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Update: Garden City Council votes against zone change for proposed cohousing development

Small homes, shared community space. Does cohousing sound right for you?

Developer Don Kemper plans to build Idaho's first cohousing project on State Street. Learn what it means.
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Developer Don Kemper plans to build Idaho's first cohousing project on State Street. Learn what it means.

The Garden City Council on Monday evening rejected a request to rezone a State Street parcel to allow a pocket neighborhood development.

Council members believed safety concerns raised by neighbors opposed to the development at 5605 W. State St. made the 19-unit project incompatible with the city's comprehensive plan.

Under current R-2 zoning, only seven homes can be placed on the 1.3-acre parcel. Developers Don and Will Kemper sought an R-3 designation that would have allowed them to construct the 19 homes.

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Developers Will Kemper, left, and Don Kemper told members of the Garden City Council they felt their 19-unit cohousing development was compatible with the city's comprehensive plan. The council disagreed and on Monday evening turned down their request for a zone change. Under existing zoning, only seven homes could be built on the 1.3-acre parcel on State Street. John Sowell jsowell@idahostatesman.com

"It was not compatible with the neighborhood," said Pierce Roan, president of the Plantation Master Association, which represents owners of 254 homes in the nearby Plantation neighborhood.

Developer Don Kemper said he was disappointed by the action.

"An influential group of neighbors rallied against their fear of the unknown and won the day," Kemper said. "Who lost? The people of modest incomes who might have found a better life through cohousing."

Kemper said he didn't know what he would do next.

Roan and others in the standing-room audience at City Hall argued the development would add to existing traffic congestion on State Street. With only a narrow strip of land fronting State Street, the development would have required right-in, right-out access and would have forced drivers to turn around farther west to get back to the development.

Roan and others who testified before the council said it would also be difficult for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles to drive within the pocket neighborhood.

After a three-hour hearing, the council voted to leave the zoning designation as it is.

The story below was published May 11, 2018, under the headline, "These condos fit those who can't afford Ada County's median price of over $300,000."

A proposed Garden City pocket neighborhood aims to offer affordable small homes that bring neighbors closer together while promoting a more environmentally sustainable approach to living. Owners might not even need cars.

Nineteen energy-efficient, two- or three-bedroom homes, ranging from 640 to 1,000 square feet each, would be built in a park-like setting on 1.3 acres at 5605 W. State St., just west of Jalopy Jungle, a junkyard. A historic farmhouse there would become a community center.

The project, named CoHousing Commons, is proposed by Don Kemper, the founder and retired CEO of Boise's Healthwise; and his son, Will Kemper, a Boise real estate agent.

"Cohousing creates an environment where people are more likely to be happy," Don Kemper said. "You create a community where people help each other, are supportive of each other. No one is lonely ."

He said prices are not yet set, but he wants the houses to be affordable for teachers, firefighters or other public servants who cannot afford Ada County's median price of over $300,000.

Two nearby townhouses sold for about $175,000, and Kemper said he hopes to set the prices in that range. That's within the budget of a teacher making $48,000 a year, he said. The median family income in Ada County is $58,099, according to the most recent Census Bureau data.

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This home, built a century ago for Basque farmers Pedro and Maria Echevarria at 5605 W. State St. in Garden City, may become the center of an 19-unit cohousing project whose residents could use it for entertaining, community meals, music, a library and other purposes. Katherine Jones kjones@Idaho Statesman

Cohousing, short for cooperative housing, is a type of planned residential community also known as an intentional community. It originated in Denmark in the 1960s.

There are about 150 cohousing communities in the United States, including ones in Oregon, Utah, Washington and Nevada. This would be Idaho's first, Kemper said.

Kemper and his wife, Molly Mettler, a Healthwise vice president, spent six months at an intentional community in Scotland after they retired two years ago from the nonprofit, which provides health information to hospitals, health plans, care-management companies and health websites.

Residents lived in a row of townhouses and shared some common meals, spaces and gardens.

"That was my first encounter with people living in a cohousing situation," Kemper said. "It just made sense to me. I've always tried to be an innovator and to show the way to something better."

CoHousing Commons buyers would share ownership in the community center, where they would decide how it will be used.

"They could entertain at the big house," Kemper said. "They could have a music room at the big house. They could have a workshop. Not everyone has to have their own workshop. Not everyone has to have their own piano. You can do it at the common house and share it among 18 families."

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This interior of the Craftsman-style farmhouse would become a community gathering place, including meals two or three times a week. "That's where the magic happens," said developer Don Kemper.

The community center could also be used for shared meals, although each home would come with a full kitchen, he said.

Garden City has supported other infill projects aimed at providing residents with affordable housing. NeighborWorks Boise recently began construction on its third Garden City pocket neighborhood, at 335 E. 40th St. The nonprofit's projects also emphasize common areas that foster relationships between neighbors, although they lack community centers.

"It helps our community. It helps the greater area," Garden City Mayor John Evans said last month, commenting on the Neighborworks project. "We're filling in these little spots. There's great value in having workforce housing in close proximity to transportation and entertainment and recreation."

The 3,000-square-foot farmhouse was built in 1920 and belonged to Pedro and Maria Echevarria, early Basque farmers in the Collister neighborhood. The home, designed by Toutellotte and Hummel, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kemper said parking would be limited to the western edge of the property, with residents required to walk past their neighbors' homes to reach their places. That would encourage interaction between neighbors and would preserve safe, inviting spaces around the homes, he said.

The Boise River Greenbelt is two minutes away by bicycle, Kemper said, and Valley Regional Transit has a bus stop in front of the parcel on State Street. Several restaurants, a coffee shop and retail stores are within walking distance.

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Drawing of the proposed CoHousing Commons development off State Street in Garden City. Plans call for 19 small condominiums with the existing Pedro Echevarria House, built in 1920, to serve as a community center. Parking would be confined to the west side of the 1.3 acre parcel, at the left of the drawing. Provided by Don Kemper

"We believe that because of bus access and the Greenbelt, our residents will have the chance to be successful without owning cars," Will Kemper said in a document submitted to the city. "Almost every public school can be reached from our location by bus in under an hour."

Some residents of the nearby Plantation neighborhood have expressed concerns about increased traffic and whether the development would make it more difficult to turn left onto State Street from North Plantation River Drive. Kemper said that should not be a problem: Residents of CoHousing Commons would add an estimated 11 additional trips at peak afternoon driving times, he said.

Construction is tentatively set to begin this fall, Kemper said. Most of the homes will use conventional wood framing.

Kemper said he is considering stacking shipping containers to create two fourplexes. He said he's had discussions with IndieDwell, a new Boise manufacturer of shipping container homes. The company recently leased a warehouse in Caldwell where 50 employees will build affordable housing units, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.

Roofs will be designed to make it easy to add solar panels if homeowners desire.

"Where we believe we are making a significant positive impact is by building small homes that because of the shared spaces in the community will provide more opportunity for a richer life than much larger homes generally do," Kemper said.

The project requires city approval of Kemper's request for a zone change and a planned unit development. Three public meetings are scheduled:

The Garden City Council has scheduled a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, May 14, at Garden City City Hall, 6015 Glenwood St. The council will consider a rezone request from R-2 to R-3. Under the R-2 designation, there is a limit of 6 housing units per acre, fewer than what is proposed.

The Garden City Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, to consider a request for a planned unit development for the project.

The Garden City City Council is scheduled to take up the request at 6 p.m. Monday, June 11.

"This kind of development won't be for everyone," Kemper said. "But we believe a lot of people will be interested in it."

To learn more

Contact Don Kemper at cohousingcommons@gmail.com

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