A retirement community with a communal touch

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Group of soon-to-be retirees dream of a retirement community that lets them own their own homes but share common amenities.

ENGLEWOOD — Marcia Carmichael loves to bake, but as a widow who lives alone it seems a little excessive to whip up pies and loaves of bread for one.

Marie and Bob Slauson sometimes worry about what will happen if one of them becomes ill and the other is overwhelmed.

In an ideal world, Carmichael might bake a loaf of bread for the Slausons and check up on them in their time of need.

But the Slausons and Carmichael live in separate communities where the neighbors mostly keep to themselves. Having just recently met, they are hoping to change that.

On Sunday, Marie Slauson, Carmichael and five other idealistic retirees and soon-to-be retirees spent an afternoon hiking through a dense piece of Florida scrub brush in Englewood and dreaming about how to turn it into their perfect retirement community.

“I don’t want to go into a retirement home,” said Marie Slauson, 72. “I want to be somewhere where people help each other to live independently and where there’s a real sense of community.”

She and the others in the group are investigating a new trend in retirement communities known as “cohousing.” If they are successful, the project could be the first of its kind in Florida.

A Colorado consulting group is trying to start an elder “cohousing” project on six acres in Englewood.

What: Cohousing is a Danish development concept in which a group of people live independently but share certain common areas and activities.

Why: Advocates say cohousing allows older people to live independently longer by providing them with a support group of like-minded neighbors.

What’s next: Paiss & Associates will conduct another tour of the potential cohousing site on Oct. 7 and hold several community forums. For more information, call Van Deist at 408-7440.

Spearheading the effort is The Elder Cohousing Network and Paiss & Associates, a consulting group based in Colorado that advocates cohousing as a means for older people to stay independent longer.

With cohousing, people own their own homes but they share certain common areas, like a clubhouse or community kitchen, and the development is designed to encourage more socialization and communal activities.

“That’s very attractive to me because I’m a single person who lives alone,” said Carmichael, 78. “I’ve been interested in something like this for many years. It’s a great way to share resources and have some company in your later years.”

While there are already many developments for seniors, most of them are large and the neighbors come together at random. In cohousing, the group decides how it wants the community to look and what kind of amenities it will have.

“The unique thing about this is that it’s intentional,” said Zev Paiss, owner of Paiss & Associates. “You intentionally choose to live in a certain area with certain people who have similar philosophies.”

Developed in Denmark about 30 years ago, only three elder cohousing communities have been built in the United States thus far, Paiss said.

Van Deist, Paiss’s representative in Southwest Florida, has been trying to organize a local cohousing development for the past two years but the projects have stalled, either because the location or the group dynamic was not right.

“Everything has to come together in just the right way for this to work,” Deist said.

Deist’s newest attempt involves up to 50 homes on six acres owned by Land Tech LLC across from the Englewood Sports Complex on River Road.

Land Tech owner John Goddard estimated the cost at about $50,000 to $60,000 per person to clear the land and provide utilities.

Each person would pay for their own home, and the group would pool their money to build amenities such as a clubhouse or swimming pool.

The community would operate under the same rules as a condominium association, with a board of directors and joint ownership of the shared facilities.

The Englewood project is simply a concept for now.

“We’re just trying to see if there’s enough interest to take this to the next level,” Deist said.

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