Date   
Re: Mirador Astronomy Village

David Oesper
 

Excellent idea, Steve! I can't believe I forgot to include the community workshop space. Here's the revised Residential Campus section. Feel free to make/suggest additional changes. I'll periodically upload the latest version of the Mirador specifications document which will include all accumulated changes.

Residential Campus

The residential campus will be located further into the property, a reasonable distance from the visitor campus. This will be a cluster of houses and multi-unit dwellings where the residents of Mirador live. The residential campus should also include a multipurpose community center, a workshop, a coworking center, and an outdoor commons. More than one residential campus could be developed.

The campus approach lends itself well to private residences supplemented by nearby shared facilities and common areas. A key feature of Mirador will be clustered residences rather than the standard rural development approach of widely-separated residences on acreages.

The coworking center will have partitions and cubicles (no open office!), plus at least one meeting room. Another coworking center could be located on the visitor campus.

File updated in Dark-Sky-Communities@groups.io

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Specifications document for Mirador Astronomy Village

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Renting vs. Owning

David Oesper
 

Interesting article in the New York Times today, by Susan B. Garland:

From The New York Times:
You’re Retired. Should You Rent or Buy Your Home?
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/business/retirement-rent-buy-home.html

A few quotes from the article:

Other retirees prefer the benefits of renting: fewer maintenance aggravations and the freedom to try out new towns or neighborhoods.
Ms. Hardisty said some of her friends chose to rent because they could easily pull up stakes if they decided to move closer to their children. If she eventually needs assisted living or another type of care housing, she said, she can simply hand over the apartment keys.
Close to 80 percent of people 65 and older own their own homes. But renting appears to be on the rise among older people, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by RentCafe, an apartment search website. It found that the number of renter households where the primary resident was 60 or older grew 43 percent from 2007 to 2017.
If finances are a factor, retirees should consider the length of time they intend to spend in a new place, experts say. Older buyers may be unable to recoup transaction costs if health or other issues force them to sell early. If you plan to leave within three to five years, buying a house may not be a good investment, and you could lose money. The only way to make money is appreciation in the market, and in some places housing prices might be down when you want to sell. You can get a better return elsewhere.
Another financial issue is an older person’s need for cash flow. A retiree who sells a house, buys a cheaper one and invests the balance of the equity can create a new income stream. In many circumstances, renting could free up even more equity, which is especially valuable for someone with little in retirement savings. Retirees should look at renting as an investment into a lifestyle.

One concern brought up by one of the commenters (and mentioned by others) is worth noting:

Rent control: Protecting folks from unexpected increases in living expenses is reasonable for most older Americans. Entering the world of rental living brings a fixed monthly expense, shields the renter from most maintenance costs and often lowers insurance costs. However, the predictability ends with the lease. Some, but not all, regions can experience significant rental cost fluctuations over the time scale considered (the average 65 year old can expect to live at least 20 years). Relatively few older Americans live in an area with good rent control protections.

Residents of Mirador Astronomy Village must have a large amount of say about whether rental costs go up, and how much, over time. Are there additional protections that can be provided?

Cited in the article...

Housing America’s Older Adults, 2018
Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University
https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Harvard_JCHS_Housing_Americas_Older_Adults_2018_1.pdf

And I received this email from Charles Durrett, Durrett Architects and The Cohousing Company, last week:

A Few Words About Viruses and Cohousing

People who live in cohousing may very well do better during a pandemic than those who don't. They will have community resources, not just individual homes.
While there are no known cases of cohousers coming down with the virus, you can look to your neighbors to help set you up for success. For example, shopping - leaving medicine and food at your door, or perhaps by hosting guests who can talk to you through a window, but stay in the common house. Quarantining at home is very doable under these circumstances, especially when people become even slightly symptomatic, meaning they develop the sniffles, a cold, or even the regular flu. Supplies, support, hosting and much more make cohousing a great solution in difficult times. But the relationships to accomplish all of that are created day to day when times are good.
Across the board, it is an excellent time to stay safe, use an abundance of caution and be alert. We extend good wishes for a quick resolution and rapid vaccine development.

More about cohousing and Mirador in a series of postings to begin later this week!

Be safe,

David Oesper

Winslow Cohousing - An Example

David Oesper
 

Winslow Cohousing is an intentional cooperative community located on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Though the warm-summer mediterranean climate of an island in western Washington is quite different than the semi-arid or arid climate of the desert southwest, this community serves as a useful model as we endeavor to design Mirador Astronomy Village. There will obviously be some differences.

Winslow Cohousing has a well-designed and informative website:

http://winslowcohousing.org/

Please note that the ownership structure is not the true proprietary community we are envisioning for Mirador, but a form of owner-occupied housing.

What is the form of ownership of these homes?
We are organized as a Cooperative Corporation. Members own shares in the corporation and have a proprietary lease for a specific home. Besides a home, you also have a share in ownership of the Common House, the grounds, and other common facilities. The IRS recognizes the ownership of shares in a housing cooperative as being equivalent to ownership of a private home for the purposes of tax deductions on mortgage interest.

What is a Cohousing Community?

David Oesper
 

In this posting, I’d like to focus on what a cohousing community is, structurally, and how that model might be beneficial to the development of Mirador Astronomy Village.

A cohousing community consists of multiple housing units oriented around a common open area and a central building known as the common house. A walkway usually connects the individual homes. Often, the houses have front porches at least 7 ft. deep and 9 ft. wide, so people will actually use the space.

The kitchen and especially the kitchen sink is oriented towards the commons. This allows residents cooking or washing dishes to see people coming and going.

The more private areas of the house such as the living room, bedrooms, and bathrooms face the rear, or private side, of the house.

Most cohousing communities have attached dwellings clustered around pedestrian streets or courtyards, although a few communities consist of detached single-family houses. Some communities mix attached dwellings with detached single-family structures.

Charles Durrett lists six common themes in cohousing communities. Here I will list each of them verbatim from his book, followed by comments pertaining to Mirador Astronomy Village.

Six Components of Cohousing

1. Participatory Process: Residents help organize and participate in the planning and design process for the housing development, and they are responsible as a group for final decisions.

Absolutely! Everyone who plans to live in Mirador Astronomy Village will participate in the community design process.

2. Deliberate Neighborhood Design: The physical design encourages a strong sense of community.

Yes, Mirador will be a planned community, structured in a way that encourages, rather than discourages, interaction between its residents.

3. Extensive Common Facilities: Common areas are an integral part of the community, designed for daily use and to supplement private living areas.

Mirador will have a common house, plenty of open space, trails for walking and biking, and a community observatory. Residents will have access to a variety of equipment they won’t need to personally own or house.

4. Complete Resident Management: Residents manage the development, making decisions of common concern at community meetings.

Mirador will be a self-managed community. All residents who live there will have a say in how the community operates.

5. Non-Hierarchical Structure: There are not really leadership roles.  The responsibilities for the decisions are shared by the community’s adults.

There is no one Mirador community member who is “the leader”. Everyone shares an equal role in planning and operating the community. Mirador will be governed by following co-active leadership principles.

6. Separate Income Sources: Residents have their own primary incomes; the community does not generate income.

Though residents will each have their own incomes as in any traditional residential community, the community itself will generate income and residents will have the opportunity to participate in those income-producing activities. Income produced by the community will be invested back into the community. Not only will these income-producing activities lower the cost of living at Mirador for all residents, but each resident will have the opportunity to work a certain number of hours each week in exchange for a reduction in monthly rent. The income-producing aspect of Mirador is what sets it apart from traditional cohousing communities.


In the U.S., cohousing residences average about 60% the size of a typical new house, and a cohousing community requires 30% as much land (or less) of a typical new subdivision with the same number of houses.

Private houses in cohousing can be smaller than typical houses, because the following can be excluded:

  • workshop - located in the common house
  • garage - located in the community parking structure
  • equipment in the garage - located in the common house
  • guest rooms - located in the common house, or in the case of Mirador, the visitor campus
  • laundry - located in the common house; even though some residents will prefer to have their own washer and dryer, they might be able to get by with smaller units because for larger items or loads, the facilities in the common house could be used
  • any larger-scale entertainment can take place in the common house

Think of the common house as an extension of each private residence. The common house usually contains a large kitchen and dining room, a sitting room, a laundry room, and activity rooms depending on the group’s desires and interests.

The location of the common house is important. Optimally, residents can see the common house from most, if not all, of the houses. If it can be seen from the residences, and if you pass by it walking from the parking structure to your residence, it will get used more often.

The motor vehicle parking structure is usually placed at the edge of the site, allowing the rest of the development to be pedestrian-oriented. Even senior cohousing communities usually have perimeter parking rather than each residence having a garage, and the residents love it.

In addition to stand-alone houses, duplexes, and apartments, some cohousing communities have businesses, including lodging, restaurants, shops, and offices. These are known as mixed-use communities, and Mirador will certainly be following this approach.

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

Size of a Cohousing Community

David Oesper
 

A cohousing community typically consists of 15 to 30 households.

A successful cohousing community can have as few as 9 households, though living in a smaller community can be more demanding on each individual as there are fewer people to depend upon for any need that arises.

Since Mirador will also be operating an astronomy education and astro-tourism business, a larger than average community will probably be needed to support those activities.

How large is too large? When making decisions for the community, it is difficult to reach consensus if there are more than 50 adults. If all those adults are retirees, then probably 35 is the maximum. ;O)

A cohousing community needs to be large enough that it will allow residents to retain their autonomy and be able to freely choose when to participate in community activities, and when not to participate. Most people living in a cohousing community are seeking a supportive environment, not a new family type. Having the freedom not to participate can help to create a living environment that accommodates people’s changing needs over the years.

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

Advantages of a Cohousing Community

David Oesper
 

Advantages of a Cohousing Community

  • Having a common house usually means that community members can live in a smaller, less expensive, home.
  • A variety of housing types can be offered: detached single-family homes, duplexes, apartments, etc. Multi-unit dwellings have shared walls and cost less to cool and heat than a single-family home that’s exposed to the outside air on all sides.
  • Homes are clustered around a common area, leaving most of the land undeveloped.
  • Many resources are shared so community members will not need to individually own and maintain everything they need or use; this is especially useful for items that are only occasionally needed.
  • All residents share in the decisions about maintenance, upgrades, and community activities. A consensus approach is usually used, where people keep talking with each other and refining their views until they reach a decision that everyone can agree on. Though this approach usually takes longer than hierarchical or majority-rules decision making, it leads to better decisions and does not alienate anyone.
  • Alone when you want to be, but never lonely
  • Allows one to work at home without feeling isolated
References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

Senior or Intergenerational Cohousing?

David Oesper
 

Should Mirador Astronomy Village be designed as an astronomy community for retirees, or should it be intergenerational?

Intergenerational cohousing communities usually have a strong emphasis on children and their activities. Since Mirador will be promoting astrotourism and educational programs for all ages, it could be primarily a community for active retirees and yet provide plenty of opportunity to interact with younger people.

In a senior cohousing community, the common house often has large guest rooms to accommodate an extended visit from family or for professional caregivers if residents need help. At Mirador, these guest rooms will be located on the visitor campus.

If some residents need regular medical care, the community can hire one caregiver that can tend to the needs of several residents. This would make it easier for seniors to continue living on their own as they age rather than having to move into an expensive assisted-living community.

Regular cohousing communities typically focus their energies in places where seniors have already been: building careers, raising families, and the like. While some seniors find the youthful vigor of a regular cohousing community to be refreshing, other seniors would rather see the community designed around their unique needs and aspirations for company, for quiet, adequate health care, and the like.

If Mirador is going to be primarily an astronomy-oriented community for retirees, then the conflicting requirements of an ultra-dark night sky and easy access to excellent health care may be the most important consideration in choosing a site.

Thoughts?

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

Steps to Forming a Cohousing Community

David Oesper
 

  1. Write a Vision Statement. Clearly outline what you want your community to achieve. Give a copy of this statement to every future member. [See https://www.skythisweek.info/mirador.htm for information about Mirador Astronomy Village, including the vision statement.]

  2. Develop a Decision-Making Process. Before you can start to build your community, you need to make some basic decisions about how to run it. Decide what the requirements are for new members, who gets to make decisions, how to run your meetings, how to resolve conflicts, and how to keep records. Set down all these decisions in a second basic document that you can present to new members when they join.

  3. Set Up Your Finances. Start making some some basic financial decisions, such as how to pay for your expenses, who should be in charge of financial records, and whether to charge a membership fee. Set up a limited liability company (LLC), a cross between a partnership agreement and a corporation, to keep the community’s assets separate from your own and add legitimacy in the eyes of banks and other financial institutions.

  4. Make Bylaws. You should now be ready to create formal bylaws for your new company. If your state requires it, file these bylaws when you set up your LLC. You will probably have to change these bylaws over time as your community evolves, but having them written out gives you a record you can refer to when you need to settle a dispute.

  5. Get a Bank Account. Once you form an LLC, you will be able to get a tax ID number for your cohousing community. Use this to set up a corporate bank account, and use it for all your community expenses. Be sure to put someone responsible in charge of tracking these expenses for tax purposes.

  6. Collect Fees. Charge all members a small sum to join your community, say, $100 to start with, and $20 a month after that. This will give you some starting cash for mailing, legal paperwork, advertising, and so on. It will also help you weed out people who aren’t really serious about joining.

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

Cooperative Ownership of a Cohousing Community

David Oesper
 

"Most cohousing groups, at some point in their discussions, bring up the possibility of organizing their community as a cooperative. In this ownership structure, the entire community is owned by all of the residents as a nonprofit corporation, and each household buys a share in the corporation equivalent to the price of their home."

Since all residents of Mirador will be renting, would their “share” in the nonprofit corporation be a rental deposit, or some other arbitrary amount that is comparable to a rental deposit?
Some residents of Mirador will not live there year-round. Would these part-time residents be excluded from membership in the nonprofit corporation (i.e. the operating authority)?

"Philosophically, a cooperative seems to be an ideal structure for a cohousing community. As one resident put it, 'In a sense, I own everybody’s unit. I’m responsible for everyone’s unit working. It has a different feeling.'"

"Although cooperatives are a proven form of home ownership, American banks are generally wary of financing them. Even the National Cooperative Bank (NCB), which was created to support cooperatives, will not provide complete construction financing and offers only a limited range of loans. As a result, most cohousing projects have been set up as condominiums, a structure that banks and city officials already understand. Structuring the project as a condominium development doesn’t seem to have any effect -- negative or positive -- on the success or failure of community building."

So a challenge we will have with operating Mirador as a cooperative is to secure financing for its construction. Since the cooperative will be depending on rental income (and tourism) for cash flow, it will take longer to pay back the construction loan at presumably a higher interest rate than if the houses were sold outright to the residents. Is there another type of corporation that could operate Mirador that would have the financial resources to secure the construction loan but also allow residents to have a great deal of say in how Mirador is operated?
Another approach would be to find one or more benefactors who could provide the construction loan, or who could secure a loan from a traditional lending institution. Mirador would then be owned by the benefactor(s) until the cooperative has paid off the construction loan.
Thoughts?

Reference

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Developing a Cohousing Community

David Oesper
 

The difference between cohousing and a typical development is that cohousing communities either develop the project themselves or co-develop it with an industry professional.

Often, a core group of 6 to 12 individuals or couples is responsible for the development of the community. They find the site, hire the architect, and seek other interested people who would like to live in the community. Typically, all of the houses are sold or rented before construction is completed.

milky_way All housing units at Mirador will be rented. milky_way

Cohousing developments utilize a variety of financing mechanisms and ownership structures.

milky_way The one for Mirador should probably be “rentals owned by a non-profit organization.” milky_way

In addition to seeking a sense of community, some groups emphasize ecological concerns, such as solar and wind energy, recycling, and organic community gardens.

milky_way Mirador will certainly address a number of ecological concerns, especially preserving a pristine view of the night sky, and a natural nighttime environment. The community will generate most of its energy through the solar panels and wind generator on the energy campus. Recycling, xeriscaping, and other other environmentally sustainable activities will be important features of Mirador Astronomy Village. milky_way

The core group will sometimes collaborate with a developer, but even then, the residents play a key role.

milky_way The complexity and uniqueness of Mirador Astronomy Village will probably require working with a private developer. But not any developer will do. They must have demonstrated experience with development in a non-urban desert environment and sustainable building practices. milky_way

Requiring members to sign an agreement, even in the initial stages, clarifies who is able or willing to commit to the project, thus sorting out those who are serious from those who are still curious observers. Becoming a legal entity also inspires confidence among members and consultants alike.

When the group is ready to purchase property and/or hire consultants (architect, lawyer, etc.) for extended services, a more extensive legal agreement is necessary. At this point, the group typically incorporates as a building association, which functions through the construction phases. It is at this stage that members are generally required to invest a minimum amount toward the down payment on their house.

If lending institutions question the feasibility of the project, residents risk their own assets to convince the bank to give them the construction loan.

Prospective members usually pool their equity and form a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. The LLC assumes the role of developer, negotiates with the lender, buys the land, and hires the architect. When the project is completed, each individual resident then “buys” their house from the LLC, and assumes responsibility for their own mortgage.

milky_way A significant challenge for Mirador will be that we are not asking future residents to risk their own assets. They will be asked to provide a rental deposit equal to one or two month’s rent, but no other financial commitment will be required until move-in date when each resident begins paying monthly rent. So, who will accept the financial risk and have the financial standing to secure the construction loan? milky_way

milky_way How is new rental housing financed in comparison to homes that are sold, one by one? milky_way

Bylaws are needed for the building association or development partnership, and are drawn up with the assistance of an attorney, and generally include provisions for

  • The group’s general intentions
  • Membership requirements
  • Decision-making procedures
  • Financial liability (individual and joint)
  • Who can legally represent the association/partnership
  • Members leaving the group
  • Settling financial accounts when someone withdraws
  • Amendment procedures

milky_way If the building association or development partnership joint ventures with a developer, the development agreement will reflect the nature of that relationship. Once construction is completed and the construction loan is transferred to the Mirador operating authority, a permanent residents’ association and its bylaws replaces all previous legal arrangements. milky_way

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

An Astronomy Retirement Community

David Oesper
 

An Astronomy Retirement Community

Living under a dark night sky rich with stars in community with others who will value and protect the nighttime environment is an idea whose time has come.

Despite our best efforts, light pollution is getting worse almost everywhere. Replacing bad lighting with good is not a problem of technology or even economics, but one of people and priorities. For the foreseeable future, most cities and towns will continue to be plagued by urban skyglow, overlighting, glare, and light trespass because there aren’t enough of us who value the night sky and a natural nighttime environment to bring about meaningful change.

I would like to work with other astronomy enthusiasts to develop a new type of astronomy-friendly community. The first of many, I hope. Though ideally the community would have residents of all ages, retirees have the greatest flexibility in where they can live. The location should probably be in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas, where there are plenty of clear nights and winters are mild.

The astronomy community I envision would be operated by a benefit corporation or cooperative, and all residents of the community would rent their houses or apartments, and, optionally, observatories. There would be lodging for visitors and guests, an RV park (with separate entrance), and public astronomy programs provided by interested community members. Pro-am collaborative research would be conducted as well.

Renting provides advantages for both residents and the management company. It will be easier for residents to move into or out of the community as circumstances change, and there would be no big cash outlay to purchase land, or build or buy a house. The management company would maintain the integrity of the community, ensuring that astronomy activities are never adversely impacted by intrusive lighting and that the community remains an attractive place to live, work, and visit.

Developers are becoming increasingly interested in build-to-rent (B2R) neighborhoods where a group of single-family homes are built all at the same time for rental. Development cost is significantly reduced through volume discounts on building materials and efficient scheduling of contractors and subcontractors. Making use of innovative modular home technology will further reduce the cost.

Though the developer of the astronomy community will need to turn a profit, the management company should reinvest all proceeds back into the community, except for the amount required for debt retirement. To facilitate this reinvestment, the management company should be on-site and certainly include individuals who live within the community.

Rent, visitors, educational programs, and astrotourism will provide income for the community. Residents will have work opportunities, either for pay or a reduction in monthly rent. Some residents will want to work or otherwise engage in community activities. Other residents will want to enjoy the night sky but generally keep to themselves. Both types of people can be accommodated in the astronomy community. The community also needs to be attractive to non-astronomer family members as well.

If this idea appeals to you, please contact me at DaveDarkSky@... and/or join the moderated discussion group at https://groups.io/g/Dark-Sky-Communities.

DAVID OESPER has been an IDA member since its founding in 1988 and is currently active in IOTA observing stellar occultations by asteroids and TNOs.

Senior Cohousing Handbook: Chapter 3 Notes and Mirador Musings

David Oesper
 

As soon as a potential site for Mirador Astronomy Village is identified, start working with local government officials before the land is purchased.

Usually, there are 15 to 25 living units in an "elder rich" (i.e. mostly retirees) cohousing community. Recommended 30 living units max. By "living units" we are referring to single-family homes.

For Mirador, this seems like a good size to aim for, at least initially. There might be room for additional cohousing "nodes" in the future, depending on the size of the property and the level of interest in living there.

Clustering the homes creates a village environment and preserves open space.

At least six interested households should be “on board” before beginning the design process. Avoid dipping below that number.

Probably most full-time residents of Mirador will want to live in a single-family home, but there are two other housing dimensions I'd like us to consider.

First, there are going to be some folks who will want to live at Mirador for only a portion of the year. The RV park will accommodate some of these, but others will want to live in the cohousing community part-time. Should we reserve the single-family homes for those who rent year-round (whether or not they live there all year long)? For those who want to rent their unit month-by-month (and I would recommend a one-month minimum), how should they be accommodated in the cohousing community? Should we have one multi-family building as part of the cohousing community for part-time renters? If so, what should that building look like?

Second, there will be some folks who will simply not be able to afford to rent a home at Mirador, but would still like to live there year-round. Should those folks have a unit in the same multi-family building that the part-timers are in? Should there be a second building? If so, what should that building look like?

Thinking a little more about the single-family homes now…

What should be the mix of the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in each home? Worst case scenario I can think of for a retired couple is two bedrooms (because one or both partners snore and/or keep very different sleep schedules), two bathrooms (his and hers), an office/study, and a “hobby” room such as a music room. So, I’m thinking at least some units should have four bedrooms and two bathrooms. But how many?

Each home could have a porch. A porch creates a soft edge between the public and the private space.

Developers of speculative residential housing usually work on a risk-for-profit basis; generally, 10% to 25% of the total selling price is targeted for developer and investor profit.

Can a case be made to have a nonprofit housing developer build the housing at Mirador?

In the case of nonprofit developers, the developer will be the actual owner of the completed project.

After move-in, the nonprofit developer role changes to that of a regular administrator.

The maintenance work is ideally shared between the cohousing group and the nonprofit administration, where the nonprofit entity takes responsibility for bigger projects and the community members are responsible for basic day-to-day maintenance.

Memorable Quotes

“Creating a vibrant community requires that individuals work to find the highest common denominator.”

“A well-designed community encourages otherwise incidental and insignificant interactions to become meaningful events that foster deep, life-long relationships.”

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapter 3

Milagro Cohousing (Tucson)

David Oesper
 
Edited

One example of a cohousing community in a desert environment (though not really rural) is Milagro Cohousing, 12 minutes west of downtown Tucson adjacent to the Tucson Mountain foothills. They have a nicely designed website.

https://milagrocohousing.org/

Milagro has 28 homes, 43 acres, and is a multigenerational eco-community.

Homes range from 1,501 - 2,709 sq. ft. Most are 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but some have 4 bedrooms. All homes have 2 or 3 levels.

The vast majority of homes are owned, but rentals are sometimes available. Prices range from $300K to $400K. Rentals are from $1,800 to $2,500 per month, with studio apartments at $500 per month. HOA dues are $350 per month for homeowners.

I could not afford to live there now, let alone in retirement. We need a different approach—and a more rural location.

Be sure to click through the link to the Time magazine article. There is a four-minute video well worth watching on intentional communities. Though it is primarily geared towards younger adults, it definitely has relevance to older folks, too.

The Time article is worth reading as well. In it you will find that Milagro had a long discussion over whether there should be path lights in their community. At the end of it all, they decided to add them.

Though Milagro is not a dark-sky community, it still offers relevance to our discussions here.

Dave

Potential Mirador Site, 173.1 acres

David Oesper
 

One potential site for Mirador Astronomy Village has been identified. It is located 30 miles south of Marfa, Texas, with paved roads in good condition (US 67, then FM 169) all the way to the property. Asking price is $589,000 for 173.1 acres, and that includes a 3 BR, 2 BA house plus some other buildings. Elevation is ~3,800 ft.

https://www.landsofamerica.com/property/173.1-acres-in-Presidio-County-Texas/7322963/

I know the area well, having lived in Alpine, TX from 2010-2013. There are no significant sources of light pollution in the area. Straight line distance from the property to Presidio, TX (population 4,400) is 30 miles at 225˚ (SW), and 32 miles to Ojinaga, Mexico (population 28,000) at 229˚ (SW).

Re: Potential Mirador Site, 173.1 acres

RICHARD ROSCOE
 

David,

Congratulations.  Very exciting.

Rick Roscoe

On Monday, April 27, 2020, 03:57:56 PM CDT, David Oesper via groups.io <oesper@...> wrote:


One potential site for Mirador Astronomy Village has been identified. It is located 30 miles south of Marfa, Texas, with paved roads in good condition (US 67, then FM 169) all the way to the property. Asking price is $589,000 for 173.1 acres, and that includes a 3 BR, 2 BA house plus some other buildings. Elevation is ~3,800 ft.

https://www.landsofamerica.com/property/173.1-acres-in-Presidio-County-Texas/7322963/

I know the area well, having lived in Alpine, TX from 2010-2013. There are no significant sources of light pollution in the area. Straight line distance from the property to Presidio, TX (population 4,400) is 30 miles at 225˚ (SW), and 32 miles to Ojinaga, Mexico (population 28,000) at 229˚ (SW).

Re: Potential Mirador Site, 173.1 acres

David Oesper
 

Thanks, Rick. I have Bennett Jones in Alpine, TX to thank for finding this property. He's on this group and has been providing valuable input to the Mirador Astronomy Village project. Interest rates are low right now, so perhaps someone interested in establishing an astronomy community will see it as an opportune time to buy. I personally don't have any money to invest nor can I take on any additional debt, but I am working 10+ hours per week on the Mirador project indefinitely at no pay, and that could increase to 40+ hours per week if I take early retirement.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage everyone on this group to feel free to post anything relevant to astronomy-friendly communities. My focus is Mirador, of course, but it should not be the only focus of this group.

Thanks much,

Dave

Senior Cohousing Handbook: Chapter 4 Notes and Mirador Musings

David Oesper
 

This chapter was about the Munksøgård community outside of the university town of Roskilde, Denmark. The big takeaway from this chapter for me was that this semi-rural community was developed as five separate but adjacent cohousing communities representing a broad range of ages, backgrounds, incomes, etc. A senior cohousing community of 20 houses shares the site and some common facilities with four adjacent mixed-generation cohousing communities.

So, Mirador Astronomy Village could be developed as multiple "communities" within the site. Of course, the RV community will be one. The visitor "community" will be another. On the residential campus, we could have more than one cluster of homes and/or multi-unit buildings. One of these could be a senior cohousing community.

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapter 4

Webinar Notes: How to Start an Intentional Community

David Oesper
 
Edited

Yana Ludwig, an intentional communities expert who lives in Wyoming, presented an excellent webinar, “How to Start an Intentional Community”, on May 8. I registered and attended this webinar and would like to share with you some of the highlights. More will come later when I have access to her presentation materials.

Developing an intentional community is usually a 2 to 7 year process.

Tour other communities, talk to other founders!

Have you gathered other co-founders who balance out your weak points? None of us has all the skills needed to successfully start an intentional community.

Is the residential element key to your vision?

Give your project the green light if there isn’t something close to your vision already, and you believe the world needs it.

Gather a core group of 3 to 8 individuals encompassing a range of skills.

Have a business plan before you start your property search.

Make sure you have more than enough solid commitments that are real, because you will lose some when you are ready to make a property purchase. This can happen for a number of reasons including purchasing a property in a location that won’t appeal to everyone who initially showed interest.

The Sustainable Economies Law Center is very familiar with intentional communities and is an excellent resource to help you with the legal aspects of developing your community.

https://www.theselc.org/

If you find someone who currently owns suitable property for your community and they generously offer it to you for the project, they must legally transfer that property to your community. Otherwise, they could “pull the rug out from under you” at any time. It has happened.

Clarify what your decision-making process is. Operating your community by consensus is most common. If decision-making isn’t done by voting, then seek training for all involved as most won’t be familiar with other forms of decision-making.

What is the process of joining and leaving your community, including involuntary leaving? As unpleasant as it is, there are times when a community needs to ask someone to leave for various reasons. Figure out the process before you encounter the situation and make sure everyone understands that process.

Seven things intentional communities always argue about:

  • Money

  • Work

  • Cleaning

  • Food

  • Noise

  • Kids

  • Pets

Avoid words like sustainable, affordable, community, respect, diversity, and safety in your vision statement. People interpret these words very differently. Be more specific.

milky_way With this in mind, would anyone like to modify and expand our vision statement for Mirador Astronomy Village? milky_way

milky_way Vision Statement milky_way

milky_way Mirador Astronomy Village will provide a community-oriented living and working environment for people of all ages with a casual, active, or professional interest in astronomy and the other natural sciences. Its wider mission will be to provide high quality educational programs in astronomy, the other natural sciences, sustainability, and cooperative living. milky_way

Yana shared three slides called “Spectrums for Community Visioning” that I will share with you as soon as they are made available to me. They include several continua including spiritual/non-spiritual, inwardly focused/outwardly focused, dispersed power/centralized power, and several more.

milky_way We’ll ask and discuss “where should Mirador Astronomy Village be along each of the continua?” milky_way

Whether your community is 100% renters or mostly owners or somewhere in between, renters need to be full members of the community and have a say in how it operates.

A “seniors only” intentional community instead of multigenerational is a big drawback. Intergenerational transfer can’t be done without younger people. Ask yourself, “What happens to us in 15 years?”

milky_way I would like to emphasize that Mirador Astronomy Village, while “senior friendly”, should also try to attract and retain younger residents. milky_way

One of the questions that came up after Yana finished her presentation is “Are some places better than others for starting an intentional community?” Yana specifically mentioned that California is not a good place to site an intentional community (land is expensive + high cost of living + many regulations), but that New Mexico is very good (land is inexpensive, minimal building codes, etc.).

Webinar Notes: Connecting Land and Community

David Oesper
 

Cassandra Ferrera, a real estate agent and communitarian, gave a webinar on 5/13 entitled, “Connecting Land and Community”. Though short on specifics and prone to digression, her presentation provided some valuable information.

Keep in mind when forming an intentional community that though ideology is very good for motivating you personally, do not impose your ideology on others who would be a part of your community. Each one of us must admit that there is a lot we don’t know, and that we don’t always know what we don’t know. None of us has all the answers.

A core group of 3 to 6 people is the ideal group size to acquire land. There are exceptions, of course.

A limited liability company (LLC) is the best and most flexible legal structure for purchasing land. Unlike a non-profit, which generally needs to incorporate in the state where land will be purchased, an LLC can incorporate and then purchase land anywhere. An LLC also allows unequal investment/shares while retaining equal voting (one person, one vote).

One method for acquiring land for an intentional community is to have a title-holding LLC that purchases and owns the land, and another stewardship LLC that gradually purchases the land from the title-holding LLC in a lease-to-own situation. Once the stewardship LLC fully owns the land and the original title-holding LLC is disbanded, the land should be transferred to a better long-term legal entity, such as a community land trust.

Turning now to the intentional community itself, an LLC is a good legal structure for future residents and supporters to join as a membership-based organization. Though it wasn’t clear from her presentation, it seems to me that the title-holding LLC and the stewardship LLC could spin off from the membership LLC.

The membership LLC would have different levels of membership to support basic operating expenses and move the project forward. There is always going to be a wealth disparity for anyone interested in living in or supporting your community, so basic membership dues must be kept affordable for all. Equal buy-ins never works.

The question came up about which states are best for starting an intentional community, and Cassandra reiterated what we have heard before: New Mexico is a good location as land is relatively inexpensive and there are fewer restrictions.

Cassandra next mentioned that someone might be willing to donate land to a community land trust where your community can be developed.

Another good model for an intentional community is that of the limited equity housing cooperative.

As in the previous webinar, the Sustainable Economies Law Center was mentioned as an excellent resource:

https://www.theselc.org/

Thinking now about Mirador Astronomy Village, we should learn a great deal more about the following:

  • community development corporation (CDC)
  • community land trust (CLT)
  • limited equity housing cooperative (LEHC or LEC)
  • limited liability company (LLC)