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A crowded field 

Struggles aside, local group aims to build more cohousing

The chance to share meals, like this one at Casa Verde, appeals to an upstart Springs community. - L'AURA MONTGOMERY
  • L'Aura Montgomery
  • The chance to share meals, like this one at Casa Verde, appeals to an upstart Springs community.

The naming discussion starts off with a few possibilities: Heart Stone, Homeward, Abundant Dawn.

"How about House Party?" suggests Douglas Rouse, at 42 the youngest of six people meeting to plan a new cohousing community in Colorado Springs.

Everyone laughs, but they grow serious as the discussion turns to values. Two weeks ago, a builder told them that using the greenest construction techniques for their planned community of about 20 homes could push prices into the stratosphere.

Still, the members want a name highlighting their goal to be as eco-friendly and sustainably oriented as possible.

"How about Greenish Village?" offers Ray Krueger, a 67-year-old IT project manager.

After another burst of laughter, heads start nodding. Within minutes, the group takes its first stab at operating by consensus, a common principle in cohousing communities. By unanimous vote, it agrees on Greenish Village at least until a new consensus emerges.

"That was too easy," says JoAnn Gaston, the group's informal leader.

Things will surely grow tougher as the group starts the multi-year process of identifying a site and trying to build a community based on shared space and responsibilities.

And first, they'll have to actually fill that community.

Casa Verde Commons, in central Colorado Springs, is currently the city's only cohousing development. Completed in 2002 after years of planning, Casa Verde represents the ideal of cohousing, with space for 34 households in a patchwork of colorful buildings and common areas. Residents share a large community house and garden areas, and many have a meal together twice weekly.

But today, eight Casa Verde units are rentals, and the group's Web site, casaverde.us, lists five units for sale. That's more than can be found at most of Colorado's other 11 established cohousing sites, some of which have waiting lists of potential buyers. (As you might expect, Boulder is a cohousing mecca, with five developments in and around the city, and another on the way.)

Angela Sullivan and her family have lived at Casa Verde for most of its history, putting them in a small core of longtime residents. She says she loves cohousing, but admits it has been a challenge finding a stable group of residents who want to be close to their neighbors and are willing to spend hours coming to agreement about, say, pet policies.

So instead of waiting lists, Sullivan and her neighbors look to smaller, more obvious signs of interest. David Fein and his family, longtime renters at Casa Verde, have just bought a unit. Brent Urban, a teacher, is ready to move there with his family as soon as they sell their current home.

But Sullivan has an appeal for locals thinking about a new cohousing development: "I just wish they'd look here."

Many in Gaston's group say they looked at Casa Verde, but decided the units, built to high efficiency standards, simply don't fit their needs or are too expensive, with three-bedroom units offered for $250,000 to more than $300,000.

Conner Seay says she's looking to downsize and live more frugally, and she's content waiting if it takes a few years to get Greenish Village up and running. She seems confident that the pieces will fall into place.

"We need another cohousing community," she says.

lane@csindy.com

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