They are extremely popular in Europe, and gaining traction in the U.S., where 125 so-called “cohousing” communities have gone up in the last 25 years, and at least that many are in the works.
Until recently, a group of individuals known as Alpenglow Cohousing had a website, a parcel and the collective will to start their own cohousing development. What they didn’t have was an official OK to get it done. They received it earlier this month — unanimous approval from the Ridgway Town Council of their preliminary plat — and hung balloons on a Sherman Street billboard (where the new neighborhood will be located) in order to celebrate.
On Sunday, there’ll be more celebrating, and this time the public is invited. At noon, members of Alpenglow Cohousing will host an official commemorative groundbreaking on the corner of South Sherman Street and Railroad Avenue. They’ll answer questions about the new space, which at this point is just open space, but will be transformed into 26 one-, two- and three-bedroom units on a joint, xeriscaped property anchored by a shared “common house.” About half of the units have already been sold.
Alpenglow — like cohousing communities in general — is an “intentional” community designed to solve problems, nurture cooperation and jump-start meaningful connection and friendships by bringing people together. If one person’s car isn’t working, for example, or doesn’t have all-wheel drive — which can be a big deal in an isolated rural community such as Ridgway, especially in winter — others can offer a ride. Don’t feel like cooking? Though there are individual kitchens in each unit, cohousing communities typically ask members to participate (on a revolving basis) in preparing a shared weekly meal in the Common House, and often offer a once-a-month potluck, besides. This is not “communal living,” because cohousing isn’t the same thing as a commune (these are privately owned, individual units). To many, it’s the best of both worlds.
“I believe it’s an idea whose time is coming,” Alpenglow member Sara Sharpe said. “I knew about it because I have a friend who lived in (cohousing development) The Commons in Santa Fe. It seems just right for me. It reminds many of us of the way we grew up — where neighbors were friends, and friends were neighbors.”
If cohousing isn’t well known (yet), it’s surprisingly popular in Colorado. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, which tracks these developments, there are more cohousing communities in California — a total of 56 — than in any other state. After that, the three states with the next-most cohousing are Washington (with 26 such communities), Oregon (which has 25) and Colorado (with 24). On the Western Slope, Heartwood Cohousing, in Bayfield, has proven so popular that the community has announced its intention to expand, and recently received county approval for a Land Use Map Amendment “that will make Phase 2 possible” (county approval is still required for a Conceptual Development Plan, or CDP, as well as a Community Plat).
In Ridgway, Town Council “had always been in favor” of Alpenglow, Sharpe said, but the wait-for-approval “seemed like forever.” At this point, members aren’t excited so much as “numb,” she said. “We’re numb with excitement. We feel like it’s taken a very long time for this to get off the ground. But others who’ve built one of these communities from scratch have told us that we’re moving along at a very good clip. We’ve heard this numerous times.”
At this point, what Alpenglow owners would like, in addition to a chance to share the good news about their new community with others, is for young families to get involved (in Europe, about a third of cohousing community residents are typically families). In addition to the one, two and three-bedroom units, there’ll be space for visitors in the guestroom in the common house. Construction on the infrastructure portion of the project is expected to begin this spring (plans can be viewed at alpenglowhousing.org). “We’re looking at 18 to 24 months, from now, at the latest,” for people to begin moving in, Sharpe said. Prices range from $310,000 for the smallest units to $682,000 for the largest, according to a press release.
Pamela Eddy, of Bloomington, Indiana, and her husband, Shawn Reynolds, are new members of Alpenglow. After meeting others committed to the community, “We were sold,” as Eddy put it. They are “financially savvy, experienced, focused on the environment and community, and extremely kind. Alpenglow is the right mix for me.”