Shepherd Village, the first cohousing community development in West Virginia, is continuing to make progress, and ground will hopefully be broken sometime in 2017.
Located on a 19-acre plot on the east edge of Shepherdstown, Shepherd Village will feature 30-units made up of a mixture of duplexes and triplexes—ranging in size from 847 to 1,361 square feet. In addition, there will be a “Common House,”—open to all Village residents.
The concept for a cohousing community in Shepherdstown was first initiated in January of 2012, according to Leslie Williams, one of the members and eventual residents of Shepherd Village.
Williams said the first members’ desire “ … was for a community-based approach to living.” That direction caught on with others, Shepherd Village was born, and now over 20 of the 30 proposed units are spoken for.
“We all value community and diversity, and we’re striving to diversify Shepherd Village,” she noted—pointing out that there are both single members and couples, LGTBQ members, retirees, volunteers, and activists.
Williams also called Shepherd Village a “value-based” project, and said all decisions involving the endeavor are shaped by the group’s core values: community, environmental sustainability, accessibility, affordability, and integration into the life of Shepherdstown.
A cohousing community, according to Williams, is an “intentional community, in that people intentionally join and buy into cohousing because they want to live more sustainably in friendly neighborhoods, building around mutual respect and sharing.”
She added that cohousing is a modern movement to recapture what neighborhoods used to be. “Real communities, where people knew each other and did things together.”
Approximately 163 cohousing communities have been established in the United States—90 percent of which are fully operational, while the other 10 percent are in the building phase.
Members of Shepherd Village have been involved in every facet of the setup and design of the community. Williams said the designs have endeavored to “encourage easy and spontaneous social contact.”
She calls the organization a “non-hierarchical structure” in which decisions are made by consensus, which builds on a collective feeling of ownership and community.
Another hallmark of cohousing communities, and Shepherd Village in particular, is a sensitivity to the environment. Preparation of meals in the Common House for a number of community members will reduce waste. Williams also points to the fact that the homes will be wired for solar power, energy efficient construction methods will be used, and locally sourced and sustainable building materials will be used. She said electric vehicle plug-in facilities are planned, as well.
The Common House, which was designed by Shepherdstown architect Sara Lambert, will be an integral part of Shepherd Village. Williams calls it a “separate, central gathering place,”—available for daily use by all members.
According to Lambert, the Common House will come in at approximately 4,000 square feet. Her designs, which were based upon requests by Village members, include a music room, meditation room, a screened-in porch, and native gardens to be located around the exterior. There will also be accommodations for guests of members who wish to stay overnight.
The focal point of the Common House will be an open-concept kitchen, living room, and dining room. Lambert indicated the kitchen and living rooms are typically the key entertaining spaces in most homes, and her desire in designing the Common House was to make it feel as much like a home as possible—and avoid any feeling of a dormitory or cafeteria.
A New Road Ahead
The Common House is the first cohousing project Lambert has worked on, and while it was a new experience, she called it a great joy.
“What I’ve loved most about the project is the group of people,” she said, adding, “I hope this [cohousing communities] takes hold in more parts of the country.”
Nan Broadhurst, who plans to move to Shepherd Village with her husband Marty, says she was heartsick at the prospect of leaving Shepherdstown, where they’ve lived for 20 years.
“We realized that the maintenance of our house was becoming too much,” she said—and they planned to downsize and potentially leave the area.
Upon learning of the Shepherd Village project, which she called “a miracle,” the couple was immediately interested. Broadhurst says the involvement with the planning of the community “ … has given us a newfound energy and vision for our lives.”
Lambert believes cohousing developments offer great opportunities for people of a certain age who wish to move to a smaller residence and enjoy a community atmosphere, but not give up a life full of activities.
Cohousing communities like Shepherd Village enable members to enjoy a new chapter “ … in a healthy and vibrant community atmosphere … ” while still living in a private residence, Lambert emphasized.
An additional motivation for established Shepherdstown residents or newcomers to make the move to Shepherd Village is the close proximity to town. Williams noted many cohousing communities are not centrally located in or near a town or city—whereas Shepherd Village will be within walking distance of downtown Shepherdstown.
Williams happily pointed to the overwhelming level of support the project has received from the Shepherdstown Planning Commission and Town Council, as well as area businesses, the Shepherdstown Library, and the Visitors Center. She believes a town with the “culture and vibrancy” of Shepherdstown is a unique and dynamic draw for a cohousing community.H.S. Leigh Koonce