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BELFAST, Maine — The view through the big windows was bucolic, featuring misty green fields and a tree-lined river valley in the background.
Inside Susie and Dan Capwell’s brand-new home in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage development on Tuesday evening, the scene was cozier, with the sounds of 3-month-old baby Carl’s suppertime fussiness, delicious smells from the kitchen, and the bustle and hubbub of a small family getting home from work and settled in for the night.
As Susie Capwell rocked her son, the Searsport District Middle School teacher lit up when she talked about her new digs. Her home is part of an intentional community which has been nearly six years in the planning. The first of 36 homes in the environmentally friendly development were finished and moved into in June, and she said that the other residents are her friends as well as her neighbors. So far, seven families live there, with a total of 24 expected by the end of next year. Organizers still are seeking new members to explore the concept and ideally move into the remaining homes.
“It’s been really great to be in a community,” Capwell said. “If I’ve got a fussy baby on my hands in the afternoon, I can just walk by the other houses. It can be so isolating to be with a brand-new baby … To know that I know everyone I live near, in this day and age, it feels really nice.”
After ground was broken last fall on the 42-acre former dairy farm bordering Little River, about two miles west of downtown Belfast, the houses were built fast, she said. Belfast-based architecture and construction firm GO Logic built the energy-efficient homes in a way she describes as taking a traditional Maine farmhouse and modernizing the design.
The interiors are light-filled and spacious, even though the cedar-shingled houses range from just 500 square feet to 1,500 square feet.
“They’re gorgeous, effectively and simply designed homes,” she said.
All have been built with solar panels and will require almost no supplemental heat, even in the middle of winter, according to GO Logic officials.
That was a selling point for many, including Jeff Mabee of Belfast, who said that he and his wife, Judith, expect to save around $2,500 per year on fuel.
For the Capwells, fuel savings should add up to about $300 per month.
“I can’t wait,” Susie Capwell said.
This kind of savings — plus the benefit of living in a pedestrian-friendly, close-knit community — helps to offset the home prices, residents say, which are about $150,000 for the smaller units and $330,000 for the largest.
But the benefits of living in the intentional community are far more than just a drastic reduction in wintertime fuel bills, according to Chuck Markowitz, who was the very first resident to move there.
The emergency-room doctor described a stressful workday he had had a few days ago and the feeling of arriving home and being included in a neighborhood potluck meal.
“I sat there having conversations with folks, and watching kids play soccer,” he said. “It was the perfect end to a terrible day.”
In addition to the potluck meals and spontaneous gatherings, there also have been occasions to gather and play music with neighbors, he said. Members of the community are farmers, educators, nonprofit administrators, an audio engineer and musicians among others. They range in age from baby Carl to Mike and Margie Shannon, who are in their mid-70s.
The cohousing membership process is intended to be “self-selective,” according to the project’s website.
“People who have a real interest in a community of this sort will probably already share most of the core values important to the current membership,” the website reads.
Members will share a to-be-built common house with a big kitchen, as well as land for farming, gardens, pasture and pathways which will surround the clustered housing development.
“It’s just really wonderful, being part of this community,” Markowitz said. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel lonely again.”
He said that curious people ask him about his sense of privacy while living in close proximity with others. But he feels that the walls are thick enough that he can practice his fiddle without disturbing people, and vice versa.
“It’s a really nice balance,” Markowitz enthused.
The Shannons moved to cohousing in June after living for years off the grid on Frye Mountain in Knox. There, they were half a mile from their nearest neighbor.
They weren’t sure exactly how it would feel to be in such close quarters.
“We’re slowly getting acquainted, and practicing our best manners,” Margie Shannon said. “As with any neighbors, we’re working out minor things, like when do you stop in to see people? Do you just drop in? Do you give them a call? Do you — heaven forbid — email? Since we’re living so close to other people, you have to respect their privacy. It’s like any friendship. You have to be considerate. It seems to be working out very well.”
The neighbors are helping each other get settled in, too. Susie Capwell said that she was in active labor on the family’s moving day. Though the neighbors joked that she was just trying to get out of moving boxes, they all helped out.
“I went into labor, and our friends came,” she said. “They brought trucks, trailers, a U-Haul. They moved us in about 45 minutes. And everyone brought us meals for about three weeks. It was amazing. I don’t think we could have done it otherwise.”
Last weekend, the community came together again to help members Lindsey and Allison Piper move into their home. Current residents are excited to see the neighborhood expand.
“It’s very stimulating, to have all these ages, and all these people,” Margie Shannon said. “Much better than all old people.”
For information, visit www.mainecohousing.org or call 338-9200.