Trying again: Cohousing ready to break ground

Seventeen of the 26 homes available at Emerson Commons have already been reserved. Here are some of the neighborhood’s future faces. Contributed by Peter Lazar Seventeen of the 26 homes available at Emerson Commons have already been reserved. Here are some of the neighborhood’s future faces. Contributed by Peter Lazar

Every kitchen sink will face a window that looks out into the front yard in a new 26-home development in Crozet. Lounging comfortably around the living room of their clubhouse, Emerson Commons residents call this design “classic cohousing,” because it encourages interaction with neighbors.

Periphery parking lots that allow for a traffic-free and kid-friendly community, all mail addressed to a main clubhouse and weekly potlucks and playgroups are also intentional ways to bring residents together at the development that’s scheduled to break ground this summer.

But some community members say outsiders often misinterpret their intended lifestyles.

“It’s not a commune. It’s not something to be afraid of,” says Rebecca Gammon as her 2 1/2-year-old son makes his rounds to the adults in the room. “It’s an alternative way of living, but it’s not so different from what we’re used to.”

Cohousing has existed in the United States since the ’90s and is currently practiced in more than 160 places nationwide, with more than 100 additional communities underway. Residents own private homes but share common facilities, resources and management of their community.

Emerson Commons developer and president of the Cohousing Association of the United States, Peter Lazar calls this project central Virginia’s first cohousing community, and says 17 of 26 homes are already reserved.

It’s not the area’s first attempt at cohousing. The Charlottesville Cohousing Association tried to build a similar development in 1997, but abandoned the project in 2002. 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 of its 26 homes had presold.

There’s an in-ground heated pool and plans for a community garden, a creekside walking trail and an eco-friendly playground. Residents are currently considering uses for a number of outbuildings, and ideas include a woodshop, gym and music studio. They’ll share equipment, such as lawnmowers, canoes, a grill and “all types of things you don’t need all the time,” says James Gammon.

He mentions the flux of construction in Crozet and soaring home prices, but adds that four units at Emerson Commons have been designated affordable housing. Prices range from about $280,000 to $420,000, with affordable units around $240,000.

Homes in the community located off Three Notch’d Road near Starr Hill Brewery range from 1,095-square-foot condo units to detached single-family homes of up to 2,780 square feet.

Residents call its location the best of both worlds—bikeable to downtown Crozet, but secluded in a wooded area with a stream that runs through the property. They’ve already picked out a location for a tree house.

“It’s kind of hard to find today, the small town kind of feel,” says Laura Bates, a Washington, D.C., transplant who currently lives in the clubhouse with her husband and kids. “It really does blend together the nature and the convenience.”

Scott Guggenheimer and his partner, Anna Stockdale, lived in D.C.’s Takoma Village cohousing before moving to Emerson Commons. He says the pair value cohousing for more than just shared resources, community meals and lower environmental impact.

“We think—we hope—that a group of people dedicated to solving problems together and engaging in intentional dialogue are more likely to find creative solutions when things get messy. …I think most of us wish the world were more interconnected, and we see this as a good step.”

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