It’s That Time of the Year: Get on the Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Annual Spring Bus Tour, May 17

Join Mid-Atlantic Cohousing‘s Annual Spring Bus Tour on Saturday, May 17, 12:30 – 6:30PM. Visit three well-established cohousing communities in DC, Maryland and Virginia: Takoma Village, Eastern Village and Blueberry Hill. You’ll get a guided tour, presentation and Q&A at each community. Snacks and transportation are provided.

This tour always sells out. Get your seat now!


Be an Early Bird for the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Annual Spring Bus Tour

Walking the pedestrian-friendly paths of a local cohousing community and conversing with the people who live there is, arguably, THE best way to get to know cohousing. One of the members of Good Tree Village went last year and it only stoked her desire to live in an intentional community.

Mid-Atlantic Cohousing’s Annual Spring Bus Tour is set to hit the road on Saturday, 18 May 2013 from 8:30AM – 6:30PM, visiting several cohousing communities throughout Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. Whether you’re just checking out the cohousing concept, need to talk with someone about how to create a cohousing community, or you’re ready to move into an existing cohousing neighborhood, MAC’s bus tour will be expedition well worth your time. Register before April 7 to get early-bird pricing.

MAC Annual Spring Bus Tour 2013

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?

On the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour: Liberty Village

Next stop on the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus tour was Liberty Village in Libertytown, MD, a hop, skip and a jump (about 10 miles) outside of Frederick.

Liberty Village began when a few of the community initiators invited Chuck & Katie (as architects Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant are called in cohousing circles) to speak. Much to everyone’s delight, about 30 people showed up! That meeting led to the construction of a self-developed, multi-generational cohousing community with mostly duplexes and a couple of single family homes.

The Common House

You’re almost guaranteed to have a quick chat with the neighbors in these common spaces: mailbox and play area.

Where are all the cars? Tucked away in the parking lot for a more walkable neighborhood.

Liberty Village boasts a more sophisticated community because of the duration its development. What’s the key to this community’s longevity? They make guidelines instead of rules. They take time to have discussions, getting concerns out ahead of time, and talk, talk, talk to work things out as opposed to avoiding conflict. When the decision has be made and it’s time to get things done, no one formally keeps track of who is doing how much, but everyone contributes in their own way. For example, some people like cooking meals and avoid outside work like the plague, but those who like to play in the dirt have free range to work knowing that they’ve got a scrumptious meal waiting in the community kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen, the folks in Liberty Village make time to eat together 1 – 2 times a week with four people on the cooking team for just one week a year. For those who like to eat, but not cook, those are some nice odds.

The footpaths are wide enough to drive to the front door when necessary, but even better for children to bicycle and play safely.

When cars are corralled to the periphery, carts make it easy to lug shopping to the doorstep.

An inviting invitation to eat alfresco.

If lively discussion and consensus decision-making in the setting of a charming, rural, sustainable community sounds enticing to you, contact Liberty Village because they are ready to add 10 more homes to the 18 already clustered on 8-acres. An additional 15 sprawling acres are set aside for wetlands, meadows and woods for man, woman, child and nature to share. The geothermal heating — which means low energy bills — are a definite added bonus. Other green benefits include community-wide recycling and composting, rain gardens and riparian buffers for natural water filtration, a warm season grass meadow that provides wildlife shelter and food, a 2.8 acre reforestation area of native trees and shrubs, a Chesapeake Bay-Wise Certification, and the Chicken Palace next to a community vegetable garden.

Community Garden and the Chicken Palace

The white poles indicate lots available for building,

From my quick visit there I got the feeling that a short and sweet mantra for Liberty Village might be to listen, contribute, and support your neighbor. When you move in and you see old Waldo waddling down those pedestrian-friendly footpaths, make sure you give him a gentle scratch behind the ears for me.

Using the wisdom of the group, Liberty Village Cohousing residents brought this model into reality.

Neighborhood children take a break from the kiddie pool in front of a spacious duplex.

We visited many of the DC metro area’s cohousing communities on the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour. Up next is part three in this four-part series: Blueberry Hill Cohousing in Vienna, VA.

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

What about this rural, sustainable cohousing community appeals to you? What would you do differently?

On the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour: Eastern Village

Last May I spent the better part of a perfect, cloudless, spring Saturday on a bus with a bunch of strangers learning about community by walking through it and asking a slew of probing and thoughtful questions.

Ann Zabaldo, the DC metro area’s cohousing guru and Takoma Village Cohousing resident, set us off with some words of wisdom: Yeah, there will be lots of cool buildings — LEED-this and geothermal-that — but don’t forget to ask the really important questions: How often does the community break bread together? How do these unique personalities manage to get along? How do they make decisions as a community? How do they govern themselves? Leave it to Ann to help you put your focus on the pulse of community life.

Though the jumping-off point of the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Cohousing Bus Tour was Takoma Village in northwest DC, the first cohousing community we explored was Eastern Village just a short bus ride away in Silver Spring. For those sprung on green buildings, Eastern Village’s Silver LEED status definitely sparkled the eyes. The lush courtyard and climbing plants on the street facade almost foretold of the building’s green sedum roof also shared by a play set, covered patio, bicycle storage and sand play area.

on the roof: playground and patio

green roof and a grand view

We toured several compact apartments and others that were double-height or the roomy result of combining adjacent apartments. Every level of the plant-lined courtyard seemed to allow each unit to get their fair share of natural light. Each condo also gets its economical far share of the geothermal HV/AC. While most of the condos weren’t expansive — right-sized, rather — all of them were graciously complemented by extensive shared space like a kitchen, dining and living room, workout room, children’s playroom, library, workshop, and three guest rooms. So what if your condo doesn’t have a spare guest room. I can think of a few situations (in-laws) where it would be better to have your company visit without necessarily having to share the same space for the whole live-long day.

common living room

a shared hallway library

getting things done: Eastern Village Cohousing’s task card system

sunlight from the courtyard

While consensus seemed to be a challenge with the community of more than 100 people (around 30 were in high school or below), our hosts at Eastern Village described themselves spontaneously social. Because they are so close to tons of great restaurants they tend to eat out a lot. When they do come together it’s during a weekly potluck.

common kitchen and dining room

children’s room

a lush courtyard to share

Having the vision to see this community in what was once upon a time a decrepit office building and parking lot in a blighted area takes quite a lot of faith, imagination and guts.

If Eastern Village Cohousing sounds compelling to you, last time I checked there were a few units for sale. Urban Living? Downtown Silver Spring? LEED? and Cohousing? They won’t be on the market for long.

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

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

Have you visited Eastern Village or walked by thinking it was just another urban apartment building? What did you think about it?