Novato Design Review: The C Street Village Project Reflection

Kelley Kromhout | NextGen Marin

Community: where has it gone? It’s evident that the forward advancement of technology in our society has distanced people from one another, sometimes creating unfamiliar territories in our own neighborhoods where we don’t even know our next-door neighbors. Enter cohousing. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, cohousing is “an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space,” where “neighbors collaboratively plan and manage activities and shared spaces,” with the legal structure usually being an HOA, Condo Association, or a Housing Cooperative. Cohousing originated in Denmark (which is known as one of the happiest countries in the world) in 1972 and is quickly growing in popularity.

A proposed cohousing project just came before the Novato Design Review Commission for a conceptual review on March 6th. There are plans to build thirty-two two-story townhomes and six accessory units above garages on the 2.7 acre cement lot on 970 C Street in Hamilton. The “sustainable, affordable, and intergenerational” cohousing project, appropriately named C Street Village, is a relatively unique proposal for Marin County, as not many cohousing projects have been built here. In addition, the units are intended to house moderately-low income, low-income, and very low-income families. The revised project shows that all parking will be on the north end of the lot, with the proposed thirty-foot wide driveway running westward with access from C Street. Just south of the driveway will be a clubhouse, which will feature spaces for residents to share meals or host community events. The site will also feature herb gardens, a children’s play area, possibly a hot tub, and “community nodes,” or outside areas with seating where residents can gather.

The project plan has been designed to limit parking to a singular area on the north side of the site to leave a larger green mass for more landscaping and less concrete. Pathways will run between homes and community nodes, and front porches will face each other to help foster a sense of community and togetherness. There will be two gates for pedestrian and bike access on the east and south sides of the site, providing entry onto C Street and Main Gate Road, respectively. The Design Review Board suggested the gates be large and inviting, so as not to block off the cohousing development from the rest of Hamilton. The rest of the southern-facing border is to be sectioned off by a concrete masonry unit (CMU) wall that will soften noise from Main Gate Road while trees on the southern border of the wall will provide privacy for residents of C Street Village. The colors of the townhomes are expected to be brick red, deep blue, mossy green, and other “colorful” but muted hues to provide some excitement and relief for residents tired of the typical “earthy” tones found in modern-day developments.

Landscaping and “green” energy are big factors in cohousing. Residents are responsible for maintaining the greenery throughout the cohousing project. While this may seem like a chore or a daunting task to the inexperienced, the sense of community fostered from the cohousing development means that neighbors are open to teaching one another how to tend to a garden and help it thrive. Residents are encouraged to grow their own fruits and vegetables and expected to keep up the landscaping maintenance. Regarding the kinds of plants to be grown on the site: being that this meeting was only a conceptual review, the Design Review Commission will decide at a future date exactly which kinds of plants and trees they are looking for and the community will use these as options from which to choose what to plant. The environmental benefits extend further as C Street Village is looking to leave as little environmental impact on the area as possible by featuring natural lighting (featuring tall windows and skylights), passive heating and cooling, solar panels, and sustainable building materials (just to name a few).

C Street Village represents a new and intriguing way of living for Marin’s residents and presents the opportunity to create a sense of community again. It will be very interesting to see what ends up happening with this project and if more cohousing projects will pop up in Marin.


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