It has been years in the making, but Oak Park Commons, the first intergenerational cohousing community in Oak Park and the state, is getting closer to becoming a reality. A few years prior to the pandemic, Oak Park residents Susan Stall and her husband, Charlie Hoch, were among a core group who set out to create the state’s first intergenerational cohousing community in their hometown.
A shared, common purpose sets a cohousing development apart from other multifamily living spaces. Residents share common spaces, which are intentionally planned to foster social interaction among residents of all generations. In addition, Oak Park Commons will be a multi-unit building that promotes energy conservation practices and environmental sustainability.
Prior to the pandemic, the group met regularly to recruit members and discuss goals. Today, Oak Park Commons members have learned a lot, and have begun to focus on the finer details involved in constructing a home for their members.
Stall, now the group’s chair of membership and marketing, says that while a new concept for some, cohousing is not unusual in Scandinavian countries, where the movement began.
There she says, intentional communities are built around a shared common house, which is a gathering space for the community. Meanwhile, having a private living space is a comfort to many members who want both community and privacy.
“Cohousing is intriguing because it’s an intentional community. Residents are committed to building relationships.” Stall said. “Everyone here will have their own condo.”
While a cohousing community in a rural community might be built around homes, with a common house for gathering, in Oak Park’s more urban landscape, the community will be centered on one building with 24 individual units and shared spaces.
Stall says that currently, a large common space is planned for the fifth floor of the building and will include a roof garden and commercial kitchen for communal meals and gatherings.
Cohousing can appeal to extroverts and introverts. Stall notes that extroverts like her enjoy having built-in conversational opportunities every day, while introverts might enjoy having the opportunity to be pulled into interactions when they seek them out.
“Cohousing serves peoples’ needs in different ways,” Stall said.
In addition, cohousing intentionally mixes generations. Stall states that retired residents might want to help out on occasion with the children of younger residents. Younger residents might help out by picking up something for an older resident while running errands.
Stall calls this an “exchange of caring,” and notes that this concept carries over to residents sharing common elements like tools and gardening implements. A mail area will be big enough to encourage conversation during the daily task of picking up mail.
All of this provides an alternative to going it alone, according to Stall. She says that there are times in life when it is important to establish socially intertwined lives.
“This is like a neighborhood all in one building. Our grandchildren live out of the area. We like the vibrancy of a multi-generational environment,” said Sean Taylor, who serves on the finance committee of the group and is a committed buyer along with his wife.
Oak Park Commons is in the process of purchasing a site for their new development. Located at the corner of Madison Street and Carpenter Avenue, the site is close to Sugar Beet Co-op, Walgreens and a soon-to-come Pete’s Fresh Market grocery store.
The group has also selected an architect, Foster Dale Architects, which is working on renderings for the development. While the specifics are still being ironed out, Stall says the 27-unit building will include one, two and three-bedroom units, parking and an elevator.
Most potential residents are interested in two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, and Stall expects that younger families will be interested in the three-bedroom units. The five-story building will include in-unit laundry as well as multiple common spaces.
Developer Jonathan Shack of Altierra not only will lead the building process, but he is also committed to living in the development when it is completed.
Hoch notes that building a cohousing community is a complex undertaking, as households need to invest as partners. Unlike a traditional condo transaction, Hoch states the process can tie up a buyer’s money for a few years until the project is completed and the last unit sold.
“It’s very complicated and [that’s] why it’s not a widespread movement,” Hoch said.
Taylor calls this stage of the process very dynamic. He identifies the first step as raising funds and alongside simultaneous completion of architectural drawings and plans, which gives potential buyers a clearer vision of the development and allows the group to begin to get construction bids. Once the construction loan is firm, Taylor thinks that if all goes well, construction could begin by the fall.
While stressing the number of variables at play, he says that construction should be roughly 18 months, which could put a move-in date in the spring of 2024.
With a core group of six committed households, Oak Park Commons continues to seek more future residents. Stall says the group will have informational tables at Day in Our Village on June 5 and at the Oak Park Farmers Market.
Oak Park Commons holds a monthly meeting for prospective residents and those interested in learning more about cohousing. Information on meeting dates and times is available at oakparkcohousing.org.
Stall says there are different levels of memberships: an explorer level, in which people can attend public meetings and events to learn more about cohousing; an associate level, which requires a $100, non-refundable fee for those who are more deeply interested and perhaps interested in serving on one of the planning committees; and equity members who have decided to purchase a dwelling and make a financial commitment.
On June 22, the group will hold a casual gala at Trattoria 225, located at 225 Harrison St. in Oak Park, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. for people who feel a commitment and interest in cohousing.
Taylor says he’s looking forward to meeting the next 20 or so households to join Oak Park Commons, saying Oak Park is the perfect place for an intentional community like this.
“We’re very excited,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s a great time. It’s a great project.”