Plan for Annapolis senior niche ‘co-housing’ is shelved

Bob Corbett had thought he’d be watching the construction of the mini-neighborhood of his dreams by now — the first co-housing condos for senior citizens in Annapolis.

But his plans for the niche housing in the Eastport community have fizzled, ending more than a dozen years of effort, in what Corbett called “a real blow.”

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  • Customs and Tradition

Co-housing, an idea imported from Denmark, is built around people who choose to create a community with a social compact that often includes a commitment to community responsibilities and making decisions by consensus.

Instead of the living arrangements he’d envisioned, Corbett and his wife, Diana, now in their 80s, moved several weeks ago from Annapolis to Texas for the same reason many older people relocate: to be near relatives they can rely on.

“I decided a couple of months ago to throw in the towel,” Corbett said last week. “I hated to give up. I’m stubborn.”

He said the reality was that his plan needed more people, money and a commitment from a developer to move forward. At times, he had potential developers interested, he said, but never enough people making a commitment to buy into a quasi-communal condo project.

“I hadn’t been able to gather a group to provide support,” he said. “I just finally said, ‘I can’t carry on by myself.'”

Community life in co-housing typically revolves around a house that has such features as a big kitchen and dining area where homeowners have the option of cooking and eating together a few times a week.

The arrangement offers what many senior citizens say they want in a retirement life — a little community of people they know and can rely on, that balances independence with interdependence, one that they have designed and that keeps them in charge, with communal spaces fostering social interaction. Corbett said he thought Annapolis would be a perfect spot for it.

About 300 co-housing communities exist, are under construction or trying to form in the United States, according to the website of the Cohousing Association of the United States, and most are open to all ages.

The Corbetts had been trying to form a community, known as the Greenhouse Group, in Annapolis since 1999.

The Greenhouse Group’s numbers waxed and waned, but it never grew large enough. There was something of a revival in 2009, when Corbett identified a site and drew up plans. But in the end, there were commitments from three households, not enough to start a community that would have needed 36 to 40 condos to get the finances to work out.

He’d had a tentative contract on a few acres near shopping and a bus line in 2009 — only a sliver of which was usable for condos — but concluded the next year that he had to cancel it.

“We did not have enough people to make a commitment,” Corbett said. “You have to look behind yourself and say, ‘Can we do this?’ I was forced to admit we didn’t have it.”

The group dissolved a little more than a year ago, he said.

Corbett then identified a property about half the size, also in Eastport, with a plan calling for ground-floor commercial or office space with 22 or so units above, if a new co-housing group could form. A potential developer felt the numbers wouldn’t work, Corbett said.

He turned to Annapolis architect Gary Schwerzler, saying he was open to traditional condos or apartments, which might garner more interest. Schwerzler said he encouraged him but soon learned that a developer wants to put townhouses there. If that doesn’t work out, Corbett and Schwerzler might offer up Corbett’s plan for traditional housing, the men said.

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