Re: "Cohousing Overlay" as Zoning Regulation
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2011 08:26:45 -0700 (PDT)
Lots of different rules apply to how far apart buildings must be, and they
tie back to technical definitions of, What¹s a ³building²?  Firefighter
access is only part of it.  Another part is the ³fire separation distance²,
which is intended to prevent one building in flames from igniting its
neighbor.  Codes vary substantially across the country, but one common
version takes the position that either (a) ³buildings² shall be at least 30
ft apart, or else (b) shall have their proximitous facing walls protected to
a certain standard or rating (which may preclude windows).  And so on.

So the fire chief is not making this up.

Philip Dowds (AIA)
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On 3/10/11 1:58 PM, "Richart Keller" <richart.keller [at]> wrote:

> Seems to me that 20' is much too wide though the curves should accommodate
> reasonably anticipated emergency vehicles. (E.g. unless you have a high rise
> development, designing for a full size hook and ladder truck sounds a bit
> excessive...).  Strategically-placed, hard surface pulloffs could be used to
> avoid the problem of temporarily parked vehicles blocking the road/walkway.
> The fire chief is not always the best source of advice on road
> configuration...  I would suggest working with the town planner.
> Rick
> Richart Keller, AICP
> Pioneer Valley Cohousing
> 120 Pulpit Hill Road #25
> Amherst, MA 01002
> 413-835-0011
> 401 486-2677 (cell)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Michael Barrett [mailto:mbarrett [at]]
> Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2011 1:31 PM
> To: cohousing-l [at]
> Subject: Re: [C-L]_ "Cohousing Overlay" as Zoning Regulation
> In the building of Liberty Village in Maryland the width of the
> streets/pedways within the community was an issue. They were actually
> built (I think) to 10 feet. Years after they were built when the fire
> chief came around he said that would never happen again and they would
> be far wider, maybe 20 feet or more?   And it was true there was one
> bend that required care when "Santa Claus" came through on top of a fire
> truck, with siren blaring, before each Christmas (and scared the
> b**j*sus out of many residents thinking a emergency existed).  There was
> also a reasonable requirement that the pedways needed to be built to
> take the weight of the very occasional heavy traffic, i.e. moving vans
> and emergency vehicles.
> The streets to the parking lots were of usual "wide" width.
> "Street" width (and front and side setbacks) is a big factor in the
> "intimacy" factor, whether you can converse with your neighbor across
> the street from your porch.  Duplex front porches that are not divided
> are friendly.  A local _non_-cohousing retirement community has duplex
> homes with _separate_ front porches and two long ramps (for wheelchairs)
> to a huge wide parking lot.  In that community you need to be in good
> physical shape if you want to chat face-to-face with your neighbors
> At Shadowlake Village, where I now live, there was a requirement to
> define a specific rectangle on the plot within which the house would
> sit. This was _in addition_ to a maximum square footage _and_ setback
> requirements _and_ town review of any exterior changes. (Talk about belt
> and suspenders!).  I wanted to make a 76 sq. foot extension to my house
> which lay within both the maximum sq. footage and the setbacks but which
> fell (a little bit) outside the arbitrary rectangle.   It took some
> trouble and cost to get that finally allowed - including deluging the
> deciding body with letters from most every one of the 33 households here.
> Some things had to be "given away" or "accepted" at the beginning of the
> community just to get permission to proceed.
> Good luck
> Michael Barrett
> Shadowlake Village, VA
> On 3/9/2011 6:40 PM, VAN DEIST wrote:
>> > I want to learn what kinds of
>> > provisions the readership would like to see in a "cohousing zoning
>> > overlay."  Suncoast Elder Cohousing Community is working with the Sarasota
> County Planning Department to
>> >   define a "cohousing overlay" to permit the unique, architectural,
>> > spacial, and construction aspects of cohousing which might ordinarily
>> > run afoul of current regulations.  These would be specific to
>> > cohousing developments and would not effect any other current
>> > regulations.
>> >
>> > The only topics
>> >   which we're currently promoting is 1) for density to be increased
>> > with the use of cottages 600 ft2 or less (counting as 1/2 of a dwelling
> unit)
>> >   and cottages between 600 ft2 and 800 ft2 (counting as 3/4 of a dwelling
>> >   unit) and 2) eliminating the restriction on clustered housing that
>> > mandates that all homes lined up on any side be similar in design.
>> > We're all for variety; have five, basic models; and don't want to be
>> > told what house goes where.  We planning only 24 cottages and a common
>> > house on five acres.
>> >
>> > What other issues would you like to see included in a "cohousing
>> > zoning overlay?"  We'd very much appreciate your input.
>> >
>> > Thank you,
>> >
>> > Van Deist, Organizer
>> > Suncoast Elder Cohousing Community
>> > Sarasota, FL
>> > vandeist [at]
>> > 941.223.5880
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >            
>> > _________________________________________________________________
>> > Cohousing-L mailing list -- Unsubscribe, archives and other info at:
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
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