Making the big decision
From: David G Adams (
Date: Fri, 12 May 95 12:18 CDT
Hi all,

After about 2 months off the list (I have scanned the gopher a bit) I got 
back on the list yesterday.  I've come back partly because I finished 
reading the 150 message backlog, partlybecause I missed the daily 
discussions, and partly because I (selfishly?) want cohousing-l's feedback 
on a stressful situation.

[Several Cornerstoners are on cohousing-l; I hope you don't think I'm 
unnecessarily "airing dirty laundry".  I'd appreciate wisdom about process 
and similar experiences.  This is the best place to get that]

Here's the facts as I see 'em:

Cornerstone (Arlington MA) has ended negotiations on the site we had been 
toying with for a year or so.  The owner couldn't bring himself to actually 
sell the property.  

We have identified another site on the same major road in Arlington.  It is 
a formerly industrial (no toxics) site zoned for apartments at a busy 
intersection near Arlington Center.  It slightly _under_ 1 acre in size, 
surrounded by:
 * A street with a nice local Italian Restaurant and a convenience store 
 * A street with a used car dealership across.
 * The Minuteman rail trail
 * 2 lit baseball fields with a playground.

Our consultants / architects believe we need to put about 40 units on the 
site in order to make it meet the group's pricing requirements.  This would 
make us the densest group in the country, I believe [double meaning 
intended], with approximately .01 acre / person.  

We have made an offer on this site and should hear from the owner any day 
now.  We rushed through a consensus call at the end of a meeting that was 
1/2 hour already past the scheduled end, which allowed our new Development 
Mgmt committee to prepare and submit the offer.  The only other "vote" on 
the site had 5 households excited about the site, 8 with reservations, 8 
with serious reservations, and 1 full member holding a red card [ I wasn't 
there; I think it was more of a "stand aside" than a "block consensus".  The 
2 full member households there, including mine, would have added "serious 
reservations" votes.]

Here's my reactions:

The group's process seems to be breaking down, with lots of private 
conversations, ad hoc committees forming and dissolving, people advocating 
more than listening (I will admit to being one such person), moving ahead on 
an offer without being anywhere near certain we want it, etc.  Some people 
want to move on this site just to make sure the group doesn't fade away 
never deciding on a site.  Others think we are dooming ourselves to burn out 
if we move now.  Is Neil Young right?  We've got some people 
suburb-oriented, some more urban focused.  The new site's prices are 
projected to be comparable to the old site overall, but the low end prices 
are significantly higher (2 BR for $155K, for example) and some people would 
have to drop out for economic reasons.  BTW, these prices are comparable to 
the local luxury condo apartment buildings.

Oh, and a super grocery store is slated to be built 3 doors down the street 
in the coming year.

Open land in Arlington is scarce and expensive.  I don't think we will find 
a larger space available in this or any neighboring town (that we could come 
close to affording).

I've put a tremendous amount of energy into Cornerstone, and gotten a 
tremendous amount out of the experience.  I want something called 
"cornerstone: a cohousing community" to exist somewhere nearby within the 
next couple of years.  But I have _no_ current plans to live in this 
proposed development.  The group will lose somewhere between 2 and 10 of the 
17 full members if we go ahead.  If we don't go ahead (or the owner accepts 
a different offer; developers may be bidding on the site) we have no idea 
what we'll do next, and the group may or may not cut its losses and say 

The questions:

Any similar experiences?  Wisdom about how consensus process ought to affect 
this decision?  I realize that there is usually a shakeout when a project 
becomes real, but how much of a shakeout?  The 17 full member households 
have spent $5000 each on the project to date, so it's not simply that we are 
metamorphosizing from a "discussion group" into a "cohousing group".  Have 
groups ever split into 2 successful separate coho groups?  

Thanks, all

Dave Adams


  |\/\/\/|  David G. Adams           |  Cornerstone Cohouser
  |____  |  U4 Consulting            |  Homebrewer
 OO    ) |  Arlington, MA            |  
 (       |  dadams [at]     |  1995 Boston -> New York
  |      |  CompuServe: 72630,1374   |   AIDS Ride cyclist

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