State’s newest cohousing community nears opening

BRISTOL — Those who peer through the chain-link fence running from 8 to 14 North Street (and the antique railings in front of number 16) see a construction site.
The ground has been bulldozed flat. Heavy equipment populates the yard. Siding is going up. Solar panels are being installed on roofs. Decks are being built. Workmen bustle around. Electric saws whine and hammers pound.
But when the eight households now signed on to create Bristol Village Cohousing move in, the site will become a community.
That day is set for sometime in June, according to developers/organizers/co-cohousers Peg Kamens and Jim Mendell of Starksboro. And the couple said that they are optimistic about filling the remaining six units and are talking with three interested parties.
Among those getting ready to move in is Valerie Dearing, a retired art teacher who chose to relocate from Ohio to be part of the new cohousing community.
Dearing, who is busy paring down her belongings in advance of the move, said she’s happy to have “left behind the Rust Belt and fracking fields of northeastern Ohio.”
“My quest was to find a progressive, forward-thinking place with sustainable energy that’s affordable, had a respect for natural beauty, and was quiet, healthy, and clean,” she said. “Bristol Cohousing jumped into my life after eight months of searching.”  
For Dearing, cohousing “is about living smarter, lowering household and everyday living costs, and unfolding our lives together and apart, sharing a garden, pets, our cars and boats, yard tasks.”
This theme was echoed by Maura Donnelly, who came from Brooklyn to be part of Bristol Village Cohousing and will be moving in with her mother and her young son.
“We’re really going to contribute to the town-wide garage sale this year,” Donnelly chuckled, striking a theme common to several new community members who see the sharing involved in cohousing as a way to simplify and own fewer possessions.
While some, like Donnelly and Dearing, have come from out of state, others are from as nearby as Monkton. Two families have children, and at least two of the households will be multigenerational.
Bristol Village Cohousing is made up of five standalone cottages, each a single-family dwelling; three multi-unit buildings; and a common house for shared activities. The buildings are arranged around a green. Two barns on the property will be converted for activities and/or storage as part of a second phase of development.
On the northeast corner an open space will become a community garden. Parking, accessed from Mountain View Street, is limited to the edges of the property to allow common green space to remain as open and pedestrian friendly as possible.
The house for common activities is the historic Peake House, built in 1863. Kamens said many of the visitors to informational events have come especially to see the interior of this Italianate Bristol landmark.
One of Bristol’s oldest buildings, the home at 8 North Street dates to 1810 and has now been renovated to hold two two-story units. The former apartment building at 12 North Street had to be torn down because of structural and mold issues, but in its place is a new four-plex that Kamens said will preserve the look of the original exterior and much of one original exterior wall.
A brand new tri-plex at 14 North Street is intended to blend in with historic structures on either side.
Prices range from $214,000 to $345,000, with an 894-square-foot apartment designated as a permanently affordable unit. This unit’s owner-occupant will be selected in partnership with the Addison County Community Trust.
Cohousing communities are typically privately owned homes that share a public area, make some decisions by consensus, and share domestic resources such as tools and lawnmowers. Each works out such details as what is shared, what is private, and how community decisions will be reached.
Communal decisions, explained Kamens, can include which coffee mugs are kept for the common house and which are donated; how many and whose riding lawnmowers are retained; whether pets are allowed, and, if so, what kinds; how parking spaces are allocated; and how often meals are eaten together.
“Nothing is set in stone,” she said, emphasizing that the community itself will determine what the “co” in “cohousing” will mean.
Vermont’s oldest cohousing community is Charlotte’s Ten Stones, established in 1994. Vermont has five other established cohousing communities — in Burlington, Charlotte (the only town with two such communities), Hartland, Montpelier, and Putney.
According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, one other cohousing community is now forming in Vermont, the Commons at Windekind in Huntington.
There are about 165 established cohousing communities nationwide and another 137 forming, according to the association’s website.
No two such communities are alike, said Kamens.
What sets Bristol Village Cohousing apart, Mendell said, is partly the village setting. Many cohousing communities are either strictly urban or strictly rural, he said. This one is like a village within a village, blending the sharing of cohousing with Bristol’s pedestrian-friendly downtown and amenities.
Another important aspect of Bristol Village Cohousing is a commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
All units are built to Efficiency Vermont’s High Performance standard, said project architect Jean Terwilliger of Vermont Integrated Architecture. Terwilliger said only about 5 percent of Vermont houses perform to that level of energy efficiency.
All buildings can be heated solely by a heat pump (several cottage owners have chosen to install wood stoves for added coziness). All are well insulated. And all but the two historic houses (the 1863 Peake House and the 1810 structure at 8 North Street) have roof-mounted solar.  
According to Kamens and Mendell, up to 30 percent of the cohousing community’s energy needs can be generated on site with the roof-mounted solar. The remaining energy will be supplied from a nearby solar array.
For Kamens and Mendell, founders of the Common Ground retreat and recreation center in Starksboro, spearheading the project fulfills a life-long commitment to searching for new ways to build community.
A gardener, Kamens said she’s looking forward to having a garden where the rewards and labor are shared with others.
A baker, she’s also looking forward to the joy and cooking and sharing all those cookies and muffins with others.
“People are excited about the cooperation,” said Kamens.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Op/Ed Uncategorized

Hector Vila: The boundaries of education

There is a wide boundary between the teacher and the student, found most profoundly in col … (read more)

Naylor & Breen Uncategorized

Naylor & Breen Request for Proposals

Naylor and Breen 042524 2×4.5 OCCC RFP

Share this story: