‘Co-housing’ development eyed for Bristol

BRISTOL — The creation of a “co-housing community” is being discussed for three historic homes in downtown Bristol, the Tomasi and Peake houses on North Street, and the nearby 12 North St.
Jim Mendel and Peg Kamens, the founders of the Common Ground Center in Starksboro, recently purchased the three historic, white buildings with the hope of renovating many of the currently unlivable spaces on the properties to accommodate multiple families interested in forming such a community.
Co-housing, a concept that Mendel and Kamens say is catching on nationwide and worldwide, is an effort to promote community and connection among neighbors through architectural design. Housing units are constructed for each family that often surround a common outdoor space such as a green or a garden, while a “common house” provides shared spaces such as kitchens and play areas for children.
“It’s consciously designing housing so people can interact,” Kamens said.
Those interested in co-housing are also generally motivated to leave a light carbon footprint and grow some or all of their own food, they said.
Kamens and Mendell had heard of co-housing and kept it in mind as something they would like to pursue. For several years, they had also had their eye on the Peake House, which Kamens said they had “kind of fallen in love with,” though it was too big for just two people to live in.
“But we realized it was a perfect house for co-housing,” she said.
They also noted that Bristol was a particularly good site for the development of a co-housing community because of the town’s walkability and variety of shops, exercise spots and restaurants.
After a family with whom they were friendly expressed an interest in moving to Vermont, and Bristol in particular, Kamens said she and Mendell were spurred into action. They purchased not only the Peake House but also the adjoining properties, and fleshed out an idea of what the community would look like.
At a recent meeting of the Bristol Planning Commission, Mendell and Kamens presented their proposed plan. They planned a total of 15 dwelling units. They would convert the Tomasi House into a duplex, the Peake House into a single-family unit upstairs with a common living area downstairs, and 12 North St. into a four-unit apartment house.
Small-frame buildings would be erected in the space behind the Tomasi House to accommodate up to six other single-family units, and another duplex would be constructed in a barn that is currently uninhabitable.
Kamens said the view from North Street would not change.
“That streetscape has been there for 150 years,” she said, noting that although the back of the Tomasi House was unsalvageable and would be torn down, the renovations would be done so that the front of the building remained intact.
The planning commission has adjourned for July, which Kamens said gives her and Mendell time to draw up a more definite conceptual plan with the help of an architect and thus better prepare for a detailed conversation with the planning commission in August.
Kamens and Mendell also held a neighborhood meeting so that those who live nearby could come and ask questions. They are seeking families who are interested in being part of a co-housing community.
Town Administrator Bill Bryant noted that discussion was in the early phases and that the town’s priority was to enhance discussion to the best of its ability.
Bryant said that Kamens and Mendell appear to be operating within the town’s zoning rules when it came to setbacks and dwelling units.
“They seem to be working very hard to work within existing standards,” Bryant said.

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