On the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour: Blueberry Hill

I know, I know: Blueberry Hill conjures up hip-gyrating images of Elvis. Or is it just me? This cohousing community is not a commune of worshipers of “The King” — at least they didn’t mention it — nor is it where Fats Domino retired from the proceeds of his biggest hit song. What may explain the name is Blueberry Hill’s location: it was built on 7 unfarmable acres of 23-acre Potomac Vegetable Farm, a certified organic farm in Vienna, VA. (A few of the owners even live in Blueberry Hill.)

It took six years of meeting two times every week to self-develop these 19 colorful homes clustered within a grove of mature trees. The houses are built around a walkable greenway made of grass block pavers that can support vehicles — like ambulances and moving trucks — that occasionally need closer access than the two peripheral parking lots afford. The houses range between 700 – 1100 square feet, but when walking through them, the open plan kitchen-dining-living room, the abundant light from numerous windows, and nine-foot ceilings give the homes a more expansive feeling. In addition, the wrap-around porches extend the living spaces outdoors. The geothermal HV/AC gives these modest units bills of no more than $75 a month.

A walkable greenway

One of Blueberry Hill’s many colorful homes.

Wrap-around porches invite neighbors to sit-n-chat.

Roomy open plan living spaces

A peek in the common house kitchen

While Chuck & Katie’s cohousing bible says build the common house first, Blueberry Hill’s common house was completed a couple of years after the last homes were finished in 2000. Even so, the common house seems to get the most use out of all the communities we visited that day, as the residents eat together 2 – 4 times a week. Not only do they eat together often, but the culinary magic happens in a relatively normal-sized kitchen. According to our guide, eating together often helps these neighbors develop good relationships so that there are less problems which can’t be quickly snuffed by a quick conversation.

The common house.

Common house dining room

A wall in the common house children’s area

Clustered mailboxes and a basketball hoop near a peripheral parking lot.

The residents include about 50 people: a little more than 30 adults from ages 20 – 70-something (including and handful of single heads of households), and a little less than 20 children. With all these people, Blueberry Hill has a pretty simple structure for getting things done around the community. There are three self-explanatory committees: indoor, outdoor, people and fun. It’s probably the fun committee that gives the necessary lubrication in the other committees.

The collection of homes — not the car — take center stage in this walkable community.

We visited many of the DC metro area’s cohousing communities on the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour. Up next is part four in this four-part series: Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington, DC.

Part 1: Eastern Village Cohousing, Silver Spring, MD
Part 2: Liberty Village Cohousing, Libertytown, MD
Part 3: Blueberry Hill Cohousing, Vienna VA
Part 4: Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington, DC

They say it’s work to get together after work, but not in cohousing. What do you do in your community to make it easy for neighbors to make stronger connections?

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