Off U.S. Highway 40 at the east end of Steamboat Springs, plywood-covered structures are tangible pieces of a vision that is coming to fruition after years of hard work and planning.
By spring, the buildings will be transformed into a cozy cluster of cottage-style homes making up the River Place co-housing development.
"When this is done, it should read like a private enclave of cute, single-family houses," project manager Rob Dick said as he navigated muddy areas between two rows of homes.
When the project is complete, the wide space between the homes will be an open area lined with walkways leading to each home's entrance. Garages and parking areas will be on the perimeters of the development to encourage casual interaction between neighbors walking to and from their homes, said Dick, who is managing the project with former Routt County Planning Department Director Ellen HÃ,j.
A strong sense of community and close relationships between neighbors provide the basis of the co-housing concept, a popular housing trend in Europe that slowly is gaining a foothold in the United States.
In addition to a less formal orientation of buildings, co-housing projects typically include shared amenities buildings and the opportunity for residents to collaborate in planning, designing and maintaining the developments.
Dick, who was behind the Butcherknife development, Steamboat's first co-housing project, owned the land for River Place but attributed the overall vision for the project to HÃ,j.
"I really believe in this concept," he said. "We're not just developing real estate, we're creating communities and neighborhoods and places for people to live."
When finished, River Place will have 12 single-family homes ranging from about 1,200 to 1,725 square feet and six live/work townhomes that are about 1,260 square feet.
The co-housing concept, the projects' location near the ski area and the Yampa River, as well as Dick and HÃ,j's efforts to make units and homes as affordable as possible, attracted a lot of interest.
Within 21 days of going on the market in early summer, nearly all the townhomes and units had sold or were under contract. Depending on finishes and other options, the homes sold for $250,000 to $300,000, Dick said.
Two townhomes, which were not put on the market, may be available when the project is complete.
"They sold very quickly. ... There's nothing that compares to this price-wise in the market," he said.
Still, because of a lengthy design, planning and approval process, the homes and units ended up being about $40,000 more than they should have been, Dick said.
But although the project wasn't as affordable as Dick had hoped, it stood out as a good value among Steamboat's inflated home prices, participants said.
"I still think it's the best deal going, period," said Jennifer Howland, who purchased a River Place home with her husband, Scott, in 2002. "That's what's kept us in here for so long -- we couldn't find anything better anywhere else."
The project has been about three years in the making since Dick and HÃ,j developed the concept, Dick said. Participants began meeting regularly in 2001, though some dropped out of the project because of time and other issues.
Katy and Scott Tirone purchased their home in the development in early summer, shortly before the project sold out. The couple, who has been renting homes in Steamboat since 1993, had considered purchasing a home in Heritage Park or Silver Spur, but by the time they were ready to buy, homes in those subdivisions were too expensive.
When an opportunity to join River Place came up, it was something they knew they had to jump on, Katy Tirone said.
"To finally be able to have our very own home is a thrill to us," she said.
Within their own homes or units, participants have worked with the general contractor, Bill Krueger of Krueger Construction, choosing different options and finishes. Outside, they have collaborated in determining rules for the project, including a pets policy and appropriate uses for the work spaces in townhomes, as well as the amount and type of landscaping, colors of homes and the types of materials used.
In the beginning stages, participants planned the unit sizes and chose the builder, Dick said.
Residents also decided the common-use building would include a kitchen, dining area, lounge, guest room and a workshop where they can wax skis, fix bikes and work on equipment, he said.
The Howlands have been attending meetings with other River Place residents once a month for about two years. Jennifer Howland said the collaboration process has been interesting and sometimes challenging because of the resident turnover that has occurred since initial decisions were made.
But that didn't deter the Tirones, who made sure they felt comfortable with the decisions before deciding to buy into River Place.
"I looked at it as a lot of steps in the process had been taken care of ... We were provided with all the information to make an educated decision," Katy Tirone said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com