All's Happenin' on the Wasatch Front
From: John Major (
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 1996 23:40:13 -0500
Since folks are "reporting in", a valuable process both from the morale and
information points of view, I thought I'd let you all know how things are
going in Utah. I have to confess that I only turn gratefully to the list when
I'm desparate for some advice about some crucial milestone coming up, because
so many things are on the "ToDo" list ahead of CoHousing-L, so mostly, I justs
lurks. But we've been plowing through the frontier, following the tracks of
the groups ahead of us, and have lots of news to report.

We just yesterday consensed (isn't that an official English word by now, at
least on this list?  ;-) on our site plan, for submission to the city for
rezoning approval, and will be submitting to the planning staff this week. We
decided to let all current full and associate member households pick home
sites before submitting the site plan, which delayed things a few weeks as the
architects responded. But I think folks are much more comfortable with the
plan now, and you can see families doing the "imagining" work as they look at
the schematics, visualizing children running about, and cups of morning coffee
in the porch sun... An interesting thing about this plan - we were just about
ready to submit it about three weeks ago, but tension surfaced between the
"Let's Go With It" folks, and the "Let's Think About This" folks. We sent
things back to the architects with a lot of feedback, and they came back with
something *much* better. Once again, the combined intelligence of the group
produces the optimal result.

We have had an amazing time figuring out just how much detail was going to be
required for our submissions to the city planning staff, and even now, when
one of the staff has joined us (aaahh!), it is still ambiguous. Our architects
couldn't really say, the staff couldn't really tell us, and we never got the
same answer twice, just how much detail had to be in the site plan, and how
firm the elevations had to be. It turns out that around here most developers
have done *most* of the design work before they submit their condo and/or
zoning application, and so we are trying something a little new here, getting
them to approve the project with less information available. Interesting
process, this.

The city has been pretty supportive, and we talked to the neighbors carefully
and at length (following excellent advice from you folks), so we are pretty
confident. Amusingly, one fear raised a few times by the fringes in our public
meetings was not that we were hippies, but that we were polygamists!  ("Lady,
we're only talking about sharing *lawnmowers* here....") Here in the desert we
always have our own slant on things...

We have our land secured, and will have to come up with some substantial
downpayments soon. We have been *very* lucky in that the group was started by
a member who owned the land, and who has bent over backwards helping the group
"get it built". We are going into an intense design phase over the next few
months, and if we can get the construction drawings done quickly enough, we
might be able to break ground before the snow arrives. 

A question for you greyhairs of the community at large - how long did it take
you to go from finalized site plan to breaking ground? What was on the
critical path? We have some banks lined up, we think, so it appears that the
design work is going to determine that crucial date. Any advice about speeding
discussions about windows, kitchen layout, etc. along?   We have good meeting
skills by now, but there's so much to look at.    whew.... ;-)

We are submitting an application for $$ to build 5 "CROWN" homes - these are
financed using tax credits, and are rent-to-own affordable housing. Again,
cudos to the list for urging us to go to this trouble, because there are few
immediate benefits to the group. That leaves us to finance another 20 units,
and of those, it appears that 14 are spoken for! We had four households go
swiftly from vacilating associates to committed members as soon as we:

- figured out how we were really going to finance things

- started picking spots on the site plan ("Hurry now! Sites going fast!!")

Ah, financing - I haven't heard our approach discussed on the list, so perhaps
folks would find it interesting. First, the Planning committee had to identify
the "shortfall" (that's really what the banks call it, the difference between
what it costs to build all these houses, and what they will loan you...), and
explain it clearly to the group as a whole. It was very important that
everyone understand what was required of us to make this thing a reality. Then
we put forth a request - which members are willing to borrow against their
current assets (homes, retirement funds, etc.) in order to come up with this
huge chunk of cash to build the units? And how much? 

Well, most everyone stepped forward with something, so it looks like we can
keep monthly assessments fairly low, and use them to cover the interest paid
to members, as well as expenses. Our $300 (single)/$400 (multi) monthly
assessments aren't too high to force out families that can afford to *buy* a
home, but don't have the resources to *build* one.

Sorry, folks - I've gone on way too long, so that's the news from Lake Salt
City, Where All the Women Are Strong, All The.... ("oh, stop it...")

John Major
Wasatch CoHousing
jmajor [at]

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