Co-housing proposed for Carroll County Not commune, not condo, neighborhood would offer privacy, shared living

January 14, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Laurie Precht wants to bring co-housing to Carroll County.

It's a concept that begins with a group of neighbors-to-be: They plan, build and run a development of private, single-family homes with shared common areas.

It's not a commune, but it does require a commitment to create and participate in a community -- an extended family of people who look out for one another, she said.

"People who live in co-housing enjoy the privacy of their own homes, plus the diversity of a larger community," she said. "There's a shared 'common house' to have dinners together -- if you want -- and a children's play area, work rooms or an art studio, and a hot tub, maybe a swimming pool. There's a village green for gardening, strolling, talking."

Co-housing originated in Denmark in the early 1970s, moved to California in the 1980s and today is one of the fastest-growing housing options in the United States.

"Co-housing appeals to all kinds of people," Precht said.

Only 15 homes would be built in the county, at a yet-to-determined site, said Precht, who participated in establishing Maryland's first co-housing community, Liberty Village in Frederick County. She left that project, which is expected to break ground this month, because the cost was too high, with homes beginning at $130,000. A co-housing community also is being developed in Harford County.

The term co-housing is "a very loose translation" of the Danish, which more accurately translates to "living community," said Ann Zabaldo of Silver Spring, one of 21 partners in Liberty Village.

In the United States, said Zabaldo, there are about 34 communities completed, 23 under construction and another two dozen or so in the planning stages.

Precht is taking the first step to bring co-housing to the Westminster area.

"I'm trying to get a group together," said Precht, a mother and part-time children's librarian in Taneytown. "The idea is to get seven or eight people committed."

A resident of Westminster for about eight years, she plans to stay in this area, but needs a home more in the $100,000 range. The homes probably would be duplexes, she said, but might be townhouses, if necessary, to bring down the cost.

Although the development is run like a business, she said, "the only thing that draws you together is that people want to be together." It takes two to seven years to develop such a community, she said.

"It's a lot of work, but it really pays off. Carroll County and Westminster are especially interested in providing housing for the elderly," she added. "One of the objectives is to get a mix of people, all different backgrounds. There really are no barriers, and it would be handicap-accessible."

That's one of the features of the Liberty Village Co-housing Community: It will have six homes built for the disabled, said Zabaldo, owner of a greeting card company and part-time marketer for the Liberty project. All homes will have their at least their first floors accessible to the disabled, she said.

"That would be great if someone is thinking of starting one in Westminster," she said.

Two such communities have been built in Fairfax and Loudon counties in Virginia.

The first phase of Liberty Village, about 12 miles east of Frederick near Libertytown, will have 20 homes. The modular homes begin at about $130,000 and "allow you to pick and choose what to add," said Zabaldo.

The second phase will have 10 homes, and the third five homes, she said. Nineteen of the first 20 have been sold.

Among the buyers are professionals, people who work at home and retired workers. The eldest resident will be an independent 91-year-old, who needs people -- make that neighbors -- to look in on her occasionally.

The business and financial arrangement is similar to a condominium association, with commonly owned open space but also with a commitment to form a community, she said. About 10 acres will be developed and 17 left as open space.

"It's ideal for single parents, families," Zabaldo said, noting that when children are out to play there are plenty of parents available to look after them. "You only need one lawn mower, one Weed Whacker," she added.

The Liberty Village community began -- like Precht's plan -- with a simple notice in the local newspaper, said Zabaldo.

"A whole bunch of people showed up, looking for this kind of community, and that's how it all started."

A preliminary meeting about the Carroll County project will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25. For more information, call 410-857-8783.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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