MARYSVILLE — In many neighborhoods, you can drive your car into a garage, close the door behind you and rarely talk to your neighbors.
Jennie Lindberg and her husband, Dean Smith, are building a different kind of neighborhood. In Sunnyside Village Cohousing, neighbors would know one another. Some might help care for kids or elders. Three nights a week, they would gather for community dinners.
This is just a slice of what life might look like at the newest “cohousing” community forming in Snohomish County.
Lindberg and Smith, of Everett, hope to begin construction of the 32-cottage neighborhood early next year at 3121 66th Ave NE in Marysville. An open house will be held there starting at noon Saturday.
Lindberg said she likes to tell people unfamiliar with cohousing that it’s just like a normal neighborhood.
“It is not a commune; it is not a cult; it’s not a belief system,” she said.
Cottages will be privately owned, with shared common spaces and a garden.
So what makes cohousing different?
It has to do with intention, Lindberg said. She said while some are friendly with neighbors, or have parents who live next door, many don’t have community naturally.
Cohousing is a way to create community “and have it on an ongoing basis,” she said.
And when residents move into the new neighborhood, they will already know each other.
“We’ll have worked together, we’ll have worked out conflict and will have worked out disagreements,” Lindberg said.
An intentional community is “a group of people who have chosen to live together or share resources on the basis of common values,” according to definition from the Foundation of Intentional Community.
Isolation is a major societal problem, and cohousing can be an antidote to loneliness, cohousing expert and architect Grace Kim said in a TED Talk. Kim has been an inspiration for Sunnyside Village.
“Being lonely, Kim says, is like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day on your health,” Smith said.
Lindberg and Smith learned about cohousing during a 2016 trip to Germany. In a Berlin cafe, they discussed with a friend cohousing and ecovillages — neighborhoods focused on sustainability. Lindberg said the concept fit with their interest in environmental issues as founders of 350 Everett, a local climate action group.
They found two communities in south Snohomish County, started in the 1990s. Both rarely had any openings, Lindberg said.
“We just said kind of nonchalantly, ‘Oh, let’s just try to start one,’” she said.
In 2018, Lindberg and Smith bought a 4¾-acre Marysville property. It’s in a suburban neighborhood of larger single-family homes.
They worked with Kim to design Sunnyside Village Cohousing. The 32 cottages will be between 1,100 and 1,200 square feet, with two or three bedrooms, according to plans.
Residents purchase and own their own homes, as in any other neighborhood. Lindberg said they anticipate prices will be slightly below market rate.
As home prices have spiked across Snohomish County and elsewhere — fueled by low supply, high demand and skyrocketing building costs — affordability will be a challenge, Lindberg said. However, smaller homes and more density can be “a solution to the housing problem,” she said.
A 3,300-square-foot common house will anchor the neighborhood, featuring a kitchen, dining room, meeting space, kids room, coffee bar and a work-from-home space.
There will be a large organic garden and greenhouse. They hope to teach people how to garden and show kids where their food comes from.
“Between what we can grow here and what we can buy from farms in the area, we should be able to feed ourselves pretty well,” Smith said.
So far, 13 households have committed to live at Sunnyside Village.
One future resident is Miriam Cook, of Tacoma.
“I don’t have anybody else to live and share my life with,” said Cook, 66, a retired educator. “I did start looking for places that would give me a more neighborly feel.”
She said her two adult daughters were wary of her plans at first.
“Once they realized that there is always going to be someone around for mom, they felt better,” she said. “I’m not joining a cult; it’s not scary.”
Cook said the designs for Sunnyside Village balance community and privacy. Cottages will have both front and back porches, giving residents the option to engage with neighbors — or not.
Smith said cohousing has advantages for families. He grew up with uncles and aunts around to learn from, though many kids don’t have that benefit, he said.
In addition, nuclear families are becoming less the norm, a 2020 study from the Brookings Institution found. As more Americans live alone or with roommates, “a broader range of housing choices” is needed, the authors wrote.
Sarah Spitz, of Santa Monica, California, is considering living at Sunnyside Village. The 69-year-old has been looking at cohousing for seven years, and hopes the Marysville group is the right fit.
Spitz took care of her parents in old age, and wonders who will take care of her. In cohousing, it could be as simple as a knock on the door if no one has heard from her, she said. Similarly, she imagines an older couple could look after the kids of a younger working couple.
There are three other cohousing communities in Snohomish County: Songaia and Clearwater Commons, both near Bothell; and Sharingwood, near Maltby.
Tom Campbell is the founder and developer of Clearwater Commons. He started the project with friends in 2006 and built the first homes in 2012. Today, the community is complete with 16 homes and 42 residents.
For a new cohousing community, “the nuts and bolts of financing and construction” are key, Campbell said. Also important is having “a transparent process for making decisions that is not too overly cumbersome … and ensuring people’s voices are heard,” he said.
Sunnyside Village is trying to stay on top of possible challenges. Lindberg said they are working with an experienced architect and builder and trying to reduce delays, figuring construction costs will only go up from here.
Members are also taking classes on communication and conflict resolution, she said.
The city of Marysville has received a pre-application for the project, said Haylie Miller, the city’s director of community development. A neighborhood meeting was held in February.
Sunnyside Village is preparing to submit a formal land-use application in late May, according to the architectural firm working on the project.
Learn more about the vision for Sunnyside Village Cohousing at an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, as part of National Cohousing Open House Week. The address is 3121 66th Ave. NE, Marysville.
Or attend an online introductory meeting every Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at us02web.zoom.us/j/87581340153.
More information is available at sunnysidevillagecohousing.com.