Cohousing community in the works for Village Hill Northampton

Last modified: Wednesday, May 07, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Keeping in mind the success of two cohousing communities in the city — Pathways and Rocky Hill — another one may be in the works for Village Hill Northampton.

With a working title of Village Hill Cohousing, the new multigenerational community will feature 30 homes and be part of a larger development planned by Transformations Inc., a Townsend company that aims to build up a total of 83 homes on a 35-acre site at the far north section of the Village Hill’s north campus.

Preliminary plans show 30 units and a common house to be constructed on about 4 acres along the eastern side of the property, while a mix of 23 single-family homes and 15 duplexes would be constructed to the east around a new horseshoe-shaped road that will loop through the property.

All 83 units will be built as zero-energy homes, designed to produce at least as much energy as they use over the course of the year. The homes will include photovoltaic systems on roofs and carports that owners will be required to buy or lease, Transformations President R. Carter Scott said.

“We’ll have three different housing types at Village Hill, all of which will generate a lot more energy than they consume,” said Scott, who began building energy-efficient homes more than two decades ago.

“What we do is being well received by everybody we bump into in Northampton,” Scott said. He praised the city for adopting and promoting smart growth ideas that emphasize clustered, high-density development near urban areas.

He said he expects Transformations will seek a permit from the Planning Board later this year and begin construction next year.

Mary Kraus, of Kraus Fitch Architects, an Amherst architectural firm that will lead the design of the cohousing project, said the idea behind such developments is to blend the privacy of a typical home with the community feel of a traditional neighborhood.

“Residents have the privacy of their own homes and areas around their homes, but then you have a community at your doorstep,” Kraus said.

“It has been heartening to witness the progress of the cohousing movement over time,” Kraus said. “We enjoy working directly with prospective residents to design their future neighborhoods, because we see how profoundly these places enrich people’s lives.”

Representatives from both Kraus Fitch Architects and Transformations will lead informational meetings on the proposed project this month, with the first scheduled for Saturday at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence at 212 Main St. from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Other meetings will be held May 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Pioneer Valley Cohousing in Amherst, and May 21, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., again at the Unitarian Society in Northampton.

Site visits to Village Hill will take place after the May 10 meeting and before the May 21 meeting.

Cohousing communities allow residents to play a prominent role in designing their home and surrounding community. They feature common areas such as gardens, playgrounds and a common house with laundry, gathering spaces, guest rooms and a community kitchen and dining room. The development also will include open green space, shared carports and parking lots. It aims to offer access to downtown and other parts of the city through bike and pedestrian trails.

Kraus, a resident of Pioneer Valley Cohousing in Amherst, said the intergenerational concept will enable grandparents to have a “bunch of children around” and children to have mentors as neighbors. Others simply like the idea of sharing a meal, side-by-side gardening and other perks that cohousing can offer.

“There are a lot of reasons that people want to be in cohousing,” said Kraus, noting that her business partner, Laura Fitch, also lives at Pioneer Valley Cohousing.

While designs will likely change as a working group of buyers begins to meet, Kraus and Scott have drawn up a preliminary plan that shows a cluster of cottages that vary in size from one to four bedrooms.

Price for the cottages will be between $175,000 and $195,000 for a one-bedroom with 700 square feet of space; between $240,000 and $260,000 for a two-bedroom with 1,000 square feet; between $275,000 and $295,000 for a three-bedroom with 1,200 square feet; between $315,000 and $335,000 for a three-bedroom with 1,400 square feet; and between $350,000 and 370,000 for a four-bedroom with 1,600 square feet.

The 53 single-family homes and duplexes will be priced at $400,000 to $600,000 for the homes and $200,000 to $400,000 for the duplex units. Scott said the development is already generating interest among potential developers and investors because of the popularity of the concept and its location at the top of Village Hill Northampton.

Transformations has built more than two dozen such homes since 2008 in numerous communities, including the Homes at Easthampton Meadow off Treehouse Circle in Easthampton.

There are more than 100 cohousing communities in the country, including the 20-year-old Pioneer Valley Cohousing in Amherst, said to have been the first to be constructed in the eastern United States.