Re: Is the Common House a Public Building?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2004 05:57:49 -0800 (PST)
One of the things I was surprised about in our community was that some members believed that calling the commonhouse a public space and meeting public space requirements was a GOOD thing.It seems that it represented an accomplishment for them to have built and met codes for a public building. Some members wanted the commonhouse to be a "public" building and a source of income. They viewed it as a commercial space, not a residential one. They wanted to run it as a club that had members. People could join.

Our lawyer pointed out that that would mean we were not a condominium and would have to incorporate the clubhouse as something else but that we had a lot more important things to think about at the moment -- like getting ourselves up and running. By the time that happened (maybe 4 years later) all talk of running a club has disappeared (though it may resurface when get the workshop set up) and rarely does the issue of renting the commonhouse to anyone come up. Basically, it is just too hard to run all those operations. We have enough work just running ourselves and our facilities (Will the bird guards ever get installed on all the vents?).

The collaborative process that Rob recommended is one that works in many places and from posts here is little used. But in those discussions it is important to have your own clear description of how the commonhouse will be used. Some large spaces that will hold 100 assorted people at some time or another need to have different health and safety features than an individual home does. If the commonhouse is open only to members and their guests, much as one's living room would be, then it is not by most definitions a "public" building. Even though as members we host some large groups, like a neighborhood meeting on crime or a house tour, we do this in the same way you would host these meetings in a large home. They are not advertised to the public, we do not charge admission, members are always present to supervise, and we do not sell food. It is a residential living room and dining room -- just larger.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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