Cohousing in Rocky Corner: Creating Sustainability and Community
Oct 02, 2014 04:29AM
● By Ariana Rawls Fine
Rocky Corner master farm plan rendering ©AppleSeed Permaculture
Cohousing, a trend historically seen more in Europe than the United States, is defined as intentionally building collaborative housing and personal interactions into the design and operations of a community, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States (Cohousing.org). Creating a sustainable, interconnected community was the impetus behind the first cohousing community in Connecticut. Actively seeking families, singles and couples of all ages as new members, Rocky Corner will be built on a 33-acre former dairy farm in rural Bethany, about 20 minutes from downtown New Haven. Plans include a pedestrian-centered, multi-generational neighborhood of 30 private homes, a common house for shared facilities, and land for playing, gardening and farming.
The group closed on the land at the end of September with the help of several loans and grants. The Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund committed a $263,000 loan that was used to help make the purchase. Site work in preparation for the construction is being made possible by a $250,000 short-term loan from Massachusetts’ Equity Trust nonprofit. In addition, the group has received confirmation of a $281,000 loan for pre-development work from Connecticut Department of Housing. This will pay for the remainder of design work beyond the engineering and design work already done, so the community will then be able to approach banks for building loans.
Working with Centerbrook Architects and Planners in Centerbrook, the focus of Rocky Corner’s founding group members is on fostering human interaction by design. Parking for cars is situated on the periphery while modest-sized homes face inward with pedestrian-friendly pathways and plenty of safe play areas. Rocky Corner’s website expands on this concept; “Balancing private space and public shared resources means we’ll each have our own self-sufficient home while having the opportunity to share meals, activities, and resources on our common land and in common buildings.” Residents need less personal home space because the community’s common spaces will fill various purposes, such as a woodworking shop, library, arts/crafts room, an exercise room, office space, a kids’ play room, a teen lounge or a game room. The purposes of specific common spaces will be decided upon by the community as a whole. Private and community garden space will be available to residents in addition to a separate organic farm entity.
Rocky Corner’s design is centered on sustainable, energy efficient living spaces. In the beginning, passive solar with buildings facing south and air-sourced heat pumps will be used, with additional solar options to be discussed at a later time by the community. The homes will be heavily insulated with raft slab foundations and no basements for better energy efficiency. Rocky Corner’s Dick Margulis explains that 50 percent of their carbon footprint will be reduced by car and common space sharing and interactions within the community. He continues to add that attractive home and communal space design is also part of what will make the community sustainable. As Centerbrook partner Jim Childress jokes, being aesthetically pleasing contributes to sustainability because ugly buildings are the first ones to be torn down.
With regard to food sustainability, Margulis says, “We will do a lot better in Rocky Corner because we are focusing on it from the beginning. We will be able to grow a substantial amount of food on the farm. Farm buildings and farm will be separate entities with long-term land leases for those that are interested in organic farming. Members can buy a share in the farm but the community does not need to finance it as a whole.” The master farm plan was developed by AppleSeed Permaculture, (AppleSeedPermaculture.com) an edible design and regenerative landscaping company headquartered in Stone Ridge, New York. The community plans on utilizing their landscape to provide herbs, vegetables, flowers, tree fruits, berries and nuts while chickens, ducks and larger animals will be integrated into the organic farm. Space at Rocky Corner will include habitats for wildlife and nature-based recreation, including hiking and cross-country skiing. Low-impact water management practices will also be implemented to protect the land’s watershed.
As a cohousing community, Rocky Corner’s leadership style stands out with its dynamic governance model. “Dynamic governance is a sustainable way of living because everyone has access to power. There is an equivalence of voice and an interaction with the community. Decisions are made by consent, not by consensus,” Margulis explains. In addition, the governance model enables any member to propose a use of land or space to the whole community with the appropriate financing provided by the individual or group. As a community, all members decide if proposals are good enough for now, safe enough to try, and the timeline and criteria for evaluating the proposed project depending on the amount of risk involved.
By creating an interactive, sustainable community from the beginning, Rocky Corner’s founders hope to follow through with their mission to minimize consumption of natural resources and balance farming and community life with wildlife habitat preservation.
Ariana Rawls Fine is Assistant Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County. She currently lives in Stratford with her family but she’d like to move to Rocky Corner.