Altair EcoVillage Concept

  • The site is a short walk from the heart of historic Kimberton, a small village in the midst of a revival, centered on Kimberton Whole Foods, but with new shops, a performance center, and housing development planned.
  • Clustered, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood of 35 moderately-sized homes, well-built, insulated, and energy-efficient.
  • Extensive common facilities, including a 3,000 to 4,000 square foot Common House, featuring a large kitchen, dining facility, guest rooms, storage areas, laundry, library, meeting spaces, indoor-outdoor seating, central mail room, hobby and craft areas, community performance space, exercise room, offices, and much more. Residents’ use of the Common House allows for moderately-sized homes.
  • Four to five acres of open space, including play areas, community garden, woods, orchard, outdoor recreation, and landscaped areas.
  • Each home to feature private yard, handicap accessible design, kitchen, downstairs bathroom, living room, dining room, with one to three bedrooms.
  • Duplexes available, allowing for a limited number of rentals.
  • Reduced energy bills through Passive House design, with minimal heating and cooling, solar Photo Voltaic (PV) panels, water-conserving fixtures, shared internet system.
  • Low-VOC (low volatile organic compounds) materials and sustainable products for a healthy, safe environment.
  • Low-impact site development with pervious paving materials.
  • Remote parking with shared carts for daily errands, deliveries, or moves.
  • A cluster that is EMF and “chem-free,” with reduced EMF and toxics throughout the community.
  • Facilities designed, managed, and maintained by members.
  • Home Owner’s Association, fee simple (not condominium) arrangement with monthly fee controlled by members.
  • Common meals several times a week managed by residents.
  • Interactive social events and celebrations year-round fostered by the residents.  Shared resources and healthy life-style open to all walks of life.
  • Community van pools for ride-sharing, errands, and connections to public transportation.
  • On a walking and biking trail system connecting the site with the French Creek watershed and adjoining woods, parklands, and fields.
  • Financial assistance options being explored through collaboration with traditional and non-traditional sources.
  • Average cost of the home (typical 2-bedroom): $300,000, with an estimated $50,000 of this for extensive “green” features. The goal is to build housing affordable to local teachers, policemen, and other working people.
  • Residents are “in it for the long haul” with very little turnover anticipated.  This helps justify the payback period of the green features. 

January, 2017

Notes For Neighbors

We welcome our neighbors’ input and as we work to introduce a progressive and innovative project and enliven business in Kimberton Village.

Altair EcoVillage is based on a proven alternative model of living called Cohousing that began in this country over 25 years ago (and another 20 years earlier in Europe), where residents get to know one another before they move in, work closely together as neighbors cooperatively, and care for the buildings and the land over the long term.  There is much less turnover in this model, a positive interaction with the local neighbors, and a stable mini-neighborhood, responsible to the environment. Recently Cohousing communities have increased their emphasis on environmental sustainability and have widened their mission to include education – thus the term “ecovillage.”

We first started looking at what was then called the “Jugan property,” about 8 acres of pasture, in 2001 when it was zoned for 8 homes on 8 lots off a cul-de-sac at the end of Sunset Lane.  In 2002 (Ordinance revised in 2008), the property was split into two zoning districts, the woods and wetlands to the north remaining in the 1 home/half acre R-2 zoning, the rest in new KR Zoning allowing for around 18 homes using the Traditional Neighborhood Development option. The problem for this site in the new Zoning was that Sunset Lane could not be considered the only way in and out of the property. Consequently, developers combined the Jugan property with the Campbell property along Prizer Road so they would have access and more land to develop.  After two projects proposed for the land from 2007 to 2010 were not approved, the land reverted back to Mr. Jugan.  While it is currently undeveloped land, it is not dedicated Township “open space.”

In 2015, Mary Holland and her family decided to sell the twin dwellings on Kimberton Road - 2233 and 2237. A small group of us purchased the twin homes because it would provide access to the Jugan property (and we would not have to use Sunset Lane). When Michael Jugan died, the property was inherited by his daughter Kathryn Batdorf, and in May, 2016, a core group of us purchased the 9+- acres.  We analyzed the Township ordinances to investigate building on the land moderately-sized sustainable and multi-generational clusters of around 35 homes (a good number sociologically and economically).  It is a very standard model of home ownership, in that families would take out mortgages and be part of a Home Owners Association.

In the current Zoning, there is no provision for a Common House where our residents could put up guests for short visits, share common meals, and hold gatherings. Under the Zoning, each home has to be designed for a minimum of two cars, either in a garage or driveway, and each front door has to face a street. Our vision is a community where daily life will not be dominated by the automobile and where residents will interact  frequently – unlike most of today’s developments where people are isolated, do not know their neighbors, and where the design of the homes does not promote conversation and interaction.

So, in the fall of 2015 when the Township Planners were reworking the Zoning for Kimberton  Village, we began working with them on a new section of the Zoning to allow for a community-oriented model. While the Planning Commission initially felt we were proposing too many homes on the site, the Supervisors liked the amount of open space that the pedestrian-oriented design preserved.  They preferred the modest-sized homes, and saw that Kimberton Village could benefit from having a model for sustainability that mirrored its reputation for progressive thought.  They perceived that this wasn’t just another development; it was something other townships would want to emulate and seemed to them to showcase their recognition of changing life-styles and an approach to living that minimizes the use of fossil fuels and improves the environment.

Last summer we met with the Sunset Lane residents and heard their concerns about the  use of Sunset Lane as a right-of-way for use in developing both the Jugan and the Campbell properties.  Thanks go to them for their input at that time, as our plans have improved as a result.  We changed our initial concept (which used Sunset Lane and included a parking lot accessible from Sunset Lane), and proposed using Sunset Lane only for emergency access. Recently, working with the Township, we introduced a two-way entrance lane off Kimberton Road so we that we don’t need to use Sunset Lane at all.  We are providing setbacks and buffers of at least 25 feet with vegetation for all parking and buildings as required.  (Please see the site plan for the revised concept we are presenting to the Planners.)

Almost all of neighbors’ concerns are required to be addressed by any developer as part of Township regulations. We are very open to discussing these issues with you as we continue the process.

  1. Density: Counting the woods and wetlands properties to the north, we are proposing no more coverage than is currently allowed in the Zoning.  The sketch now shows 31 footprints instead of the original 35 (four duplexes). By clustering the homes, we are providing 70% open space, whereas a typical development under the current zoning would have much less open space. The Supervisors have indicated they are OK with the proposed density, as long as the traffic, safety, and financial impacts are no greater than a project under current Zoning allows, and this we will demonstrate.
  2. Home Values: We are proposing homes that, though smaller, cost more per square foot to build than a “typical development.” This is because we are introducing super-insulated and tight building envelopes, along the lines of the Passive House, a model that is two to three times more insulated than required in current building codes. We surveyed re-sales of similar communities on the East Coast and found that the community homes and those of the neighbors increased in value over the Housing Index for that particular state in almost every case.  Although no one can predict the market, we know of no similar community development in this country where the property values have decreased. In fact, property values in and around ecovillage projects increase.
  3. ­Size: The final design of the homes and the number of one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, etc. will be determined by the needs of those who have yet to join the community.  Unlike a “typical development,” we are not designing it in advance. Many homes are about 25% smaller, because residents use the Common House for their guest rooms and other amenities. We are proposing smaller sized homes only as part of the duplexes people can purchase.
  4. Matching Look: Not only is it a good marketing practice that we build an attractive community, it is a Township requirement that we review our architecture with the HARB (Historical Architectural Review Board). Our local and well-respected Architect Carnevale/Eustis has experience with the Township, historical renovations, and sustainable design (Tom Carnevale is a past East Pikeland HARB member).  The architecture is based on a master plan, not one where individual families purchase lots and can build whatever they want.
  5. Stormwater: East Pikeland has one of the most progressive storm water management ordinances in the country; it requires strict adherence to the requirement of recharging increased runoff on site.  A recent change in the codes now mandates that a developer work with conditions caused by previous developments – hence, the additional water coming onto our site and helping increase a wetlands is our concern.  As can be seen on the sketch, we are proposing no detention or retention basins, but are handling the runoff from the minimal impervious roads and roofs underground by using recharge areas underlying pervious paving and on-lot systems such as berms, rain gardens, and rain barrels. No additional water will flow off the site – in fact, the condition will be greatly improved.
  6. Wells: The EcoVillage is required to utilize public water, so we will extend the existing water line up Kimberton Road, and have received preliminary approval without penalty.  We are not digging geothermal wells; we are building primarily on slab, and are not going to disturb the aquifer. Our project will not affect neighbors’ wells.
  7. Trees: The site plan shows that we are not changing the existing vegetation.  In fact, by working with certified professionals, we will be culling invasive species, introducing native species, and improving the woods and the landscaping throughout the site.  We have already cut the grape and poison ivy vines in the woods, thus “freeing” the existing trees to thrive.
  8. Wildlife: Through our conversations with the Audubon Society and other environmental groups, our approach will enhance the variety and quality of the wildlife on the site, creating and maintain new habitats. Per the Audubon Society fellow who visited, “the only wildlife that might be adversely affected will be the ground hog!” He, and others, will show us how to attract migrating birds, for example.
  9. Noise:  There are currently township ordinances related to this, and we will work to strengthen the ordinances and have agreements built into the Home Owners Association documents ensuring prevention of noise pollution.
  10. Lighting:  It is a Township requirement that we use shielded lighting and reduced lighting levels at night.  Although Kimberton itself is not a “night-sky” village, we will meet or exceed the requirements of the current ordinances. Our name itself acknowledges that we appreciate a dark night sky (Altair is named after a star, and it means “eagle.”) 
  11. Traffic:  We have done preliminary calculations at the request of the Planners to determine the impact and to compare (using standard Institute of Transportation Engineers tables) our proposed development with what another developer might introduce under current and proposed Zoning.  We come very close to the same number of “peak trips.”  Through strategies including sharing of low-impact (electric) vehicles, reducing the number of vehicles, carpooling, and van-pools to public transportation and shopping, we are committed to minimize further the traffic impact.  EcoVillages, by design, are not bedroom communities, where typically every family has two or more fossil fuel driven larger vehicles used for long commutes.
  12. School District Impact: Our preliminary studies we gave to the Township at their request show we would not impact the schools to any greater degree than a typical development zoned for this site. Residents of the EcoVillage will pay School taxes.
  13. Existing Ordinance:  The Planning Commission is proposing 3.2 homes per acre in the revised KR Ordinance as part of their current work. A developer might fit up to 22 larger homes on the property (depending on the interpretations of environmentally-sensitive areas and setbacks), with greater building coverage, much more impervious coverage, and much less open space than we propose. A development of that type would eliminate any chance of having sufficient open space, a community building, or other community amenity, and would represent, in our view, another “faceless” typical pseudo-community – something the Supervisors and many others we have talked with in Kimberton do not want to see.

Some other important things you should know:

At least one of our residents has multiple chemical sensitivities.  We are working on policies that acknowledge these needs.  We plan to eliminate “Chemlawn” and other toxic materials and reduce electro-magnetic frequencies for our some of our homes.

At the request of the Planning Commission, we are introducing into the EcoVillage Ordinance a point system for measuring sustainable site practices called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Sites Guidelines which includes, for example, community participation, reduced site construction pollution, and electric car charging stations, among the many “points.”  

We intend to welcome Kimberton neighbors to our Common House and its amenities, including our community gardens.

We hope that you will embrace the EcoVillage project, with its goal of sensible and sensitive enhancement of our historic Kimberton Village, which over three centuries has been a center for progressive thought and practices. Our public website is www.altairecovillage.org. Questions can be directed to our project manager Joel Bartlett (a fellow neighbor) at altairecovillage@gmail.com.

Thank you for your interest.
Sincerely yours,

Joel Bartlett, Project Manager
610-220-6172
altairecovillage@gmail.com