Where We Live
Condos Where Joiners Get Their Wish
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Just a few years ago, the abandoned office building on Eastern Avenue in Silver Spring was a bleak eyesore occupied occasionally by homeless people. Debris and weeds filled its parking lot.
Rescued from decades of neglect, the building was reincarnated as a 56-unit condominium in late 2004. The parking lot was reborn as a courtyard filled with sculpture, native plants and flowering trees.
And unlike the case at other new condos sprouting in Silver Spring, the neighbors at Eastern Village Cohousing know each other by name, sharing potlucks in the building's large common area weekly, climbing up to the roof for movies in the summer and celebrating birthdays, marriages and births throughout the community.
The concept of cohousing, imported from Denmark to the United States in the 1980s, balances private homeownership with community living. Residents share decision making on such things as keeping the building's common areas clean and how to the design the roof (part of which has plants growing on it to absorb heat and rainwater, a small playground and a deck area; so far there's been no consensus on whether to install a hot tub).
They join committees overseeing such areas as landscaping and cooking, participate in twice-monthly meetings of the whole community and can take part in a variety of community groups, such as the Knit Wits knitting group and the Orange Hat Patrol, a neighborhood watch group.
A TLC Team helps out when residents are sick or need extra assistance. Resident Stephan Sylvan, 43, recalled, "One couple had a baby and said they loved all the help, 'but please no more casseroles. Our freezer is full.' "
"To walk out of your door and down the hall and run into people who care about you and the community is very satisfying," said Joan King, 63. "It's living near people you care about because you know them rather than some anonymous neighbor."
Naomi Friedman, who is in her 40s, said that while she enjoys the close-knit community, constant camaraderie isn't a requirement. "No one is going to come knocking at your door and make you come out," she said.
Friedman, like many of her neighbors, has been involved with Eastern Village since it was in its planning stages. A group of diverse people, some drawn by an ad in The Washington Post, spent several years sketching out plans for the community, which includes a playroom for the 12 children who currently live in Eastern Village, a game room, an exercise room and a lending library.
Today, all the units, which run from 650 to 2,000 square feet, are occupied. Residents range from infants to those in their 70s, and women somewhat outnumber men. In all, about 100 people live in Eastern Village.
In addition to the possibility of developing close ties with their neighbors, many residents were drawn by Eastern Village's environmental features. With geothermal heat, an edict that allows only efficient Energy Star appliances, bamboo flooring, low-flow plumbing fixtures and a green roof, the building has won a number of green building awards, including Green Project of the Year from the National Association of Home Builders. The U.S. Green Building Council has given Eastern Village the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating for environmental performance.
"It's probably fair to say we're one of the greenest multifamily buildings in the country," said Sylvan, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency and helped design the department's Energy Star program.