A Small Town Sense of Community

By Judee Fong

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Cohousing is new to Victoria. Strata-titled, self-contained units are set in a supportive, self-made community. Owners share a common building to supplement their own space.

In the Fernwood neighbourhood of Chambers Street, four long-time friends and neighbours decided to pool together their property to provide a site for cohousing.

Bill McKechnie, one of the founding members for the proposed Fernwood Urban Village, enthusiastically explains, “The ‘pocket neighbourhood’ we are creating here reflects a small-town sense of community. Neighbours support the idea and see cohousing as an upgrade to their area.”

Within walking distance are the Belfry Theatre, a number of shops, restaurants, Mount Royal Bagels, the Fernwood Coffee Company, doctors’ offices and other amenities. A Neighbourhood Allotment Garden and a small playground for children sit across the street.

“We have a couple of applicants with children,” says Bill. “We want to see multi-generations as this is what makes our community more real.”

Fernwood Urban Village is a collaborative project with continuous input from all its members. Some of the mission statements include: keeping common costs low by sharing them; maintaining energy-efficient buildings; living without cars; and growing their own food.

Close to Victoria’s downtown core, car-sharing, biking, walking and public transit are encouraged. All self-contained units are built for aging-in-place, so owners can stay in their homes longer.

A common building will have space for community meals, meetings, social events and activities, as well as guest suites for visitors. The pathways are designed so people going to their homes, walking downtown, catching a bus or doing errands will meet their neighbours on a casual basis.

The Fernwood project has been a slow, challenging progress. When it started two years ago, Victoria City Council was limited by the restrictions of existing bylaws, which never included this type of strata development.

Forging ahead for future Victoria cohousing projects, Bill says, “We are breaking new ground. Today, the project is favourably regarded as a model of low-impact housing: low carbon footprints, advanced energy-saving features, low maintenance exteriors, controlled strata fees and volunteerism.”

The vision for Fernwood Urban Village remains optimistic as Bill speaks for all the members, “We have a site that will be a supportive community for aging-in-place. Our public rezoning hearing is scheduled for [this month], then final rezoning approval. We hope to obtain our building permits and begin construction later this year. All of us have contributed energy, time and money to see this project built. Having seen a number of successful urban projects, we’re determined to make this one of the best!”

Cohousing is also new to Sooke. The proposed site is planned for Captain Ralph Hull’s beautiful Sooke Ocean Resort, a picturesque property with spectacular water views and walking distance to Sooke Village.

After moving to Sooke in 2004, Margaret Critchlow recalls talking to friends about a cohousing place. “It was put on the back-burner when we couldn’t find an affordable site,” she says. “Eight years later, my friend Gail Abernathy and I were talking about our mothers, and how it was important to think about the options available to seniors. We didn’t like any of them. Gail suggested we needed a new model for aging-in-place.”

So, Margaret, Gail and her husband, Andrew Moore, community developer and architect, formed the non-profit Canadian Senior Co-Housing Society to raise national awareness about senior co-housing, and to work together to develop a model of affordability and health care. The trio are also actively involved with 10 other families in making West Coast Senior Cohousing a reality.

“If we don’t get really pro-active about aging-in-place and about creating a different image for seniors other than the ‘over-the-hill’ image, senior cohousing won’t happen.”

Margaret describes it as “independent living that we manage ourselves. We’re doing this while we have the energy to get it up and running. Our goals in the long run will be to kick back, relax and enjoy this lifestyle.”

Searching for a site was a challenge as it had to be financially attainable and environmentally sustainable. When the two-acre site became available, the members were thrilled.

The existing lodge with the distinctive “mermaid” door, carved by Godfrey Stephens, would be utilized as the owners’ common area. It already has three guest suites, community kitchen and large social areas for meetings, group get-togethers and activities. Eventually, there will be a caregivers’ suite when the need arises.

“We walk or bike wherever we need to go,” says Margaret. “We have a dock where we can head out kayaking, canoeing or boating. We may be seniors but we’re all active seniors.”

Members plan on building 24 self-contained units designed as wheelchair-friendly, senior-friendly and suited to their surroundings. Many members already live in remote rural areas. Moving closer to Sooke Village and adjusting to community living raised some interesting questions for them.

The concerns that noise, visual privacy, the ability to say “No” and, equally important, the ability to ask for help when needed, was discussed. Age limit was another issue debated.

“We’re realizing that age requirement is only one small aspect of selecting people who bring the kind of energy we need — people who are cooperative, team players, financially willing to invest in the project, have stable health and can live independently without tapping into our social resources too heavily,” says Margaret. “This is an attractive site with its spectacular water views. That’s why interested candidates must participate in the Active Aging in the Community course before becoming a member.”
Margaret admits it has taken an enormous amount of time, energy, hard work and financial commitment involving all the members of the Sooke project. Most of the feasibility study has been completed. A members’ meeting is set for early 2013, where the feasibility results will be discussed and members can decide if they want to move forward to the next step.

Currently, Sooke is undergoing a downtown revitalization. The cohousing project is where Sooke wants to see density.

“This is not rural cohousing,” says Margaret. “This is downtown Sooke, even though it doesn’t look like a city downtown. Sooke is receptive towards this project by making some slight bylaw revisions.”

Through meetings and socials, members are getting to know each other better. “As you get older, it’s difficult for some people to make friends,” says Margaret. “But the other day, we were saying that we hadn’t made so many friends since we were teenagers!”

“One of our members was badly injured in an accident, but will be home this week. The first thing people said when they heard was, ‘We can practise our cohousing mutual support. When does she get home and what can we do?’ So, we are standing by with the casseroles, the books and whatever else she may need. This is an example of what cohousing is all about — neighbours helping neighbours.”

To become a member of the Fernwood Urban Village: contact Bill McKechnie at info@fernwoodurbanvillage.ca For more information, visit www.fernwoodurbanvillage.ca
For more information on West Coast Senior Cohousing, contact Margaret Critchlow, Director, seniorcohousing@gmail.com or visit www.canadianseniorcohousing.com



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Showing 1 to 1 of 1 comments.

Thank you for sharing this idea. We are seeking innovative solutions for our community of seniors in Ottawa and your model brings great ideas to our table.

Posted by Denis LeBlanc | December 7, 2015 Report Violation

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