Rachel Carson EcoVillage Overview and Membership Policies

June 22, 2020, revised August 16, 2020

Part One: Overview of Rachel Carson EcoVillage

General Information

The Pittsburgh Cohousing Group is working with Chatham University to create a sustainable community where neighbors know each other and live more lightly on the planet. The Rachel Carson EcoVillage will be built on Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus, a beautiful 388-acre property where residents will have opportunities to participate in campus activities and contribute to the university’s advancement of sustainability. 

The Ecovillage will be a homeownership community of 35 private homes ranging from studio to three bedrooms. In addition, residents will share a common house with a dining room, a large kitchen, and guest rooms, along with common gardens, walks, and parking. The ecovillage offers a balance of privacy and community: the privacy of one’s own house and yard and the connection with neighbors in the common house or the common green. The entire development will be built to high standards of energy conservation, which will reduce utility bills to a fraction of their cost for conventionally built housing. Between now and the targeted move-in in 2022/23, prospective homeowners will also take part in decision-making, which will enable the group to get acquainted well before moving in. 

While Rachel Carson EcoVillage has the unique advantage of its relationship to Chatham, it builds on a tradition of established communities, both ecovillages and cohousing, which are based on the same principles. In the United States today, there are over 160 ecovillages and cohousing communities.

 

Vision, Mission, Aims

Rachel Carson EcoVillage Our vision is a world where people value connections with each other and nature and human life contributes to the life of the planet. As a community and as individuals, Rachel Carson EcoVillage embraces ecologically creative living. 

Our mission is to create a community in Pittsburgh where people and nature thrive. We believe that people have a valuable and purposeful role within the environment and that our presence can and should enhance the vibrancy and resilience of complex living systems. 

We aim to accomplish our mission by:

  • building a 35-unit cohousing ecovillage on the Eden Hall campus of Chatham University. 
  • attracting people who share a desire to participate in the community and also value the differences among each other. 
  • practicing constructive and compassionate communication so that we can govern our community equitably and effectively as a sociocracy. 
  • cultivating a low-energy, low-carbon lifestyle. 
  • contributing positively to the health and resilience of our natural ecosystems.

Preliminary Scope of the Project

At this point, we are planning for 35 units: 5 studios, 6 one-bedroom units, 17 two-bedroom units, and 7 three-bedroom units. The number and distribution of unit types may change in response to buyer interest. The scope and configuration of the development are subject to approval by Chatham University and Richland Township, as well as other unknown factors, and therefore may be modified. Refer to Appendix A for preliminary drawings. 

Housing Units and Common House Based on preliminary concepts, we anticipate building three building types with 2-4 units in 3 courtyard clusters. 

The sales price includes both the house and the household’s share of common facilities, and it covers the cost of construction, planning, and development. This is based on other recently built communities and can only be taken as a generally conservative idea of the range of prices.

Studio (500-600 sf) $150 – $200,000
One-bedroom (700-800 sf) $250 – $300,000
Two-bedroom (900-1300 sf) $280 – $380,000
Three-bedroom (1500-1600 sf) $400 – 490,000
Three-suite (2200-2400 sf) $750 – $800,000

There is no profit built into these costs—they will be offered for sale at the cost to build them. Should the number of units be reduced, these costs will be affected. 

The Common House is a shared facility of approximately 2500-3000 square feet. It includes a dining/meeting room, a kitchen, mail/package pick-up, and two guestroom suites. Other amenities may be included, as well. 

The units will be designed and constructed to conserve energy and minimize carbon emissions. To avoid combustion of fossil fuels, they will be all-electric, which makes it possible for them to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The units will be designed to meet high indoor air quality standards. It is our intent to be able to monitor building performance after construction to see how well they meet these goals. 

Preliminary Site Plan

The ecovillage will be designed along permaculture principles to contribute to the ecological quality of the site. The siting and building design are intended to fit well with the Eden Hall Campus character. It is also designed not to intrude on Chatham’s residential neighbors to the south. 

The number of parking spaces is yet to be determined and will depend on cost, buyer interest, and township requirements. The initial plan has 70 spaces in, 24 in shared garage buildings, though this may be increased if budget and space permit. A private driveway provides access and may be extended to the east to serve future development. 

Ownership and Sales

Each household owns its house (the building) and its share of the common facilities. The form of ownership is condominium. According to the terms of the bequest of the campus land to Chatham, the university must retain ownership of the property. The ecovillage will have a long-term (i.e., 99-year) “ground lease”, which will stipulate that the ecovillage may elect to renew the lease. 

Individuals will be responsible for financing the purchase of their unit and paying their property taxes. Monthly maintenance charges will include operating expenses, insurance, debt service, and capital reserves but do not include utilities for individual units. They will also cover the university activities fee and a share of the ground lease. The amount will be determined by the community and negotiation with the university. Such fees typically run in the range of $150-350, but we cannot predict what it will be at this time. Communities that have a program of shared volunteer work are able to keep their fees lower. 

When it comes to resales, experience has shown that houses in cohousing have held their value or have appreciated faster than the market as a whole. Any household leaving the community can legally sell their property and is entitled to the proceeds of the sale. The community will maintain a waiting list of persons interested in being informed if a unit becomes available, and the seller agrees to offer the unit to the first household on the list and proceed down the list until a prospect is found. The prospect is asked to apply through the membership process before the sale is completed. The purpose of this is to ensure that new buyers want to become active participants in the community and understand what that will entail. At a minimum, they will be asked to attend several common meals and at least one ecovillage business meeting. The seller agrees to confer with the community regarding the suitability of the prospective buyer. The process will be defined in greater specificity as we get closer to moving in. 

Part Two: Overview of RCE Memberships 

General Information

This outlines a three-stage path to membership in the Rachel Carson EcoVillage. Its purpose is to provide a guide to the process of introducing people to the ecovillage and forming the group that will develop it. This only applies to the process before occupancy. Once the ecovillage is under construction, this will be revised, as the process for joining will be different then, and there may be other categories of membership. The path to membership allows each household to move at their own pace. 

I. RCE Inquirer

Anyone is invited to learn about our community and engage in activities with members. The purpose of being an Inquirer is to become acquainted with the ecovillage. Inquirers have no responsibilities to the group except to let us know whether or not they are interested in moving to the next stage of membership. We anticipate that this stage might take from one to three months. 

By word of mouth, published articles, social media, and other outreach activities, we invite anyone who is interested to attend an introductory meeting, which we offer regularly. The meeting includes an introduction to the ecovillage, a tour of the site and Eden Hall campus, and a chance to ask questions and meet other interested people. The path to membership is explained at the meeting. Inquirers’ contact information is added to our list so that we may alert them to upcoming meetings or events. Inquirers automatically become members of The Pittsburgh Cohousing Group. 

We ask Inquirers to indicate an interest in becoming an Explorer member at any point by sending an email to rachelcarsonlecovillage@gmail.com. Besides the introductory meeting, Inquirers may attend other ecovillage activities that are announced to the our contact list or publicly. If we have not heard from an Inquirer for several months, we may inquire about their interest or drop them from the contact list. (Contact lists are maintained by the Administrative planning group.) 

II. RCE Explorer Membership

The purpose of the Explorer Membership is to give interested people a low-risk opportunity to see whether the ecovillage is the right “fit” and a chance to get to know their potential new neighbors. Explorer members are active members, who are involved in planning group and full group meetings. Explorer memberships enable prospective ecovillage members to get to know others in the community, understand our plans, our budgets, our requirements for contributions, and the risks attached to those contributions. 

Explorer members are responsible for participating in a planning group and taking an active part in full group meetings in order to help develop the ecovillage. Responsibilities may also include various tasks such as meeting with a new Inquirer, helping organize an event, helping draft a document, doing some research, or facilitating a meeting. Explorer members will be invited to take part in learning and establishing our sociocratic governance practices, including attending a workshop. They will also participate in ecovillage design workshops. 

Inquirers who want to become Explorer members will complete an Explorer membership form and pay a non- refundable fee of $150 per individual, which entitles them to four months of participation in business meetings, social events, and one-on-one meetings with members. At four months, the member may choose to extend Explorer membership at $75/quarter or move forward as an Equity member. If this presents a hardship for any individual, we also a $75 reduced cost membership level. Explorer fees are credited toward unit purchase price for those who move to the next stage. 

III. RCE Equity Memberships – 2 Levels

(as of 08/16/2020)

1. Equity – Pioneer
2. Equity – Pathfinder 

Equity-Pioneer and Equity-Pathfinder members are households who have decided to purchase a dwelling in the ecovillage. An Explorer member who wants to advance to Equity membership will have attended at least one full group meeting and participated in a planning group, will be aware of the risks and benefits involved, and will be conversant with the ecovillage values, policies, and practices. 

They will complete the requirements listed on the Equity Membership form, which follows. 

1. Equity – Pioneer Membership

Equity-Pioneers make advance deposits up to the value of the down payment on their unit. In return they become members of Rachel Carson EcoVillage LLC, have decision-making responsibilities, and have priority in unit selection. The advance deposits from the Equity-Pioneers fund the pre-construction costs such as survey, testing, design and engineering, public agency approvals, and legal and financing costs. We have prepared an estimated schedule of the timing of preconstruction costs to coordinate contributions with cash flow. All advance deposits are nonrefundable and are credited to the down payment of the household’s purchase price. The date of Equity-Pioneer membership will determine priority in unit selection in the development. Early membership incentive: If the effort is successful, the first ten Equity-Pioneers who acquire a unit will receive a credit of $4,000 (double the $2,000 membership deposit, as discussed below) toward the purchase price of their unit. 

The development will seek construction financing from a bank. It is expected that the bank will require Equity-Pioneers to obtain a pre-qualification for a mortgage (if they intend to take out a mortgage) and to commit a 20-25% down payment before authorizing construction of units. The bank may also require that they provide personal guarantees. If the bank requires all units in a building to be committed before releasing funds for the construction of that building, then buildings will be built as they are committed, and units will come available for Equity-Pioneer members in accordance with construction sequencing. Depending on the rate of sales, construction might be completed in as little as one year or as long as three years. 

If the effort to create the ecovillage does not succeed, no Equity-Pioneer member should expect to receive any refund or other benefit for whatever payments they have made. However, if the project is abandoned, Rachel Carson EcoVillage, LLC, will make a good faith effort to prorate refunds from any funds that remain unexpended after all expenses are paid. 

Further, if the ecovillage effort is successful but a household is not able to participate for any reason including personal choice, inability to qualify for a loan, or life changes, then that household may buy out of the project by finding an interested household that qualifies for Equity-Pioneer membership and can take over for the prior member. Reimbursement for any payments by the prior household will be paid by Rachel Carson EcoVillage, LLC once all the units have been sold. 

The success of the vision and future solvency of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, LLC cannot be guaranteed, so households are advised not to risk any money they are not prepared to lose. 

2. Equity – Pathfinder Membership

Equity-Pathfinders have decided to purchase a dwelling in the ecovillage but are not in a financial position to become Equity-Pioneers. 

An Equity-Pathfinder household makes advance deposits totaling $15,000 to the LLC prior to construction. These deposits are not included in the money that covers development costs and do not change anything in the calculations based on the Equity-Pathfinder membership described above. The Equity-Pioneers are the members whose numbers determine the pace of the project and whose deposits cover the pre-construction costs. 

The Equity-Pathfinder’s advance deposit applies to the purchase of the household’s unit. It is not at risk. During the development phase it may be used by the LLC to cover a short-term cash flow shortage, but once construction starts, it will be available in full should the member household need to withdraw from the project or the project is terminated. 

Equity-Pathfinders are entitled to unit selection in accordance with their date of membership. After Equity-Pioneers have made their selections, Equity-Pathfinders will select in the order of their seniority. This selection will occur prior to construction and will include all buildable units. It is possible that Equity-Pathfinders whose units are in the first construction phase may need to deposit their full down payment prior to construction, depending on the bank’s requirements. 

Equity-Pathfinders will participate fully in discussions regarding any decisions that have a financial or legal impact on the ecovillage. In keeping with a lower level of risk, they will not be members of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, LLC and therefore will not have that legal liability. Nor will they be asked to make a personal guarantee for the ecovillage construction loan. 

In other respects, Equity-Pathfinders have the same role and responsibilities as Equity-Pioneers. 

Equity Membership Responsibilities

Membership in the ecovillage means taking an active part in the life of the community. After moving in, all members are expected to participate in the daily activities of the community, which are run on a volunteer basis. This includes participating in social activities, common meals, and community-related upkeep and maintenance. For example, for common meals in many communities, a rotating team of volunteers plans the menu, purchases supplies, prepares and serves the meal, and cleans up afterwards. Similarly, for community upkeep and maintenance, members assign tasks, plan the work schedule, and arrange for resources. Our experience is that people do best what they enjoy most. We suggest that members make clear their areas of interest and skills so their volunteer activities have the greatest benefit to the community and the greatest satisfaction for themselves. 

We have chosen the sociocratic method of governance for making community decisions. In this method, all members are given the opportunity to take part in determining what is best to do for the community. We do this respectfully even when there might be initial differences of opinion regarding the preferred decision. We practice compassionate communication to accomplish this. For more details regarding the sociocratic method of governance, please see the information in our shared documents. 

To obtain Equity Membership: 

  • We request that all Equity members provide a short biography and photograph so other members can learn about their interests and background, if they have not already done so as an Explorer member. If you have no objection, they will be included in the “meet our members” section of our website. 
  • All Equity members will be responsible for obtaining whatever financing they require for the purchase of their prospective unit. Pre-qualification is not required for Equity membership, but it’s a good idea to look into it. 
  • As a show of good faith, all Equity members are required to make an initial membership deposit of $2,000 per household. Previous payments for Explorer memberships will be credited towards the final payment for the member’s down payment. 
  • Equity members will make additional deposits during the preconstruction period in amounts not to exceed either $15,000 (Pathfinders) or the expected down payment for their chosen unit (Pioneers). The schedule of upcoming payments will be announced in time to be ready for it. 
  • All adults are required to provide evidence that they have no record of child abuse. This is accomplished by getting a PA Act 33 Clearance. The procedure is described in Appendix B. It takes about two weeks and costs $13. 
  • A meeting with the Legal/Finance Planning Group is required for each household prior to becoming an Equity member to review the agreement and discuss any questions or concerns. 

The Equity Membership policy may be revised by future decisions of the ecovillage group.

Click page 2 below for Equity-Pioneer Membership Agreement
Click page 3 below for Equity-Pathfinder Membership Agreement
Click page 4 below for Appendix A which includes aerial views, unit layouts and schedule.
Click page 5 below for Appendix B which includes instructions for Child Safety Background Check.