Renderings of the Fernwood Urban Village at the corner of North Park and Chambers streets.

Fernwood Urban Village explores new model of housing

Eight years ago, Bill McKechnie envisioned a co-housing space in an urban setting that would bring people together.

Eight years ago, Bill McKechnie envisioned a co-housing space in an urban setting that would both bring people together and reduce one’s environmental footprint. Now, those dreams are inching closer to becoming a reality in Fernwood.

The Fernwood Urban Village is a multi-generational, co-housing community at the corner of Chamber and North Park streets, in which individuals and families share social and physical resources in an urban community setting. The 28,600-square-foot project (roughly two thirds of an acre), will include guest rooms, exercise facilities, a woodworking workshop, commercial kitchen, laundry room and an art space.

There are 31 self-contained units available in four buildings, with each unit ranging from 350-square-foot studios to 1,300-square-foot family-size homes. Members pay strata fees and have access to all of the shared amenities.

“There’s a number of items that the community uses and shares. That’s the whole idea of co-housing, that you can share the space. You have your private unit, but then you share 8,500-square-feet of space with the other members,” said McKechnie, the project developer and mastermind.

“Our overall goal is to live lighter on the plant. It’s a simple recipe, but the key behind it is having a community of people who trust each other and live with each other. It’s very exciting to see the relationships that are being built among the whole community.”

McKechnie originally purchased the lots with the intention of turning it into a revenue-producing property. However, after talking with people in the neighbourhood over a one-year period, they decided, if they could combine other properties, they could transform the space into co-housing units that would benefit the community.

He has since studied and researched co-housing developments in other countries, visiting six other co-housing villages in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

But McKechnie admitted when he first approached the city to rezone the lot, they were skeptical about the idea since it was a fairly new concept. Eventually, they turned around and the lot was rezoned in 2014. Over the past two years, the Fernwood Urban Village has been building up its membership, with roughly a dozen couples interested in joining the village.

Currently, McKechnie is in the process of finalizing technical drawings and applying for the building permit. He hopes to begin construction in the fall.

Co-housing is a model that is quickly picking up steam across the country. McKechnie noted there are co-housing villages in the Fraser Valley, Courtenay, Nanaimo, Sooke and one starting up in Saanich. When complete, this will be the first in Victoria.

“Co-housing is a phenomenon in terms of residential development that is growing by leaps and bounds all over North America. It seems to be a new way of dealing with the housing issue,” said McKechnie, adding it appeals to seniors, couples and singles.

Laurie Taylor moved to an apartment in James Bay three months ago and feels disconnected from the community around her. After hearing about the village from a friend, she decided to join.

“It’s not my space and I’m missing that. I’m missing not having dirt to play in and more importantly, I like that in this co-housing model, everything around me is not my sole responsibility,” she said.

“The current situation with one house is presented time and time again, but it doesn’t work. Many people are lonely this way. What I love about the Fernwood Urban Village is that it’s a village within a village. We don’t feel so isolated. With shared space we live larger.”

For more information about the Fernwood Urban Village visit fernwoodurbanvillage.ca.