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A group wants to build a cohousing community in Bozeman. 

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A group in Bozeman is trying to design a place to live with homes on shared land and the expectation that neighbors interact — and they’re gaining ground.

Bozeman Cohousing formed last April with the plan to build standalone houses close together around shared spaces like a garden, a community house with room to cook and dine together and potentially a workshop.

“Cohousing is this balance between privacy and community that seems to make a lot of sense for a lot of people,” said Mark Owkes, a Bozeman Cohousing founder. “It’s designed to encourage interactions between neighbors.”

He said the group is taking shape faster than expected.

So far, 10 families in Bozeman have signed onto the project — a leap from Owkes and his wife first talking about cohousing for their family of four last winter.

Bozeman Cohousing recently found a potential site and is in contract to buy roughly five acres in south Bozeman. That gave the project an estimated timeline: about a year-and-a-half to design and another year to build.

“We initially thought we were going to have to approach landowners to find a property, but this just happened to go on the market,” Owkes said. “We got lucky.”

Cohousing isn’t a new idea, though it’s gaining momentum in the U.S. There are about 170 cohousing developments in the nation and another 140 in the works.

Each development, shaped by its residents, is a bit different.

Owkes said Bozeman Cohousing is intergenerational with a focus on sustainable living. He said its members live and work in Bozeman and include Montana State University staff, full-time parents, business owners and people who telecommute.

“We have younger single people, couples, families, older adults thinking about downsizing and aging in place with a support system,” he said. “We have people who don’t have grandkids around them and we have families that don’t have grandparents nearby.”

Home sizes will vary between one-to-two stories based on each family’s need. The houses will likely come in at market rates but Owkes added smaller-than-typical designs and shared land should help limit the cost.

The possible site, off Wagon Wheel Road, is not officially in city limits but is surrounded by Bozeman neighborhoods. The group plans to finalize the purchase of the property in February and join city limits to connect to Bozeman’s water and sewer.

In the meantime, Bozeman Cohousing is still working to explain what cohousing means to recruit more members as they get closer to designing what they want to build.

“I think when you hear ‘cohousing’ it’s easy to make assumptions and everyone’s assumptions are a bit different,” Owkes said.

To help with that, the group has contracted with Cohousing Solutions, a firm that helped expand the form of living in North America. The firm’s consultant will have a series of public meetings in Bozeman for people who want to learn more about cohousing.

Katherine Dayton, a Bozeman Cohousing member, said when she initially heard the word “cohousing” she pictured a commune. But when she went to one of the group’s early meetings last year, she realized the idea sounds progressive but revolves around the values of old-fashioned neighborhoods.

“They are places where you know your neighbors, maybe garden with them, and definitely share meals with them in the common house,” she said.

Beyond that, she said it’s smart building, especially for places like Bozeman where development is happening fast.

“Population growth is inevitable, and open space in Bozeman is precious,” Dayton said. “While traditional single-family housing sizes continue to grow, cohousing neighborhoods take an intentional approach toward maintaining a modest footprint. Sharing the spaces that make sense, while still having our own private residences.”

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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