Ecovillage planned on Belfast farm site

Posted May 10, 2009, at 9:14 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Steve and Barbara Chiasson reside in the Piscataquis County town of Wellington, population 258, where they have plenty of peace and quiet.

Sometimes too much.

So, the Chiassons have committed to living in the Belfast Area Cohousing and Ecovillage project, which one founding member described as a commune that has grown up. The project is still in the planning stages, but when the homes are built, the Chiassons and at least 14 other families will move in.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to have more community around us,” Steve Chiasson said Sunday at the site of the project.

Chiasson and several dozen other people ventured Sunday afternoon to the future home of Belfast Area Cohousing, which is located on 30 acres of the former Keene Farm about two miles from town. Committed members, exploring members and anyone who was just plain curious were welcome at the Mother’s Day open house, which featured a nature walk and a Maypole dance with live music.

Founding member Sanna McKim of Waldo said the group started more than two years ago when several families talked about “how to find a place that makes raising kids a little easier.”

As the idea took root, it grew into an ambitious plan to create an environmentally sustainable, affordable ecovillage close to a population center, which includes land reserved for agriculture and open space.

The group recently received approval from the town to build a 41-unit project, and the price for the units will range from $180,000 to $270,000. It’s organized like a condominium, and each committed, or equity, member will own his or her own unit.

The co-housing model started in Europe and has worked in other parts of the country, McKim said. Before it can happen in Belfast, they just need a few more people to commit.

“Our goal this summer is to have everybody we know know about this project,” she said. “It’s the best of good community experiences, with private ownership.”

So far, group members include small-business owners, educators, naturalists, an architect, a doctor, a farmer, a Suzuki violin teacher and children. Plenty of children.

At least a dozen kids played an energetic game of tag in front of the farmhouse on Edgecomb Road. The wind and cold weather didn’t deter them from climbing trees, and when it came time for the Maypole, they raced to grab the green and white ropes and take their places.

Would they want to live here, too?

Audrey Lightner of Belfast, 12, said maybe.

“I think it might be fun,” she said.

Mika McKinney, 13, of Montville seemed a little more enthusiastic.

“I think it’s really cool because I’ll be really close to my horse,” she said.

Joanne Moesswilde of Belfast is exploring the possibility of joining the co-housing group.

“I just love it,” she said. “I like being with all these great people … and being on this beautiful piece of land.”

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