Assessment Questionnaire for a Forming Community

Liz Walker, Executive Director of Ecovillage Ithaca, sent us this questionnaire to fill out to help her advise us.  We thought it made a good FAQ sheet - so, here it is!

 

Assessment Questionnaire for a Forming Community:

Your Name: Joel Bartlett

 Your Email: altairecovillage@gmail.com

Your Relationship to Group: Project Manager for Members

Your Phone: 610-220-6172

Group's Website: www.altairecovillage.org

1.    Is there a group of members? How big is your membership? How do you define membership? Are there different categories of membership (such as associate members, equity members)?

We have five Investing Member families who have put in over $400K and are managing members of the LLC.  We have two “regular” members who have paid $1000 non-refundable fee. All these members contribute $25/month toward the expenses of the non-profit Membership entity. 

We also have several “Friends” who contribute $25/year to stay on the mailing list…

See the website for details about the time line and regular member escrows…

2.    Are there one or more “burning souls” in the group? What is your leadership structure?

Margo and I are co-founders since 1999.  Margo is the Membership track contact, and I am working on the Site Development track. We have one or two other members who are more active than others.  We are informally positioned in Task Circles, and this includes some of the Professionals. In general, I lead, Margo and others endorse or redirect. We do not make decisions without the group consenting.

3.    How much money have people invested?

There is currently around $425K invested in the land and its development (Township Ordinance, taxes, etc.)  Three families invested $35K previously in the land, and even though this was not honored as part of the land purchase officially, we have dropped any claims to future members returning this money.

4.    Have you chosen a legal structure?

We have been an LLC for many years, but recently established a non-profit corporation in addition.  The non-profit will probably become the HOA, with the LLC dissolving upon completion of the construction. Our documents are available upon request.

5.    What decisions have you made so far?

We have written an EcoVillage Ordinance for the Village within our Township. MANY of our decisions are reflected in this document, including our definition of an EcoVillage.  I will copy you on it. In addition, we have adopted a preliminary Healthy Green Living Policy which is up on our website. Other major decisions relate to the professionals we have hired, the land we have purchased, etc.

6.    What are your accomplishments as a group? What active committees do you have?

Due to our longevity and tenacity, we are “known” in the community and also at the national level.  We have purchased land and put together funding.  We have had active educational Discussion Groups for the past two years and continue to explore aspects of ecovillages in collaboration with other organizations in our region.

The most active Committee is Site Development (for the Investing Members) which meets once a month.  We have a Marketing Committee, but, since we are temporarily stalled by the Township, it is not active. We have folks who help with Legal/Financial, Site Maintenance, Sustainability, etc.  

7.    How long has the group been meeting?

Margo and I, along with one other person (no longer an active member) helped form Altair in 1999.  Our current Investing Members have been with us from three years up to 12 years.  “The group” of current core members has been meeting for three years.

8.    What professionals are you working with? Do you have contracts with them?

We have a contract with Alta Planning – a full-service land planner and landscape architect with an office in Phoenixville. We also signed a contract with Carnevale-Eustis, our Architecture firm in Phoenixville.  J.F.Gayl, Inc is our development contractor and broker, under agreement.  

Informal relationships include our development attorney, our Zoning consultant,  surveyor, traffic engineer, appraiser – all of whom we pay when we need them.  

9.    What skills does the group have?

I am a licensed architect with a background in construction management, also an astronomer, musician, contractor, chef, and student of anthroposophy, among other things. Margo is a professional data management person, does graphic design, word processing, bookkeeping, and communications.  She is also a knitter and a musician.  John is a retired scientist, Nancy a retired schoolteacher.  Dave and Sue report they are “amateurs with skills in the following: gardening, auto driver, lawn mower, computer repair, spreadsheet writer, car repair, lawnmower repair, tool sharpening, painter. photoshop of photos enhancement, retreat planning, composting and cooking.”

Holly is a property manager with a special interest in environmental sensitivity issues.  Mary is a scientist. 

Quite honestly, I need to ask the members to fill out their profiles – there are so many hidden talents and skills I don’t know about! 

10.  Do you have land? Who owns the land? Does it have appropriate zoning?

We’ve owned the 9 acres of land for three years – as Managing Members of the LLC.  Our attempt to rezone the property failed, and it is now zoned single-family or town house, large lots, single use, car-oriented (in other words, last century’s concept of the suburbs).  The Planning Commission is OK with our Ordinance except for the density we ask. The only way to overcome this is to have the Supervisors override the Planning Commission or we purchase adjacent land so that our proposal meets their density formula.  

11.  What is your process for decision making?

Since we are small, consensus has worked just fine all these years (see website for statement). Margo and I received training in Formal Consensus with C.T. Butler and Facilitation with Laird Schaub (along with those who were in the group at those times).  Recently, we’ve been exploring Sociocracy, and have no objection to switching over when we have a larger core group.

12.  Do you have a vision and a mission? If so, what is it?

Please see our brochure, which I will attach.

13.  What are the plans to grow the group? What are your marketing plans? Do you have a website?

The website has attracted many, as has the FIC Directory (although we’ve never found a “match” through that resource).  We are on Facebook and MeetUp, promote our efforts at the Farmers’ Market under the Phoenixville Area Time Bank tent, and are part of the Kimberton Business Association and the Phoenixville Green Team. 

Until our Ordinance passes, we cannot take deposits on homes under PA real estate law.  We welcome any and all inquiries and invite folks to our monthly Discussion Groups or a one-on-one to visit the site and discuss their questions.  

In general, we would like to serve our local region first, then reach out to the East Coast before we advertise to the whole country.  We have many people interested, but they are not joining until more investors contribute and the Ordinance passes and we have a firm time line

14.  What education and outreach events have you done

We have had Discussion Groups here at our house (gateway to the site) for a couple years.  Topics have ranged from alternative medical practices to electric cars. We’ve had several presentations from other Cohousing groups, have visited native plant gardens, toured Passive Houses, and discussed permaculture, economics – see our website for the complete list (Events)

15.  What is your relationship with the neighbors?

We have mixed reviews from our neighbors.  The NIMBY crowd has regularly showed up at Township meetings protesting our plans, expressing their fears.  The land has been in pasture ever since anyone can remember, so most of the neighbors don’t want to see anything built there, much less what is perceived as a large community of small homes.

Having said this, we have invited them to open meetings explaining our intentions, showing them we are not outside developers who look to “make a killing.” I think they understand what we are trying to do, and I believe we have answered many of their concerns – it’s just that they don’t want so many people on the property.

The Township Supervisors favor our development – they like the amount of open space we are preserving, the small size of the homes, the sustainability.  In the end, if we can show them (and their Planning Commission) our impact on traffic and school is comparable to a project built under their Zoning, I believe we’ll be successful.

16.  In what areas do you most need advice or assistance? 

I guess we’ve had a lot of difficulty with the very term “ecovillage,”  especially that we can truly model green living on 9 ½ acres without a big rural component. Our Ordinance definition, similar to the Township-wide Ordinance that Three Groves Ecovillage in southern Chester County is as follows:

“EcoVillage

“A multi-family development of duplexes, twins, and townhouses, which front on a Pedestrian Street, including a Common House and remote parking without garages.  An EcoVillage shall be developed under the area, bulk, and performance standards of Article 28, KEV Kimberton Ecovillage Overlay District, and shall meet SITES v2 Rating System Guidelines as defined in this Ordinance. Except for contributing resources within the Kimberton Historic District*, each dwelling unit or duplex shall achieve a Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of fifty or less.  Each dwelling unit or duplex and the Common House shall generate at least fifty percent of its energy requirements on-site from renewable energy (non-fossil fuel) sources.”

*meaning the existing historic building 2237 Kimberton Road

It is our intention to be an EcoVillage within this definition, but also within the “big four” GEN guidelines honoring the Cultural/Spiritual, Economic, Ecological, and Social.  Cohousing is the model for the housing – but we are more than the Cohousing vision.  Our non-profit mission statement is:

“Kimberton EcoVillage, Inc is incorporated for the following purpose: ‘To promote and develop the Kimberton EcoVillage and other ecovillages, and to educate members and the public in sustainable methods and practices of developing and governing ecovillages.”

Please understand that Kimberton is defined by the County as a “rural center,” but we are NOT a rural self-sufficient community. We have three CSA’s within two miles of us that we support.  We have recently had trouble with the term “walkable” community, and are working on demonstrating the extent to which services are available.

Read the Ordinance for a clear understanding of what we think we can achieve and what our responsibilities are.

17.  In what areas do you feel your group is strong?

We have a strong and competent professional team in place and they are committed to building this community.  Three of our professionals are waiving direct monetary fees and taking their fees in real estate.  

We have the “perfect” site in terms of location – part of a culturally-active historical village, set apart from the hustle and bustle of the main adjoining town and near farmlands, woods, a pristine creek, and trails.  Within a mile radius surrounding us is a cultural hub for Waldorf education, the arts, biodynamic gardening and farming, integrative medicine, and more.

Another of our major strengths is that we have persevered and have never given up the effort, even after over two years of Planning Commission meetings and resistance from neighbors. We’re not going away! 

 

 

Saving Money Living Together in Community

Discussion Group of November 19, 2017

[Note: * = suggestion in proposed EcoVillage Ordinance before the Township]

·      Barter (general)

·      *Sharing rides

·      Pet sitting

·      *Growing food

·      Sharing food

·      Raising chickens

·      Forming a CSA

·      Potlucks (planned – recommend luckypotluck.com)

·      Repairing household items, repurposing

·      *Community-owned cars

·      *Community-owned bicycles

·      Bulk purchasing (general)

·      Solar roofs (and batteries) [*”alternative energy”]

·      Sharing tools

·      Passive House building system [*RESNET-HERS assessment]

·      Contracting electric system

·      Child care

·      Work Fair Share system

·      Share maintenance

·      Member bookkeeping

·      *Rain barrels for irrigation

·      Downsizing homes [*maximum sizes much less than Zoning]

·      Recycled building materials

·      Reducing trash

·      *Composting

·      Community exercise room

·      Information sharing

·      Classes and workshops

·      In-house entertainment – music, dancing of all types

·      *Water conservation

·      *Education/Outreach to larger community  [not suggested to tie into money]

·      Selling excess produce (honor system)

·      Sell lemonade

·      *Guest rooms in Common House

·      Common laundry facilities

·      Boarding Waldorf School students

·      Sharing housekeeping equipment

·      Resource/skill bank

·      Computer/tech sharing

·      Community internet

·      Community snow removal/equipment

·      Preventative health programs

·      Custodial program (attention to elders)

·      Group health plan

·      Aquaculture/aquaponics

·      Beehives

·      Local business relationships

·      Clustered housing (shared walls)

·      Repurposed items room

·      Multi-purpose shop(s)

[Note: so many things we didn’t bring up – what are your ideas?]