Investors in Steamboat Springs' second co-housing project are optimistic construction will start in the spring.
The 18-unit River Place development on U.S. Highway 40, which is comprised of 12 single-family homes and six live/work spaces in multifamily buildings, has been in the organizational stages for more than two years. City Council approved the project in August, and now the group is waiting only for its subdivision plat to be approved before groundbreaking can begin, developer Rob Dick said. Dick, former director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, and former Routt County Planning Department Director Ellen Hoj are managing the project. Both also will own units.
Co-housing, though a relatively new concept in the United States, is a popular housing trend in Europe that began in the 1960s. The concept is based on collaboration among residents in the planning, design and upkeep of a neighborhood. River Place participants have been meeting regularly since August 2001 to put the project together. Several of the participants have changed during that time. Pilot & Today editor Scott Stanford participated in the group for nearly two years before dropping out in August when he purchased a home in Silver Spur.
Now that designs for River Place have been solidified, Dick said he expects participation in the project to solidify quickly, as well. Eight people are involved in the project, with 10 units spoken for, and four more people have expressed serious interest in four to five other units, Dick said. Until now, interest in the project has grown largely by word of mouth, but advertising is scheduled to begin next month.
"My guess is that the 18 units will all be spoken for by the time we break ground in spring," he said. More interest has been expressed in the development's single-family homes, but now that drawings for the live/work spaces have been finalized and pricing will be decided soon, Dick expects interest in them to pick up.
Co-housing developments have private homes with their own kitchens and living rooms, but many shared facilities. Common areas may include recreation rooms, lounges, meeting rooms and even a large kitchen and dining area. In successful co-housing developments, the residents may take sharing a step further by taking turns cooking dinner, baby-sitting or sweeping the sidewalks, Dick said.
"This is the way life was meant to be," Dick said.
At least eight co-housing developments have been built in Colorado, including Butcherknife, a 10-unit co-housing project off Conifer Circle near Steamboat Springs High School.
"The No. 1 draw for us from the beginning was getting involved in the neighborhood planning," said Tim Widmere, a participant in River Place. "Usually, buying the lot is the only say you have in it. But just being able to have part in the planning process was a big deal to us."
Widmere, a fly-fishing guide, said one of the advantages of co-housing is that he gets to know his neighbors even before the neighborhood is built. Co-housing fosters such interaction from start to finish, as participants meet regularly to decide jointly on issues ranging from selecting floor plans to hiring contractors.
One of the first decisions the River Place participants made as a group was identifying a consensus-based decision-making process, Dick said. Instead of voting yes or no on issues, participants vote on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 representing dead-set, vote-blocking opposition, 2 representing disagreement but not to the point of blocking a vote, up the scale to 5, representing enthusiastic support.
"It gives the group an idea of how strongly people are feeling on a particular issue, and it prevents anyone from being forced into a decision that would (for example) bankrupt them," Dick said.
River Place will feature six work-live units, six homes of approximately 1,200 square feet, six homes of approximately 1,600 square feet and a common house. The common house will feature a large dining area and kitchen, guest units and a lounge area.
The work/live units will front U.S. 40, while the homes will be dispersed in a meadow behind the work/live units. Parking will be on the perimeter, parallel to the highway and Dougherty Road. Parking will include several single-car garages. Each unit will have access to at least one garage.
Along with the co-housing philosophy, Widmere said he also was drawn to the project by its price. Depending on the "very flexible" options participants choose, Dick said, estimated prices for the duplex and four-plex lofts will range from $160,000 to $200,000 and be about 1,200 square feet each. Single-family homes will range from $225,000 to $280,000 and 1,100 to 1,750 square feet. Participants also must make an initial investment, which is later applied toward their downpayment, to enter the project.
For Widmere, the pricing means that instead of choosing from a condominium or townhome, River Place provided him the option of buying a small house.
Affordability was the top priority for Danielle Skov when she and her family decided to buy a home in the Butcherknife co-housing development, Skov said. She said she didn't care so much about the concept of co-housing initially, but since moving in, she has realized its benefits.
"There are a ton of things we love about living in a co-housing development, such as the sense of community, the way we're set up," Skov said. "Meeting your neighbors happens more easily. We walk the same path to the same garage. You just see everyone so much more than if you were just neighbors. The best thing about it for us is that our three kids can play safely with all the other kids here. And, we don't have to drive them anywhere."
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