Iowa City group wants to start 'cohousing' neighborhood

Development would include individual homes, shared facilities

Gregg Hennigan
Published: January 24 2014 | 11:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:36 am in

A group of area residents wants to bring a communal style of living to Iowa City.

They plan to build what is known as a cohousing development on 8 acres they own off Highway 1, behind the Culver’s restaurant in southern Iowa City.

“It’s a way of having a raised standard of living without having to have a lot of things and having smaller carbon footprint,” said Del Holland, a 66-year-old from Iowa City and a board member of Iowa City Cohousing LLC.

In a typical cohousing community, people own homes but share facilities like a common home, open space, gardens and more. They also share in decision-making.

Nine households are organizing the Iowa City effort to build what they call the Prairie Hill neighborhood. They’re aiming for 30 housing units through a mixture of single-family homes and apartments and would like commitments from about 15 households before making arrangements for a loan from a bank and starting construction.

The goal is to have people living there by 2015, Holland said. An informational meeting will start at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Iowa City Public Library for people to learn more.

There is not believed to be a cohousing neighborhood in Iowa. There are about 130 in the U.S. recognized by the Cohousing Association of the United States, said Oz Ragland, the organization’s retired executive director.

The concept started in Denmark, he said, with people trying to refine the commune movement of the 1960s. It spread throughout Europe and came to the U.S. about 25 years ago, he said.

IF YOU GO

What: Iowa City Cohousing informational meeting

When: 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25.

Where: Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room E, 123 S. Linn St.

Ragland has lived in a cohousing neighborhood outside Seattle since 1992. He said it was a safe place for his wife and him to raise their son, now an adult, and offered a close-knit community.

He and his neighbors share five meals a week. Vehicles are parked on the periphery, offering a kid-friendly open space in the middle of the 12 acres it sits on.

“I could not possibly afford to live on land like this with a forest, meadow, an organic garden if I was living independently,” he said.

Ragland also said cohousing is environmentally friendly. Homes are smaller because of the shared facilities and amenities.

The green aspects are the big draw to Holland, a retired teacher. He raised four children in a large Victorian house until they were adults and he moved into a smaller home built in the 1920s. He said he cannot make it as environmentally sustainable as he’d like, and his goal for his cohousing home to get all of its power from renewable sources like solar.

The social aspects also are an attraction, he said. That’s why Carolyn Dyer, a 70-year-old retired University of Iowa journalism professor, became involved.

She said she lives by herself in an Iowa City home on a busy street with no sidewalks, making it difficult to interact with her neighbors.

Cohousing “involves people living together intentionally as a community as opposed to the potluck you get when you move into a house in ordinary neighborhoods,” said Dyer, another Iowa City Cohousing board member.

In addition to the households active in the group, there are many what Dyer called “lurkers” who have attended meetings and even serve on committees who are waiting for more information, like house designs, before deciding whether to join. They hope for a range of ages and family sizes.

They have an architect’s rendering for the large common house and will soon have a drawing for one of the individual homes. They are planning for units to range from 600 square feet to 1,400 square feet, although details are to be determined.

There will be a membership fee and dues to pay for the shared features. Ragland said most cohousing developments are organized as condominium associations but make decisions through consensus rather than majority rule.

The Iowa City group still needs to work out some issues with the city, including the layout of streets and homes, drainage and access to and from the site.

They will need to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and get the approval of the City Council to move forward.

Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s planning and community development director, said staffers see “a lot of really positive things” with the concept and it fits with the city’s goals of infill development and a compact neighborhood.

“We like to think we’re the type of community that’s always into new and innovative things,” he said.

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