Allison Geyer (September 22, 2016)

CohoMadison project manager Greg Rosenberg recalls a “grim 24 hours” in late July after he got confirmation that developer Gorman & Co. was no longer going to build the group’s cohousing project on the Union Corners site.

Cohousing, a style of living that features private homes clustered around shared space, had been a much-touted aspect of the high-profile development at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street for the past several years. But as Gorman’s option period for the land contract neared its end, the developer decided to instead go with a senior housing facility aimed at “grandfamilies,” or grandparents raising their grandchildren. That left the cohousing group in need of a new home — and fast.

“With developments, it’s a rollercoaster,” Rosenberg says. “You have great days, then you have days when it’s all going sideways.”

The group formerly known as Union Corners Cohousing rebranded as CohoMadison and began a search for a new site. After a month of discussions, the group announced plans to build the cohousing development at 2048-2100 Winnebago St., just a few blocks from Union Corners. The week of Sept. 12, the cohousing group’s board of directors approved a memorandum of understanding with developer Accipiter Properties, which owns the adjoining parcels of land that currently house Madison Circus Space, Sector67, Winnebago Studios and Doctor Sax Woodwinds. These buildings will be razed to make room for the cohousing development.

CohoMadison architect Jim Glueck — whose portfolio includes two other local cohousing projects, Troy Gardens and Arboretum Cohousing — is responsible for bringing the groups together, says Adam Chern, co-owner of Accipiter Properties. Glueck had worked with Accipiter on a previous attempt to redevelop the Winnebago Street properties in 2011.

“The more we talked…the more we found that we had some very compatible goals,” Chern says. The cohousing project will replace the aging, industrial warehouses on the site with a higher quality of building, and the development will preserve the artistic and creative elements that are happening on the site. There are currently 17 artist studios housed there, and the CohoMadison development will likely include 10 “affordable” studios as part of its design. “It’s gentrification without forcing out the creative class,” Chern says.

Madison Circus Space also plans to stick around, with a new facility on the site along with the cohousing development, says MCS board member Josh Casey. The nonprofit circus arts organization had been talking about expanding for about a year.

Sector67 had been looking for a new, larger space since its plans to join the StartingBlock Madison development fell through. Director Chris Meyer says he will announce a new location for the makerspace in November. Chern, however, hints that the new location is “within walking distance” of the current Sector67 site.

Since the Winnebago Street site is about three times smaller than what the cohousing group was working with at Union Corners, the design for the project will be significantly different, Rosenberg says. Instead of row-style townhomes, the development will be a three- or four-story building with commercial space and/or a coworking area on the first floor. There will be less room for green space, so the landscaping will be high impact.

There had been discussion about including LGBTQ-friendly senior housing as part of the cohousing project, but CohoMadison board president Terri Martinelli says that idea has since evolved to be more inclusive.

“Everyone is welcome; the community is open to everybody,” she says.

Of the 40 units planned, there are 24 households already signed on to live in the cohousing development. The group plans to hold informational meetings and project design sessions in the coming months.

“Cohousing is an outside-the-box concept,” Rosenberg says. “It’s more complex, and it takes more time, but it results in great projects. And what you end up with is community.”