An innovative seniors’ co-housing project originally looking to build in Smithers has shifted its attention to the Village of Telkwa.
After talking with Town of Smithers officials for months, parcels of land were identified but an agreement could not be made on a suitable piece of land, the force behind the project Mel Coulson said.
According to their own designs, the group needed to purchase 1.2 acres of land for the 3,000 sq. ft., 16-unit, passive solar development but the town could only find 0.82 acres they would sell, and it didn’t offer the southern exposure needed.
“It seems rather ludicrous that a $4 million project would get derailed over an acre of town land and where we could locate on the site, but sadly that’s what happened,” Coulson, a retired civil engineer, said. “[The parcel of land] is perfectly situated. It’s within walking distance of the hospital, Tim Hortons, Safeway, it is south facing and it is a site that is a bit of an eyesore.”
Co-housing is defined as a type of intentional community made up of private residences supplemented by shared facilities that is planned, owned and managed by the residents. It is much more common in European countries like Denmark, but is gaining popularity in North America.
The Smithers development was to be a mixture of shared common areas and private spaces. There would be common kitchen, activity and dining areas, but each separate unit would also be fully equipped and self contained. Part of the design included affordable rental units.
Coulson also envisioned the compound to include shared music and arts spaces for residents.
“You can be as private as you like or you can be as public as you like,” he said.
Another hurdle in the process was the town’s insistence the group work with a realtor, Coulson said, which would have added additional costs to the project.
“[The Town of Smithers] didn’t really embrace it the way I thought they would,” Coulson said.
“It was a very distant, cautious approach.”
Because the meetings where land sales were discussed were in-camera, Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he couldn’t divulge much about his dealings with Coulson and his group, he said.
“I think it’s a great project and it’s disappointing to hear that it’s not going to proceed in Smithers because I think it would have been a huge contribution to our housing mix,” Bachrach said. “It’s disappointing for all parties that the co-housing group was unable to secure a suitable site.”
Last week, Coulson met with Village of Telkwa officials and a location was identified.
“We have identified a possible site up on the bench with great mountain views and southern exposure for the proposed passive solar design,” Coulson said.
The village was very supportive and enthusiastic about the project, he said.
Councillor Rimas Zitkauskas said he has been aware of the project for some time and has spoken with Coulson about it in the past.
“It’s a great project,” said Zitkauskas.
“This is just the first step and there are still a lot of variables to discuss but I think it’s great we’ve started the conversation. We’re very supportive of this initiative. If there are any roadblocks, we’ll see what we can do to eliminate those, to make sure the development is welcome in Telkwa.”
Discussion also took place about the possibility of the development hooking up to the village’s biomass heating system.
Now that the group has their sights set on Telkwa, more than half of the original 14 investors lined up for the seniors’ co-housing project have backed away. Because of this, Coulson said they are considering evolving into a younger, inter-generational model.
Relocating to Telkwa means the co-housing project does not live up to one if its main goals — to be located close to amenities.
Coulson said he thinks the challenge of transportation back and forth to Smithers can be met with a mini-bus and by utilizing the existing bus service available in Telkwa.
As investors, living in a co-housing environment appeals to Coulson and his wife for a number of reasons, he said.
“I think it’s a much better way for people to spend their retirement. The community aspect, I think, is important as you get older. Human beings need social interaction in order to thrive and I think this is a way of providing it.”
By living in this type of housing development, Coulson said he believes seniors are able to live longer independently and their quality of life is greatly improved.
“Social interaction is very important in terms of health in general and this is a way of doing it and people are able to live on their own terms.
“It’s people coming together with the intention of being good neighbours. To help each other, create the atmosphere of a small village. The main idea is to get away from the loneliness aspect of seniors’ living.”