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Park City Ventures Towards First Utopian 'Cohousing' Unit

A new development espousing the progressive values of a Denmark-born phenomenon known as cohousing may be making its way to Park City if Greenpark Cohousing gets its plans for 10 residential units and communal living spaces on Main Street approved by the city, which has already guaranteed its loan. Greenpark is a consortium of full-time Park City residents, including the project's developer, that aim to solve neighborhood conundrums that are both exclusive to ski towns and broadly systemic in American neighborhoods. Greenpark is trying to assuage the general lack of connection between neighbors in cul-de-sac suburbia and the lack of affordable, permanent housing available in the downtown core of ski destinations that are increasingly dominated by timeshare projects and second-home owners, many of which Greenpark's own Executive Director and developer, Jeff Werbelow, has built.

Greenpark aims to shift the paradigm by renovating two historic homes with Main Street frontage and combining them with eight townhouse-style homes whose entrances and first-floor kitchens will face an interior courtyard, encouraging casual conversation and connections, while pushing parking garages to the exterior edges of the property. A communal cooking space is hosted at the end of the courtyard, and the ten residents will be expected to cook as a unit several times a week. An additional space will potentially serve as a yoga studio or other functional space.

The biggest conceptual shift is that instead of a traditional development model, where a property is built to suit a single buyer's needs or is built with the wants of a speculative group in mind, the design of a cohousing project involves all the future residents, achieved through what the developer has called "lifestyle interviews." When asked about the potential for normal neighborhood beef to separate residents who've agreed to live harmoniously together, the developer is optimistic that the self-selecting nature of the group, which has more or less maintained the same ten residents with similar values since the project was proposed two years ago, should keep potential conflicts to a minimum. Nonetheless, all design decisions have had to be made by consensus, so it's taken awhile.

Werbelow believes that while catering to the vacation crowd is part of the lifeblood of ski towns, "the scale is too far to one side," with limited opportunities for those who want to work, live, and own in the town core. The potential for the concept to spread is based almost entirely on local opportunities and issues, although the group has aimed their design towards one that would qualify for general low-income housing benefits. Greenpark is having to seek three separate approvals for the planning board, including meeting the strict standards of quaintness set for the Old Town of Park City for the two renovations fronting Main Street. The group's biggest obstacle, as it would seem for others attempting similar projects, has been finding the right piece of property.

· Paperwork filed for unorthodox-old town development [Park Record]