Co-Housing Project Breaks Ground in Fair Oaks

Sacramento County, CA  |  By Jacqueline Fox
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From left to right, Katherine McCamant, founder of CoHousing Solutions, Richard Rozumowicz, civil engineer, Charles Durrett, architect, Marty Maskall, future resident and leading organizer of the project, Darryl Berlin, construction project manager, and Rachel Bardis and Katherine Bardis of Bardis Homes. Photo by Louise Mitchell, courtesy EcoHousing
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Charles Durrett, architect, and Marty Maskall, future resident explain the project. Photo by Louise Mitchell, courtesy EcoHousing

Fair Oaks, CA (MPG) - Following two years of planning, site tours, pot lucks, workshops and even wine tastings to celebrate baby steps taken along the way, the first shovel of dirt has been dug for a planned cohousing project with units sold on the promise of a “Family-friendly Green Neighborhood” for New York Avenue.

Future residents, of the Fair Oaks EcoHousing development, alongside individuals hoping to build something similar in other parts of Sacramento County, as well as construction and development representatives for the project, and the leading figures in its development and execution got a break in the rain long enough to snap a group photo in front of the 3.7-acre development site Nov. 3.  Then they walked over, together, to Smokey Oaks Tavern on nearby Fair Oaks Boulevard for an official reception and speeches.


“I was thrilled to see how many people joined us for the groundbreaking,” said future Fair Oaks EcoHousing resident and founder, Marty Maskall, who has been working to get the concept for the project from her mind, on to paper and to this point for most of the last decade.  “Supervisor Susan Peters (who attended the event) complimented the future residents on our persistence to pursue our vision.  I can't wait until the homes are built and we can move in.”

That is slated to happen sometime in spring of 2019.  Meanwhile, the Fair Oaks EcoHousing project has been endorsed by the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), which also honored Maskall as the 2016 Environmentalist of the year.

The celebration officially kicked off construction of the 30-unit, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that will feature private townhomes and “flats” ranging in size from two to four bedrooms and priced between the mid-$300’s and the high $600’s, solar and sustainable energy sources and other green living features.

The village in the making already has owners for all but two of the 30 homes available, a sign of just how popular the idea of cohousing has become and how quickly folks are ready to buy in.  Prices range from $300,000 to $600,000, depending on the square footage.  Owners also will pay a monthly homeowner association fee, likely between $300 and $400.”

It is estimated that, over the last 25 years, more than 160 cohousing communities have popped up nationwide Cohousing neighborhoods in the Sacramento region include Southside Park Cohousing downtown, Nevada City Cohousing in Nevada City, Wolf Creek Lodge in Grass Valley, and three communities in Davis.

“This is not a new concept,” says Kathryn McCamant, founder of Co-Housing Solutions and consultant on the Fair Oaks EcoHousing project.  Her company is considered to have pioneered the development of cohousing in North America, including Sacramento County.  “We modeled our cohousing projects initially on similar projects in Denmark that go back decades.”

She and her husband, Charles Durrett, who served as the leading architect for the Fair Oaks development, have co-authored two books on sustainable cohousing and collaborated on a number of cohousing developments.  They also live in the Nevada City Cohousing development built in 2008.

McCamant said the concept is easy to sell as it attracts like-minded, conscious-living individuals who support community spaces and ideas for co-existence. Finding the construction funding for cohousing projects, however, she said, is not as straightforward, even though funds would be largely guaranteed by multiple mortgage payments, in this case, 30, upon the selling of the final two units.

“We ended up having to go all the way down to San Diego to Torrey Pines bank to get a loan approved for the Fair Oaks CoHousing project,” said McCamant.  “We just couldn’t get lenders to understand, let alone support the concept.”

That concept involves a place where residents share communal ethos and commit to a lifestyle that balances independent living with shared experiences.  Residents can cook and share meals together, participate in group events and outdoor activities and nurture the spirit of communal living as they see fit.  Tossing a wave to a neighbor three times a year while getting the morning paper, however, won’t cut it.

“Garage door communities, where people pull up at night, put their cars away and never go anywhere else in the neighborhood is not working so well,” said Durrett.  “Cohousing affords an opportunity for shared living experiences using open, shared living spaces.  They aren’t meant for someone who wants to isolate.”

Fair Oaks EcoHousing will offer 3.7 acres of outdoor living and play space, a community pool, spa, workshop, dining and entertaining facilities, a lounge, kids’ playroom, designated space for yoga and music, and two guest bedrooms for extra accommodations.

Some of the future Fair Oaks EcoHousing residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremony were not shy in expressing how long and sometimes difficult the process of getting from concept to construction has been.  The shoveling of that first mound of dirt, they said, was significant on many levels, as it represented the first tangible move toward moving day.

"I feel as though we have somehow emerged as victors after a sustained battle with numerous obstacles,” said Anne Birchfield of Sacramento and a co-founder of the project.  “I am optimistic about all of our futures.”

Obstacles aside, Fair Oaks EcoHousing already is being used as a model for other groups hoping to form a cohousing development. 

“What an exciting day to see all of you there with your shovels, spades and smiles,” said Anne Geraghty, who is building a coalition to support development of the Washington House Cohousing project in west Sacramento. “We are looking forward to following in your footsteps.  Thanks for leading the way.”