Emerson Commons Cohousing to Begin House Building

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Peter Lazar, Emerson Commons. Photo: Mike Marshall.

The Emerson Commons Cohousing community will begin construction of 26 houses on its 6-acre site on Parkview Road next month, according to project leader Peter Lazar.

The location, once known as Seven Persimmons Farm, adjoins Crozet Veterinary Clinic and recently attracted public notice when a line of cedar trees on Parkview Road were removed to allow road widening to the project.

The project is named for American Trancendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lazar said, because “his writings about community and a simple life fit the project’s philosophy,” and the community finds them inspirational.

The cohousing project attempted to start in 2009 but was stymied by the financial crash, said Lazar, who for the last 13 years has lived in Shadow Lake Village, a cohousing community in Blacksburg. “It’s been so terrific I thought I’d like to try to introduce it near the city of my alma mater.” He is currently president of the Cohousing Association of the United States, which counts 165 completed cohousing communities across the country. There are two in Southwest Virginia, one started by nuns, and others are coming in Northern Virginia. Cohousing is a Danish concept from the 1970s. It came to the U.S. in the 1990s to California.

Lazar graduated from U.Va. in 1989 (chemistry) and earned his M.S. in computer science there in 1993. Lazar said he does not expect to move to Crozet until his daughters, now ages 13 and 16, go to U.Va. in a few years.

Emerson Commons aerial drawing.

He is the co-founder of eBroselow, LLC, with partners Dr. Jim Broselow (the inventor of the Broselow Tape) and Dr. Bob Luten, and now serves as the company’s chief technology officer. The firm makes medical reference software designed to reduce pharmaceutical dosing errors. It’s used in 275 hospitals nationwide.

Lazar and his wife Molly bought the Crozet property in 2013 and in 2015 he began the county’s approval process, which he termed “excruciating.”

The project’s 26 houses include three single-family homes, 14 duplexes and 9 triplexes. Eleven are under contract and 19 are reserved. Lazar said he is not taking new contracts until he updates pricing.

“The people just kind of came, basically. There’s enough demand that we haven’t needed realtors.

“The houses range from 1,000 to 2,800 square feet and are all two stories with attic spaces. They are custom homes, though the exterior architecture is Craftsman trim, sort of Cape Cod. It’s simple, but the materials are top grade and super energy-efficient with 6-inch stud walls. There’s standard solar on all houses. It’s the first all-solar development in Virginia. It’s the first ‘eco-village,’ with all the fronts facing south. Houses will get from eight to 14 solar panels, depending on their size, and some will add panels to get to ‘net-zero’ energy use.” House prices range from $310,000 to $450,000. They will be hybrid modular construction. The wall panels are being built now in Rocky Mount by Southern Heritage Homes. The first house will be assembled in April.

“Legally there’s nothing unusual,” said Lazar. “They are condos. We wanted it to be an HOA, but we couldn’t make that work within county rules.” Residents will pay a monthly condo fee.

“It’s all open market. You just buy a house, but it’s in a place where people care about the community. There’s an expectation that you will participate in the management of the community.

“They have private back yards with fences,” he said. “The architecture makes it happen. There’s a road, but it’s closed off except for big deliveries. There are no steps to get into the house. The kitchens are in front so they look out on the public areas. The living rooms face the woods, and there’ll be a trail along the creek that’s accessible.” Lazar said the community would also be interested in helping build a trail that would connect to Crozet Elementary School.

There’s a central green and mountain views to the north. There’s a nice heated pool, fenced, too.

The project has three parking lots and each house is reserved one spot near their door.

The community also includes the “common house,” the old farmhouse that dates to 1890—one section is an 1840 log cabin moved from West Virginia–which will be the location for “clubhouse events,” such as potluck meals or community dinners. The common house can be reserved for private events, too.

“There’s a culture of sharing. In Blacksburg we share bikes and canoes, lawnmowers and chain saws. It saves space.”

The existing shed will be used for communal storage but will probably be renovated later for more communal space. Parkview Road will have a bicycle lane added on its east side to reach the project.

Lazar said he found Crozet when he was looking for a flat, six-acre site around Charlottesville. “That’s not easy to find.”

“Getting something innovative is really hard when you have a lot of rules in place. That was really challenging. For instance, dealing with setbacks. [The county’s] model is 1990s. We need to open up to new concepts such as pocket neighborhoods. We’re getting behind the times. We really should have been an HOA, but the rules forced us to be a condominium.”

Lazar grew up in Fairfax County. “I used to run around with packs of kids in the neighborhood. That’s much more rare now. Half of our buyers are young families who want their kids to be able to run around the neighborhood and people have your back. I think it’s made my daughters much more creative. They’ll play more and interact with adults more. The concept is also attractive to older couples who are tired of a big house and want to be around others and kids. Our tag line is “yesterday’s neighborhood today.”

“We’re excited to be part of Crozet. There’s so many people where this is their new home. We have an orchestra! People coming here to cohousing are attracted to Crozet—just the friendliness you encounter at the grocery store.

“This neighborhood is going to be pretty involved in Crozet. We think we will be one of the focal points and Crozet will be proud of it. We’ll be sponsoring events that Crozet citizens will be attending. That’s the way it’s happened organically in other cohousing communities.” Find out more about the cohousing concept on the Web at cohousing.org.

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