Wild Sage has perks

Residents enjoy newest cohousing community
By Associated Press
October 25, 2004

With a beer in one hand and a knife in the other, Chris Hauck realized he didn't have a hand left to greet his dinner guests, piling their plates high with his freshly cut garlic bread, steaming pasta and marinara sauce in an informal buffet line.

The neighbors soon settled themselves in a large eating area, sharing wine and lighthearted conversation during one of the weekly community meals at Wild Sage, the newest cohousing neighborhood in Colorado.

Like most cohousing neighborhoods, Wild Sage was designed to encourage interaction. The 34 homes resemble tightly grouped townhouses, with garages located on the outskirts. Front doors open to sidewalks that lead to a large common house, where community meetings, dinners and activities are held.

At Wild Sage, guest rooms and mailboxes also are located in the common house.

"I just can't walk out and get my mail. It's a 30- or 40-minute event, because I'll wind up talking to 12 people," said Hauck, taking a break from his dinner duties. "It's such a refreshing change of lifestyle."

The first U.S. cohousing neighborhood was set up in Davis, Calif., in 1991. Since then, more than 65 developments have been built across the country and at least 60 more are in the building or planning stages, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States.

Colorado has 10 cohousing neighborhoods stretching from Durango to Fort Collins, ranking it behind California, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon.

The state's largest and first cohousing neighborhood is the 43-unit Nyland development in nearby Lafayette. The smallest is Boulder's Nomad, with 11 homes on a one-acre plot.
"The concept (of cohousing) is unfamiliar to a lot of people. But in a way, it's a throwback to the 1950s," said Richard Rogers, 53, a father of two teens who recently moved into Wild Sage. "It's very close to your way of living in a condominium community — with some perks."

Cohousing residents often organize years before construction begins, then work closely with architects to determine the neighborhood layout and amenities such as common-room hot tubs or a communal workshop.

Environmental efficiency is a primary concern in many developments: Sharing walls saves energy and building up instead of out preserves open space.

Community decisions are made through consensus, from the type of screens allowed on front doors to building a new playground. Residents say it can be frustrating and debates can get heated.

"Once you get a thumbs down, the process stops," Hauck said. "But it's worth the time, because everyone agrees. Everybody's needs have got to be heard."

Residents work on teams to maintain landscaping and common facilities. Others take care of neighborhood finances or baby-sit during workdays and meetings, though Hauck said shared work is only a small part of cohousing living.

Friday has become movie night at the Wild Sage common house. Community dinners are held Wednesdays and Sundays, brunch is served Saturday, and adult-only dinners are Saturdays.

There are seven different home models at Wild Sage, from 600-square-foot single-level units to 2,700-square-foot three-level homes, Hauck said. Prices range from about $90,000 to $490,000. It also has low-income homes built by Habitat for Humanity.

Hauck, 42, runs a home-based marketing research consulting firm. He moved to Wild Sage with his wife, Jules, and their two young children from a Dallas suburb. He said he didn't know most of his Texas neighbors who, like him, came home from work, drove into their garages and turned on their televisions.

"I didn't want my kids growing up like that," he said.

His wife discovered cohousing in a magazine, and the couple was soon helping develop Wild Sage.

"We're 34 families from all different walks of life. The mix is incredible," Hauck said. "The one thing we have in common is we want people around our families."

Hy Mariampolski of QualiData Research Inc. in New York, an expert on commune living, said the idea behind cohousing has existed for years. Some groups have carried a utopian ideology, he said, but most organize for simple pragmatic reasons such as relieving some of the burdens of child raising.

"There has always been some waxing and waning of communal experimentation, and this seems to be a moment of growth in the U.S.," he said. "In Scandinavia, Germany and elsewhere, commune-like mutual aid and housing groups have been pretty popular over the last 20 years."

Colorado has 10 cohousing neighborhoods scattered from Durango to Fort Collins, ranking it behind California, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon. The largest has 43 units and the smallest has 11 on a one-acre plot.

In southwest Colorado, residents of Heartwood cohousing purchased 250 acres of scenic forest near Durango. Their 24 individual and duplex homes are built on only six acres, surrounded by pastures and open space.

"If you want the social interaction, it's here. But the privacy is here, too," said Alice Miller Robbins, 50, an attorney who has lived in Heartwood with her husband, Johann Robbins, 49, for three years.

Cohousers say they're not searching for utopia — just community.

"We're living here because we want to know our neighbors," says Aaron Brockett, who recently moved to Wild Sage with his wife, Cherry Anderson, and their 15-month-old son. The couple, both 31, said it was difficult to get to know people living at their former condo complex in Connecticut.

"Here, you just get thrown into the mix with everybody," Anderson said.