Designing a Passivhaus Neighborhood in a Blue Ridge Arts Community

At Jubilee Cohousing in Floyd, VA, we are hard at work with our cohousing-savvy builder designing our neighborhood and homes. We are ambitiously building an all Passivhaus neighborhood and Common House (ultra-low energy design/construction) and it feels great, like we’re experiencing our own mini energy revolution! 2014 has been an amazing year of happenings. We’ve seen a sharp rise in interest among families with children, and membership overall is increasing monthly.

Our community is in its seventh year of “forming” and has long identified a beautiful, rolling, 38-acre parcel just one mile from town. The option to buy that acreage is imminent. The community will sit at the center of the county in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Floyd boasts an amazingly rich heritage of art and music as well as organic farms, alternative education, holistic healing practitioners, an arts center, and a broad community of social activists.

Along with my husband Walter, the first “burning soul” of Jubilee, we have cherished this piece of land for 16 years. We love that it’s within walking distance of town and even closer to Blue Mountain School (BMS) where the youngest of our eight children attended grades 2-6. The BMS education community has enjoyed “free range” privileges on the future Jubilee property using the trails for walks and runs, the stream and woods for nature study, and the Garden of Emotions for expression and contemplation. This has set the tone for Jubilee children to come.

With the help of our cohousing consultants Village Resources, we are developing the neighborhood as a condominium project offering a range of units; some single family stand-alones and others which share walls as duplexes or triplexes. Our homes will be clustered around a Common House and common green, with parking kept to the periphery – very pedestrian friendly. All our designs support aging in place, with front porches at the level of the walkways, walkways gently graded, and first floors of every home incorporating universal design.

My Jubilee friends agree that creating our own cohousing neighborhood with our future neighbors is tremendously rewarding and a considerable time and energy commitment. We have members who live in New Hampshire, Maine and New Jersey. A set of common values guides us in our design and decision making processes.

Our design meetings are facilitated by designer/builder Adam Cohen of Structures Design Build in Roanoke. In June we spent a weekend participating in workshops and generated concepts for the neighborhood and Common House layout and functionality. At that time we also began to grapple with issues of budget and financing.

In August we reconvened, and reviewed drawings based on the group concepts adopted in June. With drawings it was much easier to talk about specific elements. Next, Cohen guided us through information about the most common issues connected to actual unit design.

At our upcoming design meeting in January 2015 we expect everyone will congregate to review site and Common House revised drawings and begin actual unit design. We know that working together to strike a comfortable balance between neighborhood aesthetics and members’ commitment to their core value of affordability will continue to be one of the greatest challenges of the design phase. Thankfully, our agreements are already in place that mandate no customizations in unit design. To his credit, Cohen has carefully walked us through what sorts of things can add to neighborhood aesthetics without raising costs exorbitantly. We all want a community that is both beautiful and cost-effective.

Jubilee welcomes new inquiries, offers tours and a 3 phase membership process complete with orientation materials, a fostering buddy system and lots of encouragement. http://www.cohousing.org/Jubilee%20Cohousing