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Community and Q&A

Planned communities

Martin Holladay | Posted in General Questions on

At a social event last night, a friend who owns a 25-acre parcel asked me about resources for developers (or groups of friends) thinking about building a cluster of houses where like-minded people can live near each other. My friend is wary of the endless meetings associated with co-housing, and is also aware of the issues that arise when a group of friends build adjacent houses, only to have situations change due to divorce, deaths, and inheritance.

So who can recommend Web resources discussing these issues — questions about:

1. Subdividing land

2. Intentional communities

3. Legal issues around whether planned communities have to sell homes to anyone who shows up with a checkbook, or whether families living in planned communities can choose their neighbors.

4. Pitfalls and advice for anyone thinking about building a cluster of energy-efficient homes for like-minded people who want to live together and cooperate without being members of a commune where all assets are shared by the group.

Where are some good websites? Anyone got any advice?

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  1. Gregory Behm | | #1

    Martin, your friend might be interested in Pocket Neighborhoods,

  2. Robert Hronek | | #2

    You would have some problem with #3. You have to think long term. People dont stay put long term and they will need to sell the home when the time comes. For some it may be a couple of years and others it may be 30.

    Financing. Individuals will not be able to get financing from traditional sources if the homes are not listed for sale --how do you determine market value if the home has not been tested on the open market.

    Fair housing laws determine who you cant dicriminate against. There protected classes.

    What Housing Is Covered?

    The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

    What Is Prohibited?

    In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:
    •Refuse to rent or sell housing
    •Refuse to negotiate for housing
    •Make housing unavailable
    •Deny a dwelling
    •Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
    •Provide different housing services or facilities
    •Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
    •For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
    •Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

    Even if you got the intial community formed with like minded friends the question is how do you sustain it. When a family moves then how do you select the new family without violating fair housing.

    I would say the best way to accomplish a green community is create a standard subdivision with CCR's that limit what can be built in the development. You would have the most control if you held the lots and operated as the builder.

    I think the biggest problem you would face is with financing. Lenders want to look at homes and be able to show what the market value of the home is. When you have something new and different you have nothing to compare to.

    Lenders do not look at the cost to build but in what the completed home sells from compared to other homes. What I am saying is that if you include many energy efficienct items or other community amenties that add to the cost the lender may not recognize value IF there are not comparables sales to support value.

    The community's CCR's can fall apart if they are not strictly enforced thus derailing the vision of the developer. Locally a development had a restriction that basketball hoops were not allowed. A homeowner installed a hoop and the assocaition sought its removal. The judge ruled in favor of the homeowner keeping the hoop since other CCR's were not enforced.

  3. James Morgan | | #3

    Cohousing may be the most coherent model and one which could address most or all of the legal and sustainability issues raised by Robert H. There are many examples of developer-led cohousing which can reduce the meeting and consensus burden at the planning stage but it's a fact of life that a community of 'like-minded people' can still find a host of things to disagree about, even after they're up and running and sometimes quite intensely, so don't expect to avoid the meeting problem altogether. There are a host of professionals who specialize in helping such communities get off the ground, including facilitating the consensus process. A good way to start though would be to connect with the nearest cohousing communities in your area to find out what they did well and what you might do better.

  4. Keith Gustafson | | #4

    In Mass they passed 'cluster zoning' a while back.

    Instead of 10 houses on 10 acre lots, they have 10 condos or ten little lots and a big common land area.

    You still hear of 'co-ops' in Manhattan where you have to get voted in, but otherwise have noting to do with each other. Dunno if they are still legal

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