First ‘cohousing’ project in Connecticut comes to Bethany

BETHANY — Ground was broken Tuesday on the state’s first “cohousing” community, an environmentally friendly development of 30 small homes, a large common house and an organic farm on 33 acres where a former dairy farm sat on Meyers Road, off Old Amity Road.

“Rocky Corner,” as the development will be called, has been going through the approval process for years, with some town residents objecting because 13 of the homes will be set aside for those who meet the standard for “affordable housing” under state guidelines — which is much different than low-income housing, officials have had to explain.

The nonprofit developer, made up of future residents rather than a corporation, is Green Haven Inc. — and its President Dick Margulis describes the complex as “a neighborhood built on purpose.” Margulis stressed the only reason he has the title is because he works from home and is available to sign paperwork.

Margulis said there are already 148 cohousing communities built in the United States, 17 under construction, and another 140 in various stages of formation. There are 15 in nearby Massachusetts, but this is the first in Connecticut, he said.

While it may have been a rocky road getting to Tuesday’s ground-breaking — both literally and figuratively — there were no complaints, only kudos, from the engineers, planners and loan providers who were there and from First Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski and even Connecticut’s commissioner of housing, Evonne Klein.

Klein praised the project, to which the state gave $2.6 million, especially the affordability component of some of the homes. Klein said her office is always looking for “different” housing concepts.

Gorski said this means the town has “official” affordable housing, although it already has housing that’s affordable. Gorski said she’s explained to many people that affordable does not mean low-income.

“This allows us to continue our economic diversity,” she said.

Gorski said the project is a great example of “ how people can pull together and get something done.”

Conversation around the project began in 2006.

The years were filled with many meetings of stakeholders and hired experts, including David Berto, a creative housing expert of Housing Enterprises Inc. It was with Berto’s hiring that the project really started moving.

The small houses, beginning at 810 square feet, will have the basic rooms — living room, bedroom(s), kitchen and bathroom — but there will be a 4,500-square-foot common building for endeavors people don’t do all the time, such as throwing a big dinner. The building will have a commercial kitchen and there will be a few shared meals available every week.

He said the grounds will be kid and elderly friendly because parking is one spot, led to by a path.

He said there will be shared meals 2-3 times a week.

There will also be a shared organic farm on the compound, worked by residents, and plots available for residents who want a growing area for enterprise endeavors.

The homes are priced from below $200,000, depending on home size and income level.

A press release from Margulis, a New Haven resident who looks forward to residing with his wife at Rocky Corner, describes it this way: “Cohousing promotes close relationships amongst neighbors with an emphasis on sustainable construction and land use.”

The release goes on to say: “The Rocky Corner community is specifically designed to maximize open space and to provide opportunities for interested residents to participate in organic gardening and farming. The homes will be highly energy efficient, resulting in minimal heating and cooling costs. The site design implements low-impact development, an advanced approach to water conservation.”

Margery Hood, 75, of Fairfield, looks forward to moving in — the project is expected to be done next summer. The site is already being cleared.

Hood said everyone in the community will have a job and hers will be as part of the kitchen crew.

Chris Hulk, design engineer with Milone & MacBroom, said working on the project with future residents was “more intimate” than working with corporate developers and involved many meetings.

Major financing is being provided by Ion Bank, of Naugatuck, with additional funding by the state Department of Housing and by Equity Trust, of Andover, Mass.

Homes are still available at Rocky Corner for families of all sizes, ages and income levels, Margulis said.

For more information, visit www.rockycorner.org or call 203-903-2646.

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