In Frederick, a vision of safe streets and child care

'CO-HOUSING' FILLS A NICHE

December 27, 1992|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

They hate the isolation of suburban America, where one can go days without seeing a neighbor.

"We yearn for an older approach to housing," says Doug Moulden, a member of a group of 20 families trying to form a "co-housing" development in Frederick. The group, he says, wants a community with central meeting areas, streets that are safe to walk at night and a place to safely nurture their children.

In a "co-housing" development, people live in their own homes but share a community house, where they can eat together.

Mr. Moulden says he is saddened by the trend toward town house developments that have lower-level garages, so residents can enter and leave their homes without seeing or talking to their neighbors. "This whole thing is about being neighbors," Mr. Moulden said.

The Frederick group wants a community that has pedestrian lanes connecting the homes with the common-use areas, a place for children to play safely and a workshop where everyone can share tools and supplies. But the driving force of the group is child care, according to Mr. Moulden.

The co-housing group formed about three years ago after the members of a food cooperative discussed the idea at a meeting, and the idea took hold.

Countless meetings later, the group has evolved to about 20 families working to develop a co-housing community in Frederick.

Of those 20 families, eight are committed to investing money in the project, and living there when completed. And it is likely that other members of the group will buy into the project once development starts.

Although they are trying to keep expenses down by acting as their own real estate developer, they estimate that they need to raise between $300,000 and $600,000 to start development. The group estimates that the total project cost will come to $3.5 to $4 million. Of the total 30 units planned, Mr. Moulden said they need to sell 15 homes before they can begin construction.

The homes will range in size from 600 to 1,200 square feet and cost between $80,000 and $140,000 each, says Catherine Cherry, project manager with Hammond & Associates, the Annapolis architecture firm hired to design the development.

Standardized elements in the homes should reduce costs, and the use of shared facilities in the common house will keep prices lower than other types of available housing, Ms. Cherry said.

For the architects, the challenge was to attach the individual home units, but not make them look like typical town houses, Ms. Cherry said. They solved that problem by clustering the homes in an amoeba shape around the common house.

Robert Hammmond, principal with Hammond Associates, said he used subtle design variations, like varying structure height and using a variety of roof types, to distinguish each home from the others and still maintain a cohesive appearance.

To keep costs down, home buyers will have few options available, but Mr. Hammond said buyers could add front porches, bay windows or dormers to give variety to each home.

Mr. Hammond also said he is designing some homes to provide the option of "expanding from within." He accomplished that by designing a two-bedroom home that has a living room with a cathedral ceiling. If the family needs more space in the future, the upper level of the living room could be converted into a third bedroom. "The idea is to design units that can change over time with a minimum of expense," he said.

The Frederick co-housing group found a development site near Lake Linganore in Frederick County and is negotiating to buy that plot, while still considering alternate locations.

If the group acquires the Lake Linganore site, the architects plan to retain the two barns and the silo already there. They want to refurbish and put an addition onto one barn for the common house, use the other barn as a workshop and storage area and convert the former grain silo to an observation tower with a dinner bell on top, Ms. Cherry said.

Mr. Moulden estimates that once the group gets a site under contract, it will take 12-14 months to obtain development permits before construction can begin. Once they start building, it will be six more months before the first residents can move into what the Frederick group hopes will be the first co-housing development in the mid-Atlantic region.

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