From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2005 10:54:13 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 2, 2005, at 6:53 PM, Linda Gluck/Treehouse wrote:

Is a common house considered a public building? Subject to ADA requirements? Elevators? Ramps? Parking requirements? Is a common house kitchen considered
commercial with the associated specs? What determines this?

There were several definitions of "public." A community room for a condo is not the same as a community room at a bank or a room at a hotel that people rent. Each state and municipal jurisdiction has different laws about which is which.

What you want to be clear about is whether

(1) you will be renting the space to outside groups or making it available to the public on a rather open basis or

(2) the space will only be available to residents and their occasional guests.

How you present it may make all the difference in the world and how you design it will also affect how it is treated. If the main entrance is a big double door off a parking lot on a busy street, the board will see rental space -- public with a capital P. Which means commercial.

If it is integrated into your complex and appears more like a lobby or an extension of private space, they are less likely to scream "commercial" and double all your code requirements.

Making the space accessible is commonsense; requiring commercial kitchen equipment, changing the tax status, and requiring signage for public spaces is not.

Using the words "commercial" and "private" may make the distinction clearer for you. Commercial use is a whole other status and has many more requirements than private use.

But your members need to be clear on this as well. Takoma Village had many debates after we moved in because we had been using "public" and discovered that some of us thought that meant "commercial" and others meant "shared". Some thought we intended to use the commonhouse for commercial use and would be renting it out to the "public" to support our community. Others always meant "public" to mean "commonspace" for all members to use as an extension of their units.

So this isn't something you have to deal with just in terms of the city; it is an internal issue as well. The community needs to be clear in how you want the space to present itself because that is how it will be used.

Personally, I have strong feelings about wanting the commonhouse to look residential and personal, not institutional. Some of our members really feel important by being in charge of a public space. It elevates the importance of the commonhouse to them. So we have "maximum occupancy" signs in our commonhouse. Totally unnecessary since we never have "open to the public" events or even publicly announced events. The closest we have come is a silent action for a small private daycare center and the starting place for a house tour. All events are member sponsored and supervised

We managed to put the signs off to the side but it changes the look and feel of a space to have posted fire drill signs, maximum occupancy signs, visible Emergency Health Care Kit boxes, Defibrillator here! etc. But for some people it adds an air of importance. Go figure.

Sharon Villines
Building Community: A Newsletter on Coops, Condos, Cohousing, and Other New Neighborhoods

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