Ground to be broken this summer on planned cohousing community

The GO Home is a prototype for the houses of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. The highly-efficient home is primarily heated with passive solar energy and is a key component of the planned cohousing community, a concept that was begun in Denmark in the 1960s and been in the United States for about 30 years.
BDN photo by Abigail Curtis
The GO Home is a prototype for the houses of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. The highly-efficient home is primarily heated with passive solar energy and is a key component of the planned cohousing community, a concept that was begun in Denmark in the 1960s and been in the United States for about 30 years.
Posted April 03, 2011, at 7:03 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 9:53 p.m.
Audrey Lightner, 14, her mother Denise Pendleton and Alan Gibson are all members of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. The project has been in development for several years and members expect to be able to break ground this summer for the 36 homes.
BDN photo by Abigail Curtis
Audrey Lightner, 14, her mother Denise Pendleton and Alan Gibson are all members of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. The project has been in development for several years and members expect to be able to break ground this summer for the 36 homes.

BELFAST, Maine — Life in Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, once its residents finally are able to move in, will be lots of things.

It will be friendly and sociable, with a planned 36 households joining the intentional community to be built on the 170-acre site of the former Keene Dairy Farm on Edgecomb Road.

It will be sustainable, with clustered, smaller housing located on just 6 acres of the property, an on-site farm, and attention paid to preserving the nearby open space and woodlands.

And it will certainly be warm.

On Saturday, as a foot of heavy spring snow melted outside in the spring sunshine, the temperature inside the ecovillage’s heavily insulated and passively heated prototype GO Home felt much more like summer than early spring as two members sat at a wooden table and talked about the 4-year-old project.

“It seems like it’s a long process, and it takes a lot of patience, but meanwhile, a lot of community stuff is happening,” said equity member Denise Pendleton of Belfast. “It is a very exciting time for us. We’re on track to breaking ground.”

That “community stuff” is worth a lot to those interested in a different type of lifestyle, according to ecovillage members, and includes monthly weekends where far-flung members get together to meet, work, plan and play.

The greater community is welcome for a family-friendly activity on those weekends, which has included planting a children’s garden, having a horse-plowing workshop, dancing around a Maypole and much more.

This coming Sunday, the open house will feature Easter egg decorating with natural dyes, meeting the community, walking the land and touring the extensively insulated GO Home.

“Co-housing is an antidote for the isolation that people in their nuclear families experience,” said Alan Gibson.

He’s a founding member of the ecovillage and also a partner in the design and building collaborative GO Logic, which built the GO Home.

All of the ecovillage’s homes, which will begin to be constructed this summer, will be built along lines similar to the GO Home, with thick blown-in insulation, south-facing, triple-glazed windows to gather sunlight and a very limited need for a traditional heating system.

“It’s a different kind of model,” Gibson said.

That difference is part of what attracted Pendleton to the project, which is one of more than 100 such intentional communities in the country

“I always liked the idea of sharing resources,” she said from the home’s sunny second-floor conference room. “I’m a big visionary and idealist. It fits some ideals I have about how I want to live, and how I want to have my family grow up. It’s built-in community.”

Her family and 22 others have committed to joining the ecovillage, and the community is actively recruiting for the rest of the desired 36. Current members include farmers, doctors, musicians, teachers and more.

Equity members have committed to purchasing individual homes in the complex, which is structured like a condominium, and also will cooperatively own the common house and land. They also must invest a minimum of $25,000, while interested or exploring members are asked to purchase a six-month membership for $250.

Gibson said the search for members dovetailed with the global financial meltdown, which has posed certain challenges.

Although they want to make it as affordable as possible, this kind of housing just isn’t the cheapest, Gibson said.

The one- to three-bedroom homes will vary in size from 440 to 1,500 square feet, with preliminary cost estimates ranging from $165,000 to $330,000.

“We feel the economy was a bit of a blow, but the thing about the economy is that in some ways, it’s forcing people to look at their values pretty deeply,” Pendleton said. “People are saying, we want to make sure we live a life that’s not crazy. And realizing that community is really important, as well as living close to the land.”

One of those people is Stephen Wallace of Alna, an exploring member who said he has essentially committed to signing on.

He’s a divorced, single father of a 4-year-old girl, Elisabeth Wallace, and they’ve been coming to open houses at the ecovillage for more than a year.

“First and foremost is the emphasis on families with children,” he said. “She loves the environment, and the idea of having other kids available right next door. That is extremely appealing. I love the idea of living in community.”

According to Wallace, co-housing is a smart way to live. The energy efficiency of the GO Home doesn’t hurt, either. In Alna, he heats with firewood, which is a lot of work.

“I appreciate the energy efficiency of these houses. It just blows me away,” he said.

Although the price tag is “definitely high,” he believes it’s worth it.

“It’s a challenging obstacle,” Wallace said. “But I don’t think the investment is that high, when you consider what you’re getting.”

For more information, visit www.mainecohousing.org, or call 338-9200. The next open house will be held 2-4 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at 45 Edgecomb Road in Belfast.

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