About 100 people ceremonially broke ground last weekend for what will be, for some of them, home by next Thanksgiving.
The Durham Central Park Cohousing Community – DCPCC – is building a five-story, 24-unit condominium complex at 130 Hunt St., a block and a half east of the Durham Farmers Market. The design is eco-friendly, energy-efficient and neighborly, with ground-floor common areas visually open to the street and corrugated metal, concrete and masonry facades meant to blend into the area’s industrial character.
“Five stories of a beautiful building right in this space,” said Pamela George, one of the 39 community members.
That space had been occupied in part by an abandoned auto garage, and the ground had already been thoroughly broken – leaving a gaping hole where contaminated soil had been dug out. In times past, George said, the site was in the heart of Durham’s “Tobacco Row” auction district; before that, it was the Atlas Rigsbee farm with a lake that locals favored for baptisms.
DCPCC was organized to be within walking distance of the Durham Performing Arts Center, the YMCA and restaurants. It’s unusual in that most cohousing developments take root in rural or suburban settings, such as Durham’s first two projects: Solterra off Randolph Road and Eno Commons off Umstead Road.
Cohousing developments, also called “intentional communities,” are formed by self-selected individuals or households who own their own homes but share amenities such as a common kitchen, workshops, art studios and lounge areas. Founding members plan their neighborhood before construction starts.
“You are graduates of the longest and most expensive personal growth program that ever existed: cohousing development,” Sherri Zann Rosenthal, an organizer of the Eno Commons cohousing subdivision in northern Durham, told the DCPCC owners.
“It grows a corps of people who ... know how to build consensus – the pragmatic expression of building community,” Rosenthal said.
The idea originated in Denmark and caught on in the United States with the 1988 publication of “Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves.” The Cohousing Association of the United States ( bit.ly/xZwhO) lists more than 200 communities nationwide, including 11 in North Carolina. Besides the three in Durham, there is one each in Rougemont, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Pittsboro on the association’s list.
Central Park’s home-to-be is a $6.6 million structure with one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 850 to 1,800 square feet. By last weekend’s groundbreaking, all but one had been sold.
Member Doug Henderson-James described a vision of the owners’ next Thanksgiving – buying groceries at the farmers market, feasting together, sharing leftovers and retiring to an upper floor to watch the sunset.
He also mentioned difficulties along the way.
“This section of Hunt Street has the original water main and sewer main from 1891,” he said. “It causes a certain amount of problem for those of us who want to put a five-story building here.”
That kind of thing is to be expected, Rosenthal observed.
“Turning any 2-D plan into 3-D reality has a few moments when somebody says, ‘Oops,’ ” she said.