Christopher Rosacker
crosacker@theunion.com

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October 24, 2013
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Residents more than neighbors after first year in Grass Valley cohousing

It isn’t easy for the residents of Wolf Creek Lodge, an intentional living community on the southern cusp of Grass Valley, to agree on what to call one another, a year after they began moving into the cohousing facility.

“Neighbor” doesn’t quite encapsulate the interconnected codependence they feel toward one another, said a group that sat down with The Union Thursday.

Cohousing is a group of private residences that share common areas. While the concept of this kind of shared living is not uncommon — there is the multigenerational Nevada City Cohousing — there are little more than a handful of senior cohousing establishments in the nation, said Bob Miller, a resident of Wolf Creek who insisted that “members” is the best word to describe the people who live there.

“It isn’t like moving into a condominium or something. Where you move in and there are (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) or whatever, but you pretty much go about doing things yourself,” said Mike Contino, who was one of the first residents, along with his wife, Krista Ericson.

“One of the reasons we came here is because we were in a kind of community where we didn’t know our neighbors and we didn’t really have a neighborhood,” Contino said. “That was something we missed.”

It was also something that Bob Branstrom thought about when he moved in about six weeks ago, he said.

“Things are going to go wrong more often than if it were a bunch of 20-year-olds,” Miller said about the health of seniors. “We have to learn to relate to our neighbors as they go through these various incidents.”

Wolf Creek Cohousing opened its doors in October 2012 after six years of a development that was protracted by the U.S. housing crisis and ensuing economic fallout.

In addition to one- and two-bedroom condo-like homes for singles and couples, which cost between $190,000 and nearly $500,000, there is a 4,000-square-foot common area for community gatherings, cooperative activities and guest accommodations. The $11.2 million facility has a master kitchen for nightly group dinners, office space, sitting areas, gardens, a place for gaming and even a hot tub.

“When Nancy (Moorehouse) moved in next to us, she said, ‘It is just like living in the college dorm again.’ There is a lot of that,” Contino said. “Sometimes, on coming to agreements, I’ve joked it’s like instead of being married to one person, I have 30 couples or households.”

All but two of the 30 residences are filled, Miller said. In them live 37 people, a third of whom are singles, said Branstrom, who lives at Wolf Creek alone.

“When somebody moves in, it is interesting to see what role they are going to play in the community,” Miller said. “Nearly everybody participates in the common dinners. There are other things like working in the gardens, the coffee group, there are a lot of teams to make the whole.”

Those teams tackle issues such as common house management, electronic communications, budget and finance, maintenance, membership and marketing, Miller said. Some residents also take on tasks individually, such as landscaping and organizing the facility’s compost.

“Everybody has their little thing that they do that establishes their contribution,” Miller said.

Potential buyers are invited to visit the facility a couple times beforehand to take part in activities and decide themselves whether they are a good fit — the other residents do not weigh in on prospective buyers. In that way, buyers are self-selecting, Miller said.

“I have felt very much welcomed by the community and feel a part of the community,” Branstrom said. “I have never felt like the late adoption who needs to put in his time and pay his dues. I have very much felt integrated into the community since even before I closed escrow.”

The compound overlooks Wolf Creek, which gives residents a scenic pine forest view and access to hiking trails. It is also a mere block away from Pine Creek Shopping Center, which has a grocery store, salons, restaurants, a gym and an assortment of other shopping options. That proximity benefits some of the residents, who range in age between 59 and 90 years old.

Residents meet to hash out an annual facility budget, cleaning of common areas, a pet policy and safety issues, Miller said.

The cohousing members also decided when they can care for one another and when it is appropriate to bring in a health care professional. When Contino had his knees replaced and the medical personnel asked if he had anyone to help him around, he said “about 40 people.”

In that sense, the cohousing “members” act more like extended family to one another.

“Whenever I needed a ride somewhere if Krista was gone, somebody was always there to take me down to physical therapy,” he said.

Some decisions made prior to people moving in are being re-evaluated now that they have been used in practice and so that new members have a chance to weigh in, Contino said.

“From what we all know about cohousing communities, it is a work in progress for as long as the community is around,” said resident Pat Elliott.

For information, visit http://wolfcreeklodge.org.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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The Union Updated Oct 24, 2013 11:25PM Published Oct 28, 2013 07:01PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.