There's a thriving community growing on the slopes of an organic farm in Fairfax County. You just can't see it yet.
Although there are no houses, the people who will live in this subdivision all know each other. They have shared dreams of how they want their neighborhood to look and feel. They will eat together, work together and play together, but each family will also have the privacy of its own house.
That, at least, is the dream behind Blueberry Hill, Fairfax County's first experiment in cohousing. Cohousing, which originated in Denmark in the 1960s, refers to planned communities built to encourage interaction among residents. Blueberry Hill, which broke ground Saturday, will have 19 detached houses of 1,100 to 1,700 square feet and costing $240,000 to $260,000. Residents expect to begin moving in a year from now.
The first cohousing community in the United States was built in Davis, Calif., in 1991. Local cohousing communities include EcoVillage in Loudoun County, Liberty Village in Maryland east of Frederick and Takoma Village in Northwest Washington.
Blueberry Hill residents will range from toddlers to retirees. Although diverse in religious and political beliefs, the families share a common goal: becoming more connected to their neighbors.
After seven years of living in Fairfax County, Dee Dishon, 54, found herself reaching toward the idea of cohousing.
"I was very shocked to find out that people didn't do 'neighbors' here," said Dishon, a coach and trainer for people seeking to hone their presentation skills. "People were pleasant, but they certainly weren't friendly."
Jackie Kramer, 54, said she was unhappy in her neighborhood "in a way I didn't understand." She lives in Arlington, near the popular Clarendon area booming with shops, clubs and restaurants.
"There's essentially this feeling of loneliness," Kramer said. "My neighbor on one side of me died, and the neighbor on the other side had no idea."
After reading an article on cohousing, she said, "This is me."
Anna Bradford, 35, was one of the driving forces behind Blueberry Hill. She wanted to preserve her family's organic vegetable farm, Potomac Vegetable Farm, from developers eager to build on 28 acres less than five miles from Tysons Corner.
"The land is worth so much more than anything that can be gotten for it," said Bradford, an orthopedic social worker at Fairfax Hospital. Blueberry Hill will be built on eight acres, and the farm will continue to operate, Bradford said. Blueberry Hill residents can work on the farm if they want to but aren't required to.
Other Blueberry Hill rules: The residents have decided not to allow cars into the subdivision, to allow more green space and encourage residents to get out of their houses. Parking will be allowed around the periphery. Houses have been designed with front porches, again to encourage interaction. Architect and planner Jack Wilbern, 40, designed the houses and then became a Blueberry Hill member.
A common house will be the center of the community, with a dining room, kitchen, guest room, exercise area and library among the amenities. The members of Blueberry Hill will take turns cooking common meals but have not ironed out the details.
And it is that ironing out of details that distinguishes cohousing from other close neighborhoods. Residents of cohousing communities do more than talk to each other. Every major decision is made by consensus--that means 100 percent group approval of a plan of action, not rule by majority.
"My fantasy was that they were all going to be my best friends," Kramer said. "Well, no. There are some people here who always disagree with me, but I respect them and we respect each other."