Work begins on Bristol Village housing project

BRISTOL — A somewhat unusual housing development planned for the center of Bristol has broken ground on property off North Street behind the Rite Aid and Shaw’s shopping area.
Bristol Village Cohousing, a 14-unit project that bills itself as an “eco-village” is inviting the public to a ribbon cutting ceremony this Saturday, Sept. 10, at 11:30 a.m. at 16 North St. After the event, tours of the site will be available.
The first units will be ready for occupancy in January and the entire project is slated to be completed next April.
Peg Kamens, co-founder of the development, said the project is based on the idea of a walkable lifestyle and small energy footprint. She and fellow co-founder Jim Mendell explain that this cohousing community will have some shared elements and some private spaces. An important component is renovation of the historic buildings on North Street. The 3,800-square-foot Peake House, built in 1861 at 16 North St., will serve as the Common House in which the residents will have the opportunity to gather for community meals.
Two other buildings on North Street are also part of the project — 8 North St. (known as Tomasi House) and 12 North St. The plan is to leave the Tomasi House unchanged from the outside, but retrofit the inside and convert it into a duplex, with units more appropriately sized for today’s families and super-insulated to reduce heating costs. Builders will take down most of 12 North St., but retain the front of the building that borders the street. A new building on the façade will be reconstructed to high-performance energy standards, exceeding those required by current building codes.
“We are doing only a minimal amount of work on the wonderful Peake House … mostly adding a ramp to make it wheelchair accessible,” Kamens said in an online posting to the community.
Five high-performance energy efficient cottages will also be built on the two-and-a-half-acre site.
Units will range in size from one to three bedrooms and from 880 to 1,530 square feet.
The pocket-style neighborhood intentionally keeps parking on the perimeter, with walking paths, open areas and gardens surrounding the houses.
“The cottages and condo-style units, each with their own small, private yard, are sited around a common green,” said landscape architect Katie Raycroft Meyer, a member of the development team who lives and works in Bristol. “This traditional village pattern allows for natural interactions between neighbors and creates a sense of community.”
The idea is also that neighbors save money and space by sharing large equipment like lawn mowers and snow blowers, and using guest rooms in the Common House when they have visitors.
“The homes can be compact and efficient because the Common House, a beautiful historic building, has many large rooms for activities, guests and potluck dining,” says architect Jean Terwilliger, who is the lead designer on the project.
Those involved in the project say that high-performance energy design is very important to Bristol Village Cohousing.
“A high-performance home maximizes insulation and air sealing, prioritizes comfort, lets in the winter sun while blocking the summer heat, and has minimal annual heating bills,” says architect Ashar Nelson of Vermont Integrated Architecture of Middlebury, whose team is designing the community.
All construction is locally sourced. Stewart Construction of Colchester is the project builder, Bristol’s Masterson Excavation is digging the foundations, and Northfield Savings Bank is financing the construction loan.
Kamens noted that site preparation has already begun with tree cutting and excavation. She said the worst of the excavation noise was caused by the need to compact the soils where abandoned septic systems were uncovered.
“We do not expect to have to compact the soils in this way on the rest of the site,” Kamens said.
Some trees have been removed to accommodate the new buildings and septic system. New trees will be planted and the hedge that bordered the Rite-Aid parking lot will be replaced.
Like nearly all housing developments, Bristol Village Cohousing officials are looking to offer homes at a price that will sell. Mendell said prices for the units range between $235,000 and $345,000. 
The monthly Homeowners Association fee for the Common House, common expenses like trash pickup and plowing, and contingencies will be $355 for two-bedroom units and $390 for three-bedroom units.
The group is working diligently to make some units affordable for young families and first time homebuyers with help from the Addison County Community Trust and the Vermont Housing Conservation Board.
“We’re committed to economic diversity, and we have been meeting with a number of the state’s housing nonprofits to see how best to accomplish this,” Kamens said. “We hope to offer down-payment assistance to qualified buyers. Ideally we can also make one or two homes perpetually affordable.”
Mendell explained that there will be two perpetually affordable units available through the Community Trust for $214,000. With $44,000 of down payment assistance from the Vermont Housing Conservation Board, the cost to the buyer would be $170,000, he said. 
Families with a connection to Bristol and surrounding communities have reserved seven of the units. One of the  prospective homeowners is Linda Lunna, who has run Lower Notch Berry Farm with her husband, Al, for many years. “I love Bristol,” Lunna said in a press release. “We are really looking forward to living in the center of Bristol across from the town green where shopping and restaurants are just a short distance away.”
Like other projects, including East Village Cohousing in Burlington completed in 2007, Bristol Village Cohousing is based on a successful neighborhood model started in Denmark in the 1970s. There are over 100 completed cohousing communities in the U.S., with over 100 more in development. Bristol Village Cohousing will be the fourth cohousing community in the Burlington-Middlebury corridor. 

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