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January 22, 2010

Broker wants to make co-housing more mainstream

Journal Staff Reporter

Rendering courtesy Johnston Architects [enlarge]
The $17 million Trails at Newcastle is set to break ground this summer. Once completed, it will have 32 homes and a common house.

Ben Kaufman, owner of GreenWorks Realty, is moving closer to fulfilling a dream he's had for 15 years: developing a community that supports the environment and communal living.

The $17 million project, called Trails at Newcastle, is slated to break ground this summer on a six-acre site south of Bellevue in Newcastle.

Once completed, the complex will have 32 homes and a common house. It is surrounded by open space and 10 acres of protected wetland.

Kaufman bought the property six years ago and is acting as the developer. He has two development partners: Bert Bradley and Joanna D'Asaro of Greener Living Solutions. Johnston Architects designed the project. No general contractor has been selected.

Learn more
Several events are scheduled for people who want to find out about the project:

• Saturday at 1 p.m., the team will host a presentation and site tour beginning at the Sweet Decadence chocolate shop in Newcastle.

• On Jan. 25, a wine tasting will be held at a private residence from 7 to 9 p.m.

• On Feb. 7, a meeting will be held in Newcastle from 2 to 4 p.m.

For information contact Brenda Nunes at (425) 785-6286.

The homes will be four-star Built Green and Energy Star certified. Prices will range from the mid $400,000s to the mid $600,000s. Three units will be sold at 80 percent of the area income, for about $300,000.


Kaufman said he wants to create a new kind of living space.

“We're looking for a fresh and innovative path to the creation of a sustainable community,” he said. “The heart of this project is the quality of the community and its residents.”

Kaufman has spent time with a number of co-housing groups, which generally form organically when people choose to develop space together. It can be difficult to complete such projects, he said, but the process spawns incredible experimentation and ideas. Kaufman said he wants to take that energy and create a mainstream version of co-housing geared towards a broader audience.

“There's a great need for it. More people are looking to find a greater sense of community in their housing and that's what we're interested in.”

Details are still being finalized for the common house, but it could have a kitchen, conference room, guest rooms and a bike shed. There will be an organic garden and a car share program. Buyers will be invited to two charettes: one to focus on the center, the other on finishes and mechanical systems for the houses.

The complex is designed to encourage interaction. Homes will face one another, with front porches along a central trail. The entire space will likely be wired for wi-fi. Cars and parking will be kept along the periphery.

Many permaculture principles will be used in developing the site. Though a portion of the site will be cleared and graded, the goal is to minimize impacts, and use low impact development techniques such as raingardens, roof runoff collectors and pervious surfaces for roads and walkways.

The area has bear, deer, coyote, bobcats and many bird species, and the team is working to preserve and enhance habitat. Trails at Newcastle is across the street from Lake Boren Park and is near the Newcastle Trails network.

Houses will range between 1,300 and 2,100 square feet. They will have radiant heat in hardwood floors, low-VOC paints and water efficient appliances. Space will be pre-wired for solar power and solar hot water tubes.

Attracting buyers

Brenda Nunes, executive director of the Sustainability Foundation, has been brought on to help attract buyers who want this kind of lifestyle. The team wants to find buyers and build interest in the project before seeking financing and starting construction. Social gatherings and events at local businesses are being held. One gathering will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Sweet Decadence chocolate shop in Newcastle.

Nunes said the strategy helps create a bond between the people who will eventually live in the project and it helps with financing. Banks today are leery of risk, she said, but if they see excitement surrounding the project, they will be more likely to lend. “Once the banks see that it is a project where people want to live, it takes away the risk.”

The team may build all houses at once or move forward in phases, depending on sales. Kaufman said bankers have told him they will finance the entire project once 25 units are sold. So far, five units have sold, including one to Kaufman.

Nunes said co-housing often appeals to single women, but this project also is attracting young families, retirees and others. The neighborhood may be helping. There are a number of nearby houses worth more than $1 million, Nunes said, and many of those people are downsizing. This allows locals to stay in a neighborhood they love at “a really, really affordable option.”

Frank Koontz is one buyer. For years, he lived in a 4,000-square-foot house in south Bellevue but after going through a divorce, he wanted a smaller space. He said he didn't know much about co-housing and was not an active environmentalist, but after seeing an add on Craigslist a year ago and attending a community meeting, he decided the project was right for him.

Koontz said he likes the environmental aspects of Trails at Newcastle and the community.

“The average person lives on a street where you may know two or three (people) ... but you really don't feel like much of a community,” he said.

Kaufman said this is the “perfect” time to get back into the market. If the project breaks ground this summer, units will come on line in the middle of 2011 or in 2012. By then, Kaufman said the market will have bottomed out and become more stable. Construction costs have also come down.

Kaufman said he is seeing more people coming into the market, both in land purchases and new homes. In the past three months, he said he has closed six deals through GreenWorks with first-time home buyers.

At the same time, Kaufman said the economy has left people valuing their relationships with friends and family more. “Those relationships can be cultivated by a sense of place where you live.”

“We hope that in 50 years, maybe even 30 years, we're going to have a site that doesn't harm nature,” he said. “My goal on this is people living in the community down the road (having) a sense of place that generates a giving culture where they feel so happy to be in this kind of a living situation they want to pay it forward.”

To learn more, visit http://trailsatnewcastle.com.


Katie Zemtseff can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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