By Steven Powell / The Marysville Globe
MARYSVILLE — In this fast-paced, social-media-filled world, people are yearning for personal connections.
Research shows that loneliness has reached epidemic proportions. A UCLA study goes so far to say that loneliness makes cells weaker to fight off disease.
“We want to counter that,” said Dean Smith, who with his wife, Jennie Lindberg, is starting a co-housing development called Sunnyside Village at 3121 66th Ave. NE.
“The number one goal is the social factor. It’s an intentional community where people really get to know each other. They give each other support and stability,” Smith said.
Along with creating a community where neighbors look out for each other, the development also would create much-needed affordable housing locally.
The development would include 18-25 private cottages or duplexes, many units around 800 square feet for people who don’t need much room. Others would have a second floor of about 400 square feet, for families who need up to three bedrooms. Prices would range from about $260,000 to $375,000.
The development would be somewhat like the days of yesteryear.
“The older people would support the younger families — like surrogate grandparents,” Smith said. Because it’s a close-knit community, safety would increase. When people are at work, those who aren’t can keep track of the neighborhood.
Smith said many people think they need 3,000-square foot homes. But many of those big homes have no yards.
“In the 1950s, people lived just fine in smaller homes,” he said. “Kids love it here. They can just run and run and run.”
Currently there is a half-acre community organic garden on the 4.75 acres that used to be owned by City Councilman Tom King’s family. “Working on a garden builds community,” Lindberg said. “We’d love to share that with children. Food doesn’t just come from the store. Here, we grow it and we know what’s in the soil.”
There are work parties every Saturday, something that would continue when the development is completed. Garden tools and other equipment would be shared among the residents.
Eventually, along with the cottages, there would be a common house with a water view and a semi-professional kitchen where residents could hang out and have visitors. Smith foresees residents maybe having three meals a week together. They would rotate who does the cooking. “The more a community eats together the stronger it is,” Smith said research has shown.
Of course residents can opt out. “We don’t want to dictate” what happens, Smith said.
Actually, everything that happens there will be by consensus, meaning decisions will be made by all, and there needs to be 100 percent buy-in.
“You don’t have a cohesive group if it’s 15-5” for a vote on an issue, Lindberg said. Discussions and compromises will continue on issues until all are satisfied. “It’s harder but in the long run better” for all, she said.
A house already on site would be used for guests or rentals for people interested in checking out the community. Also planned are an orchard, a berry patch, rain gardens, electric car charging stations, a few playgrounds and optional solar panels. Other possibilities could include a woodworking or craft shop, depending on the desires of community members. “A lot of people are watching to see what we are doing,” Lindberg said.
They bought the land about a year ago from King, who had a better offer from a traditional developer, but favored their project as neighbors.
Smith, a retired scientist, and Lindberg, a therapist, said there are two other co-housing developments in the area, in Bothell and Woodinville. Smith said 10 years ago they couldn’t have built on the land because of a nearby eagle’s nest. But since eagles are no longer endangered, now they can.
“The eagle saved it for us,” he said of the timing.
Smith and Lindberg have lived in Everett for 12 years and are happy about moving to Marysville.
“It’s the most exciting project of my life,” Smith said. “We think it’s a fabulous way to live. Everyone who lives in one just loves it.”
Dave Porter, a sales manager for Loan Depot, said co-housing is a great solution to the affordable housing problem.
“It’s a game changer,” he said. “They all work for the common good.”
Porter said his company is active in providing loans for building “green” energy-efficient homes.
Smith called his wife “an old hippie” — she previously lived in a 1963 Volkswagen van and in another co-housing community. She said she checked out a co-housing development on Vashon Island about 20 years ago but didn’t like it.
At the time, she didn’t want to live that close to other people while being so far away from everything else. But now she gets it.
“When you’re older you want to know the people next door care about you,” she said.
Smith and Lindberg, who co-founded the environmental activist group 350 Everett, which addresses the climate crisis through local action, said they want to decrease their carbon footprint. Sunnyside Village neighbors might go shopping together or for each other, for example, to use fewer fossil fuels.
“It’s an intentional community where people intend to cooperate,” Lindberg said.
Lydia Olchoff of Redmond came to a recent open house at the property. She previously lived in such a development.
“We built so much love for each other,” she said. “The friendships are so much deeper. They are lifelong and precious to me.”
She said it’s not like a commune because everyone has their own space. She lives by herself now and is intrigued by the project because people help each other with things like mowing lawns, cleaning house or taking others to a doctor visit.
“There are people who need you,” Olchoff said. “It’s fun getting to know about each others’ lives.”
This story originally appeared in the Marysville Globe, a sibling paper to the Herald.