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Retirement village to promote communal living

A Lancaster
County retirement
community plans to build a residential development that promotes a communal
lifestyle among older adults. It is believed to be the first time such a
development for seniors has been developed in Pennsylvania.

A Lancaster
County retirement
community plans to build a residential development that promotes a communal
lifestyle among older adults. It is believed to be the first time such a
development for seniors has been developed in Pennsylvania.

Garden
Spot Village
in New Holland is in the beginning stages of developing The Communities at
Sycamore Springs, which will adhere to a concept of “cohousing.”

Cohousing originated in Denmark and involves building a
community that encourages residents to design, develop and operate the
neighborhood.

“It’s very focused on getting to know your neighbors,
getting the feel of small-town America,”
said Steve Lindsey, Garden Spot’s chief executive officer. “The focus is on
creating a lifestyle that gets away from the impersonal feel of suburban life.”

Garden Spot expects to have its first cohousing community,
which will contain about 30 houses, completed within two years, Lindsey said.
More communities could be built if there is enough demand, he said.

There are four core characteristics of cohousing
communities, said Charles Durrett, a California
architect who helped introduce the concept in the United States. These are:

  • Future residents have a role in
    designing the community.
  • There is a focus on walkability and environmental
    sustainability. For example, parking is on the periphery of the community, and
    many communities embrace eco-friendly housing.
  • There are extensive common areas, such as a common
    house where residents gather for meals and other events.
  • The community is entirely managed by the
    residents.

About 100 cohousing communities exist in the United States,
Durrett said. Most of them are multigenerational; only three so far are
targeted to older adults.

Garden Spot became interested in developing a cohousing
community because it wants to offer as many options as possible to aging baby
boomers, Lindsey said. Many of these baby boomers aren’t interested in the same
style of retirement living as previous generations, he said.

“(Cohousing) provides a lot of the benefits of a retirement
community, but in a little bit different way,” Lindsey said. “It’s a great
alternative.”

Lenny Mazza gave up a successful chiropractic practice in New Jersey to move to
Hundredfold Farm last year with his wife. Hundredfold Farm is a cohousing
community in Adams
County that caters to a
variety of age groups.

Mazza said the bucolic surroundings and positive
relationships with neighbors provide a stark contrast to where he previously
lived in Bucks County. His wife’s blood pressure, for
example, decreased significantly within two weeks of their move to Hundredfold
Farm. He has been able to pursue his dream of living in a more environmentally
friendly way.

“My thought was ‘This is too good to be true,'” Mazza said.
“It was such an opportunity that it was worth all of the energy and effort and
money and frustration that we had to go through to get here.”

The residents at Hundredfold Farm make decisions by
consensus. Mazza said he was skeptical of the concept at first, but discovered
it is better than majority rule because it forces the residents to listen to
and respect minority opinions. That openness allows for greater sharing of
ideas, he said.

The communal style of cohousing developments does not mean
an end to residents’ individual privacy. The residents of Hundredfold Farm have
lives outside the community, and residents aren’t forced to be

socially active all the time, Mazza said.

“Just because you know everyone in the community, that doesn’t
mean that your relationship is the same with everyone,” he said. “That doesn’t
mean that you have to hang out with them 24 hours a day.”

Durrett said he expects the number of cohousing communities
nationwide to continue to grow, despite the downturn in the housing market. He
said Garden Spot should be applauded for recognizing that many older adults
don’t want to spend their golden years

in nursing homes.

“I really feel that the folks at Garden Spot have a really
good handle on the concept,” he said. “I’m really impressed with their approach
so far. They’re not interested in warehousing people.”

Want to learn more?

Charles Durrett, an architect who helped bring the concept
of cohousing to the U.S.,
was scheduled to be in Lancaster
County April
23 to discuss cohousing with midstate residents as of press time.

Durrett’s presentations were scheduled to take place at Garden Spot
Village in New Holland.
During the seminars, Durrett was set to explain cohousing and Garden Spot’s
plans to develop a cohousing community for adults 55 and older.

Durrett and his wife, Kathryn McCamant, discovered cohousing
when they studied in Copenhagen,
Denmark. On his
walks to classes, Durrett noticed one particular neighborhood with a high
amount of interaction between residents.

“Day after day, I was wondering what the heck was going on
there,” said Durrett, who runs Nevada City, Calif.-based McCamant & Durrett
Architects with his wife.

Durrett eventually spoke with a resident, who explained the
concept of what the Danish call “bofællesskaber,” or living communities. In the
ensuing years, Durrett and McCamant wrote extensively about the topic.

For more information, visit or visit
www.sycamoresprings.net.

-Christina Olenchek

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