Paradise future? Part 2, operations
[Continued from yesterday's Part 1.]
Yesterday’s exploration of the interesting experiment of co-housing, based on a sympathetic Boston Globe account, had reached the point of a completed development, using as an anti-snob crowbar the powerful lever of Massachusetts’ Chapter 40B law to produce a development that the founders swear up down and sideways ‘will’ be green.
Future green? The Mosaic Commons site at Sawyer Hill
Will? Nothing about co-housing makes it inherently greener than any other form of higher-density living.
There are 74 communities in various stages of development, 25 in
“The web of life that we have created through driving is just eliminated in cohousing,” said an association spokeswoman, Neshama Abraham Paiss. “You’ve got a real village.”
Except you have to drive to your job, and to your groceries. All of this sounds merely like a plea for higher-density new urbanism, not a breakthrough innovation in its own right.
Emerson Chandler, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said Sawyer Hill’s contention that it is environmentally sustainable is “baloney,” because the clustering has caused water to run onto a neighboring property.
In the long run, the greatest threat to residential property is water. It can rot building envelops, drain into standing pools that rot siding, submerge property and breed expensive mold, and weaken building foundations. Grade a site and you change the runoff, often to someone’s detriment.
But he cast the deciding vote in January 2007 to allow the project, avoiding a lengthy fight.
That Mr. Chandler voted yes reveals, despite his misgivings, another power of Chapter 40B that we saw in my two-part post: developers generally prevail on appeals, so local zoning boards sometimes hold their noses and acquiesce to something they dislike.
Vote yes and think of
Tony Valchius has lived for 35 years on his 23-acre
Mr. Valchius has visual evidence on his side. Against him are those who believe the future will be different:
Journeay said engineers representing three different parties – Sawyer Hill, the town, and Valchius – all have said the arrangement in place should work.
‘Should’ – not even a future-tense verb, a future-tense conditional verb.
We always did all our chores, didn’t we?
What if it doesn’t work? In a co-housing development, who’s responsible for making it work? Who will pay to fix it?
Cohousers also may face cultural challenges as they move in over the coming months.
Who, despite their desire for a walking community, drive to work.
“We have lots of people in the computer industry,” as well as a large number of Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduates, in Camelot, said Journeay, who is a business account manager at Tufts Health Plan. “We have an honest-to-God rocket scientist.”
I have nothing against those who drive to work. But if your search for a sylvan walkable community takes you so far from your work that you are unable to use public transportation, how green are you really being?
But the village’s residents say they are committed to contributing to the community, through politics, schools, or by just being good neighbors.
How angelic, contributing to the community
Being good neighbors is not limited to co-housing residents.
“One of the things we’re so excited about is that we were able to put so much of the land into conservation,” said Ginny Maki [involved with the property since 2003 – Ed.], referring to the 28.5 acres that Sawyer Hill has set aside as open space.
Sorry, Ms. Maki, no points for that. That the residents have set it aside does not mean it’s legally deeded into conservation. That land could be redeveloped later – and before the co-housing property arrived, it was undeveloped.
[Update – in the comments, see below, commenter ‘dbang’ adds something omitted from the Globe’s article: “The conversation land is, in fact, legally deeded into conservation in perpetuity. It can’t legally be redeveloped later. Before, that land was undeveloped because no one had developed it — now it is undeveloped by force of law.” That is a conservation benefit.]
Not that I oppose development.
Rather, I think you get little credit for using a zoning override to create higher density than the town allows, only to pat yourself for having left undeveloped what your permit required you to leave undeveloped.
Residents will build and maintain trails for public use.
More future-tense verbs. Building and maintaining trails is hard work.
Blogging’s even harder
When we’re young, we read and write science fiction, because the imagined worlds are more interesting than the experienced ones. When we’re old, we read and write history, because what has happened is both remarkable in itself, and real.
This month, Maki will be moving into her three-bedroom unit with her family. In addition to her husband and two young children, her mother will be there.
And her younger brother, Ethan Bickford, was able to buy a reduced-rate unit in the community because his income falls within the 40B guidelines.
I’m all for income-mixing. (You can see details of the affordable units, designed by Stockard & Engler & Brigham, here.)
Maki said her children are ecstatic about their future home and she loves that Sawyer Hill is multigenerational. After the death of her sister eight years ago, she said, she realized even more the importance of a tight-knit community and being close to loved ones.
“Once something like that has happened in your life,” she said, “it makes you take stock and remember what’s important.”
I wish them luck. Travel hopefully, but read the signs.