing.
James and Rebecca Gammon, situated outside of Emerson Commons’ common house, look forward to raising their son, Connor, in cohousing. Courtesy of Peter Lazar

He will be able to play safely outdoors with other neighborhood kids—in typical cohousing fashion, homes face a pedestrian area and cars are relegated to the development’s periphery. And their hope, say the Gammons, is that this lifestyle will preclude Connor from becoming obsessed with technology, like many kids are today.

“I’m really excited for our son to be able to grow up having friendships with different generations of people,” Rebecca says. Growing up in northern Virginia, she says she got the feeling adults weren’t interested in interacting with her and she only associated with her own peer group. But she’s learned from other parents who have raised children in cohousing that kids often learn to socialize with neighbors of every age.

She mentions Peter and Molly Lazar, who are developing Emerson Commons, which they bought in 2013 for $550,000. The Lazars currently live in Shadowlake Village Cohousing in Blacksburg, and Rebecca is impressed with the maturity of their middle school-aged daughters. The new development will be modeled after Shadowlake, says Peter Lazar, who is vice president of the Cohousing Association of the United States.

“If you know your neighbors, you feel safer,” he says. “We also want to be sustainable as much as we can in a cost-effective way.”

Four models of homes are available at Emerson Commons and each will have solar panels on the roof, with the potential for individual households to go net zero, using no energy from the grid. Lazar stresses that Emerson Commons is not a commune, but a collection of 26 financially independent households with a common house that already stands.

“Privacy is really important but there’s also community,”  he says.

In the city, the Charlottesville Cohousing Association gave up its dream of building a similar development in the early 2000s, after admitting they didn’t have the expertise to follow through with their plan and, according to Lazar, a comparable project by Blue Ridge Cohousing (on the same plot of land as Emerson Commons) crashed with the stock market in 2009, though 19 out of 26 of the homes had presold.

“It’s something that’s much needed in Charlottesville,” he says, adding that the style of living is common in other progressive cities—11 cohousing developments are situated within five miles of Boulder, Colorado. And because they’re using Shadowlake as a model, they won’t be starting from scratch, he says.

Nine families have already paid a $1,250 fee to become equity members at Emerson Commons, and they can purchase their homes in the spring. Home sizes range from 800-square-foot condos to 2,780- square-foot single-family houses, and costs go from $260,000 to $400,000, depending on the options and finish.

For the Gammons, the development offers the best of both worlds.

“We’re both introverts, actually,” James says about himself and his wife. “This is designed so you can have plenty of social time when you want it and plenty of privacy when you want it.” He adds,“You can live a totally normal, financially independent lifestyle. I just think of it like a normal neighborhood, physically arranged differently.”

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