HELP! Cornerstone at the Crossroads
From: Kate Adams (
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998 11:47:38 -0500
Dear All,

I'm Kate Adams of Cornerstone Cohousing, wife of Dave Adams who has been on
this list before.  

Cornerstone Cohousing, of Cambridge MA currently controls a piece of land
in North Cambridge, on which there are now valid building permits for 30 of
our 32 unit cohousing community, with integrated common house in one of the
The permits are currently under (frivolous) appeal to the Zoning Board of
Appeals, but are expected to clear that hurdle in mid-August, paving the
way for funding.  However, our developer is balking due to the appeal and
we are shopping for alternatives.(see Background, at end of message, if
interested in my take on the details) 

The Development Management Committee of Cornerstone is using the interval
until the appeal is heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals to do some fact
finding and risk mapping around finding a new developer and financing this
mess ourselves.  We have some leads that indicate that finding a bank
willing to loan money and a builder/developer who will break ground this
construction season after the ZBA appeal clears may be possible. 

We have some questions for groups which have built cohousing regarding
managing and apportioning financial risks during the construction and
development phase (aside from permitting and recruiting, which we have
already taken care of).  To wit:

1.How can financial risks be managed in a way that is tolerable to members?
 How do you elucidate these risks and communicate them to members,
including the risks of not moving forward?

2.How did your group apportion and limit risk?  How would you do things
differently given another chance?

3. What specific finanacial packages have groups been able to obtain with
regard to the construction phase?

4. How was the risk to meet the payments under those packages distributed
in the 
group?  We're talking here about the time between purchasing the land and 
transfering the units to individual owners (with the corresponding transfer
obligations to individual mortgages).

5.  How did the group manage the internal loan process for those with, say,
non-liquid assets and short-term cashflow problems who could not keep up
with the cash calls? (example, a retired homeowner who is property-rich but

I have tried to search the archives regarding such issues, but the search
engine is down and the archives are too extensive to weed through.  I did
check out the somewhat dated subject-based archive, and Sandelin's handbook.  

If any of you in cohousing cyberspace who have made this passage have
something to offer here, please offer it!  I will be saving the replies, so
reply to me in person if the bandwith is too great.

Much appreciation in advance,
Kate Adams
Cornerstone Cohousing

We had negotiated several contracts with a developer that stipulated that
he would buy and build once permits were issued, and were negotiating an
extension to those contracts when permits were issued.  While the current
contract was not yet signed at the time of issuance, we have several deals,
going back a couple years, that are signed and all state that the developer
will purchase land and build as soon as permits were issued.  It says
nothing about appeals, just "building permits".

Our problem?  Our developer is balking because of a seemingly frivilous
appeal of the building permits - at least that's what our consultant says
he says.  His stated perspective as a contractor (given to us via "our"
consultant) is that a hostile neighborhood oranization, no matter how
unfounded and unsupported and non-representative their demands, can make
costly trouble on a construction site and it is best to make everybody
happy no matter what the price.  We expect that the appeal will sail
through the Zoning Board of Appeals later next month, but our developer is
refusing to live up to his formal and informal agreements and contracts to
purchase the land and build the community at the contracted price until all
possible appeals are exhausted (something like 6 years!).  

Many in the group suspect that the real reason for inaction is that the
developer smells a huge profit in the appreciation of the land over the
past two years, much larger than his profit on the contract, and wants to
cash in for himself even though Cornerstone has shouldered the vast
majority of the financial risk thus far.  While TCC, our consultant, is
urging that we cut our losses and sell out, there are some concerns that
this advice is not in the best interest of a group so close to breaking
ground - or one which may see a loss on a profitable sale for their
majority investment to date.  This is because our consultant/architect has
built an extensive relationship with this developer on other projects in
the time since the group formed, leading to potential conflicts of interest.

The North Cambridge Stabilization Committee, comprized of maybe six people
as far as we can tell, has essentially self-appointed themselves the zoning
body of North Cambridge.  They consistently fight affordable housing and
just about any proposed use or reuse of industrial or commercial or
residential land by demanding that property be built out at less than half
its zoned density.  Their idea of working with developers is "do as we say
or else - give into our demands and then we will talk".  We tried to talk
to them at the outset, but they refused outright and set the propagnda mill
in motion.  (They did the same thing to destroy the plans of a
well-established non-profit affordable housing development group seeking to
turn a multi drive-through-atm bank into 20 units of affordable housing -
it was zoned for 27 and they wanted 8!).  

While they supposedly have a master plan, NCSC has made no attempt to
codify it through rezoning attempts or any other civil means except where
it can be used as a tactic to fight a specific project.  They simply keep
suing until they get their way or prevent anything new - even if it is
better for the neighborhood than the current use - from getting built for
reasons of self-aggrandizement (as far as I can see).  The usual suspects
distribute flyers with half-truths, untruths, and damn lies in order to
whip up xenophobia and fear of change whenever they smell a political
football capable of propelling any one of them into a city council seat.  

Our community outreach efforts imply that their concerns about our project
do not reflect and have not reflected the concerns of the vast majority of
those in the neighborhood, save where their hysteria mongering has taken
root (e.g. we NEVER planned to build a 5-6 story tower building!  Or a
two-storey underground garage! Nor did ANY of our offical proposals contain
more than 34 units on aggregate property zoned for 47 units.  We also have
over an acre of land fronting on 1.5 city blocks, not a small patch of land
meant for two or three houses!).  Most people in the area would like to see
housing replace the current use (a printing company with lots of concrete
and pavement and activity - and a history of renting out extra parking
space to trucking contractors)and would like that housing to include some
affordable housing and moderate income housing.  One city councillor, who
formerly had close ties with the committee, is mystified by their intense
and unrelenting opposition to our cohousing plan as she (a nearby resident)
sees our plan as just the kind of housing the area needs - middle income,
family, lifespan and community oriented development.

Go figure.

Global Free Trade: All the economic benefits of colonialism, without all
those nasty responsibilities.
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