A Yes, a No, and a Maybe
Slow March Forward
This is perhaps the most challenging part of the Phase 2 development for me – working with the various agencies to understand and meet all of their housing and development regulations, while at the same time trying to keep those regulatory burdens from driving the costs of our Phase 2 homes too high. It's a real test of my patience and persistence, but I'm doing my best to not get frustrated and to keep my eye on the prize: creating community life for 14 new households while making Heartwood more vibrant than ever.
During these tumultuous times for our country, I feel the value of community more than ever. Through community, we can offer the world just a bit more civility, understanding, and connection.
Every year the community gets more beautiful as our landscaping continues to mature. Here are lilacs in front of the common house. Too bad we can't include their fragrance in this email.
I've included several recent photos of Heartwood in this newsletter. May they serve as a reminder of how lovely community life is here, which makes the regulatory struggles worth the effort.
Recent Progress - The "No"
In our work on septic system plans, we're required to complete a Note 2 analysis if our total discharge for the whole community is greater than 6000 gallons per day (gpd). The analysis is fairly long and expensive (maybe 6 months and $15,000) and intended for large systems so we've been hoping to avoid that requirement.
We have 20 years of good data on our water usage showing that we use only about 2000 gpd, which is very low. We are very water conscious here. Adding 14 Phase 2 homes will probably bring our total usage up to about 3200 gpd, well below the 6000 gpd threshold.
Seems like it should be pretty easy, right?
Unfortunately, in their calculations, the state regulators assume that all homes are at full occupancy, roughly meaning two people in every bedroom, which means they assume that we'd have 209 people living here resulting in daily water usage of 6660 gpd. That's a crazy number given that we've currently got 60 people living here and will probably be at about 100 people with the addition of Phase 2.
We also keep good census data so I calculated the statistical probabilities of full occupancy. I was pretty excited to find that based on historical census data and extrapolating for Phase 2, we have 99.997% confidence that our total population won't exceed 151 people, which equates to 4810 gpd.
Unfortunately it seems that the regulators probably won't be willing to accept statistical analysis and will insist on assuming a population of 209 people. We've tried everything we could think of, but it looks like we're probably going to be required to do the Note 2 analysis. This is frustrating on many levels. The analysis will most likely not impact the design of our septic system one iota while adding six months to the approval process and about $1000 cost to each home.
While this is not a "no" to being able to develop Phase 2, it is definitely an unwelcome setback and a "no" to being able to submit our Preliminary Plat application this summer, which is what we'd been hoping to do.
The gardens in front of Mimi's and Fran's homes are always gorgeous.
Recent Progress - The "Maybe"
Subdivisions of 25 - 99 homes are required to have an emergency access, which is a road that could be used in case our primary access would not be available during an emergency, such as a forest fire, which is our most likely emergency where we live. We currently have a good emergency access road, but it crosses our neighbor's land before connecting with County Road 506.
The neighbors whose land it crosses have become friends of Heartwood over the years and have told me that in an emergency, they would welcome us or emergency vehicles to use their road. Unfortunately they're unwilling to sell us a legal emergency access easement because they're afraid that it might expose them to liability or decrease their property value. Our attorney and I don't believe these fears are well founded, but if they don't want to sell us an easement, there's nothing we can do to compel them to do so.
There could be other neighbors whose land we could cross with an emergency access road who might be willing to sell us an easement, but that could end up costing $100,000 to build the road and obtain the easement. That would represent another significant development cost that wouldn't really add much value given that our primary access road mostly crosses open and relatively flat pastureland so is unlikely to ever be unavailable in an emergency and in addition to that we already have a good emergency access road. According to state statute, emergency vehicles can use whatever road they need in an emergency, regardless of whether there's an emergency access easement on that road.
The county regulations provide that the emergency access requirement can be waived based on a written approval of the fire department, county engineer, and county planning engineer. I had a Zoom meeting with those three men last week to discuss the possibility of such a waiver. The fire department deputy chief seemed willing to give us a waiver given our history of collaborative work with them on fire mitigation (Heartwood is Firewise certified), the existence of an emergency access road, and the quality of our primary access. The county engineer seemed willing to follow the lead of the fire department. Unfortunately, the county planning engineer seemed more inclined to follow the regs more strictly and insist on an emergency access road with an easement. He wants a guarantee that the emergency access road we currently have will never go away and the only way to ensure that is with a legal easement.
So the plan is that I'm going to work with the fire department to come up with additional fire mitigation work that we can commit to in lieu of obtaining an emergency access easement. Maybe then the county planning engineer will agree to the waiver. Wish us luck!
Looking north on the North Wing.
Recent Progress - The "Yes"
In the spring of 2019 during our county planning feasibility evaluation process, the fire department completed an agency input form stating that our 30,000 gallons is adequate for both Phase 1 and 2. Unfortunately, this spring they informed us that they had not considered the requirements of the 2015 International Fire Code (IFC), which the county adopted in 2010.
Working with our site planning engineer, we were able to determine that the IFC would require 60,000 gallons of water storage for Phase 1 and 2. Ouch.
The good news is that we also figured out that if we install sprinkler systems in the Phase 2 homes, the total water storage capacity requirement would only be 29,350 gallons, just under the 30,000 gallons of water storage we already have.
In my previous meetings with the fire department, they were fairly enthused about sprinkler systems, even though sprinkler systems don't really help in a forest fire. They said that sprinkler systems have come down in price and now cost about $1.50 per square foot, or about $3000 for a 2000 sf home. Also, a sprinkler system should reduce home insurance costs. So it seems that adding sprinkler systems to Phase 2 homes not only meets a regulatory requirement, it also adds real value to the homes by making them safer and lowering insurance costs.
I'm pretty sure that we're all set on the water storage issue and we can check that box. Making some progress sure feels good!
Enjoying a cup of tea on the front porch.
The Path Ahead
With the big setback in our septic system planning it looks like our Preliminary Plat approval will be delayed for at least six months making construction in 2021 unlikely. Building homes in 2022 now seems more likely. That's a real disappointment, but we've been working on developing Heartwood for more than 25 years so adding another year is not the end of the world. We will just keep moving doggedly forward working to create an amazing addition to Heartwood and 14 beautiful and reasonably priced homes for 14 new community households.
Something very positive that's been happening lately is the enthusiasm and engagement of the Phase 2 Associate Members. We've been holding monthly Zoom gatherings so they can get to know Heartwood, each other, and the Phase 1 members. The last Zoom gathering was a virtual tour of Heartwood's many gardens, greenhouses, irrigated pastures, and farm animals. Through these gatherings, our Associate Member group is becoming more closely connected even though they live all across the United States.
There also seems to be a lot more interest in Heartwood from the general public. We've been getting lots of inquiries and people wanting to visit. Perhaps because of the pandemic more people are seeing the value in living in supportive communities and also the attraction of a virtual job in a gorgeous rural location. Whatever the reason, this is good for cohousing, good for Heartwood, and good for Phase 2.
Since the last Phase 2 Update newsletter, we've added two new Associate Member households. A huge welcome to Renée Rivard and Mark & Lauren Gilbert and their one year old daughter!
Yuccas in bloom along one of the Heartwood trails.
If you're interested in a greater sense of peace and belonging in your life and a healthier lifestyle fostered by living in community and close to Nature, we invite you to get involved. In July we will again be opening up our common house guest rooms. To get details on our reopening plans, click here to go to our Plan a Visit webpage or click here to send an email to Sandy. She can help you reserve one of our common house guest rooms.
If you've been on the fence about becoming an Associate Member, don't despair about the fact that we already have 16 Associate Member households. Once Full Equity Membership opens up and the $12,000 non-refundable deposit is required, there will undoubtedly be some turnover. If you are seriously interested and would like to get involved with Heartwood and our Associate Members group, including participating in our monthly Zoom gatherings, we'd strongly encourage you to get in the Phase 2 queue by becoming an Associate Member. Click here for info on becoming an Associate Member.
As always, if you have any questions, simply reply to this email. We're happy to answer any and all questions. We've posted answers to frequently asked questions on the Phase 2 page on our website and also the FAQ page.
Yours in Community,
Phase 2 Project Manager
Lilacs and a glimpse of the backyard at Monica and Frank's home.
More blossoms at Monica and Frank's.
The Phase 2 Update newsletter provides periodic updates on our progress in developing the second phase of Heartwood Cohousing. To have Heartwood newsletters delivered right to your inbox, click on the GET IN TOUCH button at the bottom of this page.