Great Oak’s “prehistory” actually begins with Sunward Cohousing, which was originally conceived in 1994 and built in 1998 in Scio Township outside Ann Arbor. Sunward has been an example, an inspiration, and an invaluable source of support (as well as a home for several of us while we waited for Great Oak to come into existence), and our next-door neighbors.
Even with 40 households, a growing waiting list at Sunward provided evidence that there was enough interest in Ann Arbor to support more cohousing communities. Two members of Sunward, Nick Meima and J.D. Lindeberg, hoped to apply the lessons learned in developing Sunward to helping a new community take shape. They formed the Cohousing Development Company (CDC) with local builder Bill Kinley, who had been the general contractor in the construction of Sunward.
The Cohousing Development Company (CDC)
The Cohousing Development Company consists of three partners with significant experience in the development of Ann Arbor’s first cohousing community, Sunward Cohousing: Nick Meima was a founder, J.D. Lindeberg, P.E., was a construction manager, and Bill Kinley, the owner of Phoenix Construction, was the general contractor. In addition to drawing from their own expertise, the Cohousing Development Company worked with other local and national experts. Among these are Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, principals of The Cohousing Company and the pioneers of the cohousing movement in North America, who are helped us in planning and design, and Wayne Appleyard of Sunstructures Architects in Ann Arbor.
From a tiny seed… Great Oak is Born
After looking at several sites in the Ann Arbor area, the CDC discovered that the 15 acres directly south of Sunward were available. They recognized this as an opportunity to develop two more cohousing communities (one at a time) for a total of three contiguous communities-the largest density of cohousing in the United States. In January 2001 the Cohousing Development Company agreed to purchase the land if six households would financially commit to the project by March 31. When a total of 25 households were signed on by that date, it seemed obvious that Great Oak Cohousing was going to take shape quickly.
The first interested people held their first business meeting on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2001, where four households put money down for a unit.
Over the next several months, our community and our project took shape. Much of the design work was done in a series of weekend workshops that defined the site plan, the individual units and the common facilities. By late summer 2001, we had working drawings, and the developers and architects went to work on the process of fleshing out the details, working through the permitting process, and finding contractors. At the same time, we worked hard to define ourselves as a community: who we are, what we believe in, how we work together-and we tried hard to remember to have fun during this sometimes complex and demanding process.
Along the way we changed our name from White Oak to Great Oak in order to make the name our own.
On December 3, 2001 we reached consensus on our vision statement:
Our vision is to create a sustainable community that is diverse and joyful. We seek to thrive in harmony and dissonance with one another. In this place we value and cultivate our strengths and our differences.
In November of 2002, bulldozers started grading the our site, and construction had finally begun.
In August of 2003, members began moving into their new Great Oak Cohousing homes. As more units were finished, more members moved in. As we moved into the community, the committee structures changed and we began participating in the community work system. The construction committee morphed into the buildings committee and after the design committee finished up it’s work, it disappeared.
The Common House was finished in March of 2004. A whole new day dawned for Great Oak as we celebrated the completion of the heart of our community. We started up our meal system and consensed upon serving five dinners per week at the common house.
We have now celebrated many anniversaries since those first four households put money down for a unit on Valentine’s Day 2001. We have celebrated many new births and birthdays together, as well as mourning deaths and losses together. We have played ping pong and basketball, gone sledding and fishing, watched presidential debates & elections and superbowls, TV series, and eaten many enjoyable meals together. We look forward to much more…
As Great Oak has become a physical reality, the third cohousing community intended for the remaining parcel of land is already taking shape: Touchstone Cohousing. We have been cooperating in building community with them.