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Cohousing at Frog Pond West?


Residents work toward establishing a different kind of community

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Residents at Columbia Ecovillage in Northeast Portland use one of the community's common spaces for yoga. The community was built by two former Frog Pond residents who weren't able to build it there two decades ago.Amid discussions of what a concept plan ought to suggest for the housing densities in the Frog Pond West neighborhood just north of Wilsonville, discussion of the possibility of a cohousing community there largely dropped from the conversation.

Now that a plan has been adopted by the City Council, however, more specific questions about the type of homes to be built are being revisited. And a few Frog Pond residents are working to keep cohousing on the table once more.

“It’s the kind of community where I want to live,” said Amy Thurmond, who hopes to see her property on Frog Pond Lane host a cohousing community in the future.

The community would feature 24 detached three-bedroom, 1,380- square-foot homes, each on a lot of just over 7,200 square feet in size; however, homeowners are purchasing partial ownership of one 4-acre property, because homes are clustered closed together with shared open space surrounding. Each home would include two bathrooms, a kitchen, a private patio and a two-car garage.

At the north end of the property facing Frog Pond Lane would be a 2,700-square-foot common house equipped with a dining/meeting room, a laundry room, workshop, three guest rooms and two porches. The community would also include a 2,400-square-foot garden with walkways and a 2,000-square-foot chicken yard.

“It is medium density, but still maintaining some of the (area’s) rural qualities, and it’s essentially a lot more affordable,” Thurmond said.

The idea for a cohousing project in Frog Pond is not a new one. In the mid ‘90s, Frog Pond Lane residents Pam and Joe Leitch toured several cohousing communities in Seattle. They liked what they saw so much that they decided to try to start one for themselves.

Because the area was not within the Urban Growth Boundary at the time, such a project quickly proved impossible. The absence of a sewer system in the area also created problems. The Leitchs sold their property in the late ‘90s in order to move into a Beaverton cohousing community.

In 2008, they broke ground developing the 3.7-acre Columbia Ecovillage cohousing community in Northeast Portland, comprised of a remodeled farmhouse and adjacent apartment complex. All 37 of the units, which are spread between five buildings and range in size up to around 1,200 square feet, were sold out by the time the community opened in 2009 — despite the economic downturn.

Around half the residents are retirees, Pam said, and 12 of the community’s 60 residents are children.

“It’s still independent living,” she said. But the sense of community is distinctive, and is also well-suited for raising children: “It’s much more like how we remember being in a neighborhood in the ‘50s.”

Some are drawn to the community in part because living there means spending less time doing house and yardwork. Residents are expected to do nine hours of work for the community per month, whether tending to community gardens, painting or cleaning common spaces, or contributing other talents to the community, Pam said.

Thurmond says that she became interested in cohousing communities after visiting Columbia Ecovillage in 2009.

“It’s just a stunning, impressive way for people to use space,” she said. “Each person has their own well-designed comfortable place or unit that they own, and they share the old farmhouse where they usually have two or three community meetings each week.

“And it just has occurred to me that this should be an option for people going forward.”

Thurmond was involved in 2014 with the Frog Pond Task Force, which provided feedback to the City of Wilsonville’s planning department on development of the Frog Pond Area Concept Plan. She raised the possibility of cohousing with a number of city officials, including City Councilor Julie Fitzgerald, who was interested in the idea.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Columbia Ecovillage in Northeast Portland inspired Frog Pond resident Amy Thurmond to consider building a cohousing community on her property.

“As it was described in the hearings, it was with the idea that the required collaboration and interactions among the neighbors would result in a certain quality of life, and a certain type of ambiance that may not be so easily attained otherwise,” Fitzgerald said. “I have friends who have lived in a co-housing neighborhood for decades and very much enjoyed it.”

Thurmond also discussed the idea with Planning Director Chis Neamtzu, who oversaw development of the Frog Pond Area Concept Plan.

“I’m intrigued by the concept,” Neamtzu said, adding that staff working on planning the Frog Pond area intends to keep the idea in mind while creating a development code for the area in months to come.

Other Frog Pond residents have expressed interest in the idea. Sue Woebkenberg lives in a home on Frog Pond Lane next to Thurmond’s property. She says that she was skeptical of the idea of a cohousing community in Frog Pond when the idea was raised by the Leitchs 20 years ago.

Woebkenberg says that she changed her mind after seeing her two sons grow up and move into homes of their own. People are less interested in spending their free time taking care of their homes nowadays, she says.

“I think it’s a good concept,” she said. “Not every 30-year-old today wants acreage.

There are still a number of administrative hurdles to leap before the project can move forward, however. Thurmond is working with the City of Wilsonville to see if such a community will be permissible once the land is zoned. Two-thirds of her property is designated by the Concept Plan for medium lots while one third is designated for large lots, and Neamtzu said that although the planning process is flexible, whether or not cohousing will meet the City’s designations is a question that has yet to be fully worked out.

Commitments to occupy 60 percent of the planned homes will be necessary to secure financing once a plan has received the City’s go-ahead. Thurmond said that she is optimistic about the community meeting requirements and also about attaining those commitments, given the consistent popularity of developments like Columbia Ecovillage.

“It would be so appropriate for Frog Pond Lane,” Thurmond said.

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..