The planned community is no longer just a plan.
After nearly a decade of groundwork and about 10 months of construction, the members of Delaware Street Commons, a new "co-housing" community in East Lawrence, are ready to show off their homes to the public. The $3.7 million complex in the 1200 block of Delaware Street will be on display this weekend and next weekend during the annual Spring Parade of Homes sponsored by the Lawrence Home Builders Association.
Of the 45 stops on the parade, this is the only one built around ideals of communal living space, shared chores, low environmental impact and government by consensus for multiple families.
"There's nothing like this in Kansas. There's nothing like this in Missouri. The closest thing is in Colorado," said Vicki Penner, who serves as the project's membership coordinator. "In the Midwest, we're it."
So far, no one is living in the complex, but that's about to change. Penner, for example, plans to move into her home next month along with her husband, Rich Minder, and their two children.
The idea of co-housing has been around in the U.S. since the late 1980s, when it migrated from Denmark. Penner said there are two common misconceptions.
"Either people think it's a gated community that's trying to separate itself : or that it's a hippie commune, and it's all mushy and free love and all that," she said. "It's neither one of those. It's mainstream housing that's being intentional about facilitating community."
That means shared responsibility for upkeep of the grounds, shared decision-making on community matters, and group meals several times per week in a "common house" in the middle of the complex. The central house also has an exercise room, kids' playroom, message board, laundry hookups and living room with fireplace. Each home still has its own kitchen and laundry facilities.
Members of the community own their homes, which range in price from $145,000 to $240,000, and are spread out among five new townhouse-like buildings. They also own a share of the common spaces and pay monthly dues for maintenance costs.
So far, the group has sold nine of its 21 units. They need about 16 contracts total to be able to retire the construction debt.
"You're looking at a circle of amateur developers," member Jennifer Distlehorst said on Wednesday. "This is a group of friends that got together to make this happen."
Environmental architect Kirk Gastinger designed the community, which has environmentally friendly touches throughout, including heat pumps for each home, bamboo floors, energy-efficient light bulbs and structured insulated panels used in the roofs of the buildings.
By design, the parking lot sits at the edge of the property.
"We have a sense of community in the space between our homes. People are the center, and cars and other things are the periphery," Penner said.
The construction, still in its final stages, is being done by Neighbors Construction Co. Inc.