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Iowa City cohousing group will soon own land

BY CASSIDY RILEY | APRIL 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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A community that seeks to be green in more ways than one will soon appear in Iowa City.

An environmentally conscious group is set to finalize their ownership of a plot of land behind the Culver’s near Highway 1 in Iowa City. As early as next spring, the group hopes to begin construction on a cohousing community.

“The intention is we’re going to build very small, hyper-green residences which will be owner-occupied,” said Del Holland, the chairman of the Iowa City Environmental Advocates.

Cohousing communities originated in Denmark. They are made up primarily of small houses that are built very close together. Around the homes, there is typically a lot of greenery, walkways, playgrounds, community gardens, and a common house.

The common house is a gathering place for those in the community. Members of the community take turns making meals for all of the community members several times a week. There are guest rooms and appliances for the community to share such as a washer and dryer or a lawn mower.

“[The] philosophy [of] sharing things that we don’t need all the time carries out to a lot of other things,” Holland said.

He said while the design for the homes is not yet established, the group knows they want the construction to be as green as what will be seen on the outside.  The homes will likely use solar power to generate electricity and heat.

Barbara Bailey, one of the founding members of the group, said the project should cost somewhere between $4 million and $5 million. They want to build 29 homes, and before they begin construction, they hope to have half of them spoken for.

The plot of land they are purchasing is zoned for eight homes per acre.

“We’re not doing a traditional development,” she said. “We’re doing a clustered development.”

The group filed an application with the city for permission to build smaller, closer homes, and is still waiting for approval.

Kathryn McCamant, the president of Cohousing Partners and coauthor of Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, studied these kinds of neighborhoods in Denmark with her husband before writing the book for an American audience.

“What we’re doing with cohousing is creating the kinds of neighborhoods that used to exist naturally,” she said. “I think it’s very hard to find that kind of neighborhood anywhere today.”

There are currently more than 200 cohousing communities across the country that have registered with the Cohousing Association of the United States.

McCamant said she recognizes this kind of community is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to dedicate attention to closely knit community relationships.

“I would say that there is no housing model that is good for everybody,” she said. “The single family house is way over built. As one goes through your life you have different needs at different times.

We really need to realize the diversity of our society and providing diversity in housing to meet those needs.”

Craig Just, a University of Iowa assistant professor of environmental engineering, said Iowa City is a great place for this kind of environmentally friendly community because of the many aspects of the city that strive to be sustainable.

Just said many communities in rural Iowa already demonstrate some of the attributes a cohousing community would bring to the city.

“It’s trying to bring small-town Iowa to urban Iowa City, and it sounds like a pretty neat idea,” he said.


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