Story last updated at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, November 14, 2002

Cohousing idea gathering momentum in Homer
by Carey James
Staff Writer

As the life of the average American gets more and more jammed with the jumble of life, it also becomes more segregated. Gone are the days of rocking-chair conversations on the porch and barn-raisings. They've been replaced with answering machines.

But a small, dedicated group of Homer families aims to change all that with a progressive community design known as cohousing. A far stretch from the communes of the '60s, cohousing communities have individual homes as well as common facilities.

It's not an assisted living community, either. People of all age levels, from seniors to young families with children, would be welcome, with the main boon being a closer connection with neighbors and a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

"It started from a desire to live in a setting that promoted casual interactions among neighbors," said Jenny Carroll, one of the Homer cohousing project's founders. "All we want to do is create a nice neighborhood."

Homer's group, known as 59()() North, is still in its infancy, with three families dedicated to the idea and others mulling over the concept. As such, many of the details of what the community will look like, where it would be located, and what specifics of living in the community would entail, have yet to be decided. The general model, however, can be found in hundreds of communities throughout the United States and Europe that have sprung up in the last two decades.

Cohousing communities often share property, maintenance costs and projects such as landscaping and repairs. They often have a common house where families can choose to share dinner together or work on projects. They may also share ownership of items such as snowblowers.

"There are so many things we duplicate with our independent lifestyles," said Chris Laing, another founder of 59()() North.

Laing and Carroll both say that while the community has much to offer, people considering the idea must be open to the idea of working together with the other members of the community, something that might run contrary to the independent Alaska spirit.

Carroll said the community plans to run itself using the consensus model, where all members must come to a consensus on decisions.

"It's not a quick majority decision," Carroll said. "We have to come up with something that works for everybody."

The group is currently looking into land acquisition. While a site has yet to be selected, the group intends to find property near Homer so the community would be in walking distance from stores, schools and other facilities.

Based on the experiences of other cohousing properties, the group hopes to have between 14 and 20 families involved. While smaller communities work, Carroll said, a larger number of families provides more diversity.

Another benefit to the larger community is that the more families involved, the more spread out the costs of the communal facilities will be.

Laing said the feedback she received from past public meetings and discussions has been positive, but she is realistic that not everyone who is initially interested will sign up with 59()() North. Still, organizers say the Homer cohousing community may appeal to people from all over Alaska and even the Lower 48.

Typically, once the communities are built, there is a waiting list, and rarely are houses left unfilled. It's just getting through the initial planning and development phases that proves challenging.

Carroll said the cost of a family home in a cohousing community, including the share of the communal facilities, is predicted to be roughly parallel with that of a well-built individual home. She said current plans are to begin building in the next two or three years.

An introductory meeting for those interested in cohousing is planned for January.

"Homer is unique in that it already has a strong sense of community," Laing said, adding that cohousing would take that sense of community one step further into everyday life.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homernews.com.

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