Mike Ivey (September 11, 2014)

There’s no sign of any construction yet at Union Corners, the long-awaited development at East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street.

But that hasn’t stopped a community-minded group from making plans for a major cohousing effort at the high-profile site.

John Steines, an active member of the Schenk Atwood Starkweather Yahara Neighborhood Association, has been working with developerGorman & Co. and the Design Coalition architectural firm on including one or more cohousing projects in the development.

The parties have been meeting and discussing the idea for months and are now moving forward with more formal planning — including finding individuals interested in signing up for a unit.

“Cohousing at Union Corners is attracting potential homebuyers to this intentionally welcoming site on the near east side of Madison,” says Steines, who was part of the Union Corners neighborhood steering community since the development was first proposed by McGrath Associates a decade ago.

Long popular in Scandinavia but relatively new in the U.S., cohousing aims to create a community where residents share some facilities, make joint decisions with their neighbors and work together to live in a more sustainable manner. The projects often include a large group kitchen and meeting space in a community building.

Not surprisingly, Madison is something of a Midwest leader in cohousing. Several unique projects have been built here in the past 15 years, including the Village Cohousing with 18 units on Mound Street on the near west side; the 30-unit Troy Gardens Cohousing on the north side and the 40-unit Arboretum Cohousing that opened in 2008 near Vilas Zoo.

Two cohousing workshops hosted by the Design Coalition Institute are scheduled for next month: Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Goodman Community Center and Oct. 18 at 10 a.m. at Bashford Church, 329 North St.

“We’re looking for people who are serious about rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on this,” says Sue Thering, who heads the nonprofit Design Coalition Institute.

Thering says interest is very strong and points to the Design Coalition Institute Facebook page on Union Corners cohousing that drew 600 hits in the first 24 hours.

“There is a lot of pent up demand for this,” she says.

The first building, dubbed Sister #1 would be a three-story, multi-family cohousing building. Sister #2 is envisioned as a mix of townhouses and apartment-type units. Both would include a variety of privately owned units and commonly owned amenities.

Thering said topics up for discussion include multi-generational and senior-friendly units, affordability, pets and the types of common areas that might be included.

Other details also need to be worked out, including who might actually develop any buildings or hold title to the land.
“A lot of things are still up in the air,” says Thering.