Erica Ball is among a group of Hazelton area residents who are buying into the Three Rivers Cohousing Project

Hazelton, Telkwa residents believe cohousing projects pave the way to a good life

Groups of northern B.C. residents are buying into cohousing projects, where people live in individual houses on a shared piece of land.

On a foggy morning in late October, the first deep frost of the fall season covers Erica Ball’s property in Two Mile.

Her boots crunch over the ice-crusted lawn as she takes her dog Ring for a walk before retreating inside to the warmth of her home.

Sometimes she sees bears or moose walk past her windows, and recently she cut back the brush because too many coyotes had been lurking in the foliage.

Ball has lived on her big corner block for 35 years but, at the age of 67, she knows there’s a chance she might not be able to manage it in the future.

The former school teacher is among a group of Hazelton area residents who are designing their own community so they can continue to live independently as they grow older.

The Three Rivers Cohousing Project will form its own community, where residents live on individual slices of property within a shared piece of land.

The subdivision is arranged in a circle around a communal space for recreation and amenities, such as a shared kitchen or recreation room.

Ball has purchased one of 15 quarter-acre wedges in the circle, which also buys her a share in the 30-acre property where the community will be built.

All of the buyers have a say in the ongoing design, maintenance and management of the shared property but they can do as they please on their own section of land, as long as they adhere to a set of bylaws agreed upon by the group.

The concept is known as “cohousing”, which the Canadian Cohousing Network describes as “neighbourhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living”.

At least 10 choosing communities exist across B.C. and more are being developed, including Birchwood Cohousing in Telkwa.

Ball and the other Hazelton area developers have been working to get the Three Rivers project underway since they were introduced to the concept in 2012.

She said the idea was to form a supportive community where people look after each other in a neighbourly way, and to facilitate older people being able to stay in their own houses.

“As you age you realize that your capabilities diminish and the house that you are presently living in may not be suitable for an older person,” she said.

“Me, personally, this is a fairly big place to look after and I know as I get older my ability to do that will diminish.”

The community will be built at the end of Swannell Drive between New Hazelton and Hazelton, not far from Ball’s property in Two Mile.

That location was chosen for its close proximity to Village of Hazelton amenities and facilities including the hospital, college and ice arena.

Although most of the current cohousing group are aged 50 or older, the development will be open to people of all ages.

Of the 15 lots, 12 have already been sold and some owners, including Peggy and Phil Muir, are planning to build next spring.

They became interested in cohousing after Phil attended a talk by cohousing architect and advocate Charles Durrett.

The couple share Ball’s desire to be part of a community that provides mutual support but allows them to stay independent.

“It’s not some government saying you are going to live here and you are going to eat meals at a certain time of day,” said Peggy.

“That kind of freedom of us deciding what we need and how we are going to do it I think is part of what people like too.”

Everything from the number of pets allowed to the height of fences will be decided collaboratively using what Ball called a “policy of consensus”.

One of the first decisions the group had to make was whether the property would be accessible by car, which they decided it would.

Ball and Muir said they have considered the fact there could be disagreements in the future.

“That was one of the key issues when we took the course was to work through that and give people the opportunity to express any potential current concerns that they might see arising and to deal with those and discuss them,” said Ball.

“What we’ve tried to do as a group through a policy of consensus is to really thoroughly discuss concerns that people have.”

The Muirs have lived at their house, which is owned by United Church Health Services, for 48 years since Phil took a job as a physician at the Wrinch Memorial Hospital in 1967.

Most of the people who have bought into the project will be coming from big blocks or rural properties with no close neighbours.

Muir said it was important the Three Rivers design struck a balance between privacy and community.

“I think we reached a balance where everybody is comfortable that there is enough room that you can wave to your neighbour across the way or if you are sitting on the porch or invite them in for coffee without feeling that we’re on top of each other,” she said.

Clearing has already started at the Three Rivers site and the group is waiting for more permits before it starts construction next spring.

Birchwood Cohousing Society president Mel Coulson said his society was developing 20 lots on a 10-acre block near Telkwa.

Coulson likes the idea of cohousing because it recreated a tight-knit community atmosphere.

“It used to be, in my generation anyway, people lived in a community, they knew their neighbours, they helped each other and it’s a better way of living I think, particularly when you get older,” he said.

He said the vision behind the Birchwood development was similar to that of the Three Rivers project, with more of a focus on sustainability and efficiency.

“It’s living more lightly on the planet so it is reducing your energy footprint to live more sustainably and more as a community, I think that is the appeal,” he said.

The Birchwood project is seeking more buyers so it can secure financing and start construction.

For more information visit birchwoodcohousing.com or to find out about the Three Rivers Cohousing Group contact Erica Ball on 250-842-5752 or Peggy Muir on 250-842-6121.