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VOL. 37 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 07, 2013

Cohousing a new twist on community living

By Tony Troiano

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Construction of Nashville’s first cohousing community is expected to begin at the end of the summer, adding yet another novelty to the increasingly fashionable Historic Germantown area.

A cohousing development consists of privately owned condominiums with green open spaces, a common house for get-togethers and neighborhood gatherings, and environmental sustainability as the mission for everyone involved.

“Our cohousing consultant said find a location where a young mother and her children could walk safely to a coffee shop,” says Diana Sullivan, a broker for commercial sales, leasing and development with Parkside Realty.

“Everyone desires quality of life,’’ she adds. “Cohousing is similar to the neighborhood of the 1940s or 50s, the traditional communities with homes close together. This community will look like, and blend in, with the other housing in Germantown.”

Architect Bryan Bowen of Bryan Bowen Architects in Boulder, Colo., has worked on numerous cohousing developments in the U.S. and abroad. He is the designer for the Germantown project – the first of its kind in Tennessee, according to cohousing.org.

“We view the homeowners as clients, and they’re involved from the first day,’’ he says. “Energy effectiveness is priority one. We push the envelope some, but in the end, we have a very special product. We have improvement for sustainability, and all is smiles as the happiness quotient is out the roof.”

Future residents design their own units; it is basically custom building. Germantown offers one-bedroom flats and lofts, two-bedroom flats, and a three-bedroom townhome. Open floor plans promote a smart use of space.

There will be 25 homes in the Germantown community with prices ranging from $194,000 to $360,000.

Residences are smaller with power saving heating and cooling systems and high grade insulation. Residents do everything good neighbors do; such as sharing tools and bikes, as well as getting together for occasional dinners.

“This actually is an exciting opportunity to construct a very worthwhile, different community,” says Randy Chastain of Parkside Builders. “We will use only the best in energy efficient materials, and the blueprints are enjoyable to follow in making this a special home site.”

Approximately 40 percent of the Germantown cohousing area is green space, unusual for an urban development. Some examples are permeable pavement for parking, rain gardens, edible landscaping and tree preservation.

“This is a unique challenge for me as an engineer,” says Michael Garrigan of Nashville’s Dale and Associates. “It allows me to be more creative. One challenge was the preservation of two 100 year-old trees which we have already been able to accomplish.

“We will build a small wall around the property frontage to utilize storm water harvesting which will be used to feed the existing vegetation.”

Don’t confuse cohousing with either a gated community or some type of hippie commune.

Neighbors range in age from the 30s to 70s, including singles and couples with children. Community decisions are made by consensus. Differences of opinion are welcome, and neighborly respect and civility crucial.

Residents tend to be educated, civic minded and environmentally inclined.

“I’m semi-retired and looking to downsize,” says Mary Hinton, an adjunct professor at Nashville Community College. “This is wonderful as it helps prioritize your possessions and fosters community togetherness.”

Chris Corby, a businessman in Nashville, has wanted to relocate from a suburban environment to an urban one for some time. He is finally getting his wish.

“This is somewhat radical, but with all positive features. Now, my wife and I will have a better way to live. Presently, I put my bicycle on the car and drive 10 to 15 minutes to the park to exercise. All that will be in the rearview mirror soon.”

Germantown provides an ideal setting for the cohousing model. There are very old homes with diverse architecture, numerous restaurants, a greenway and a large park is close by.

Nashville Farmers’ Market and downtown are within biking or walking distance.

“From a suburban standpoint, I looked at Nashville traffic patterns and compared them to cities our size, and congestion is going to get worse,” says Sullivan. “People will appreciate cohousing in an urban environment like Germantown. You might say it will be advantageous to mental health.”

This type housing has proven to be very sound economically. A study completed on cohousing communities in California found during the recession that there were no foreclosures.

Homes re-sold briskly for 70 to 90 percent over other condos.

The idea of “living community” originated in Denmark during the 1960s.

Cohousing in the U.S. dates back 25 years with approximately120 developments in America and many more on the drawing board.