People are planning to bring a cohousing community to Bozeman, which would make it the first one in the state.

Consisting of about six families so far, the group formed this spring and has just begun looking for 2 to 3 acres of land to build on. The group’s leaders say it will be a good way to create density, a stronger sense of community and provide an environmentally sustainable option.

Every cohousing development is different, and leader Mark Owkes said those involved in Bozeman Cohousing haven’t worked out details on how the living arrangement would work yet. It will follow a basic model, though, with several individually owned homes for both families and single people.

Typically, houses are clustered and have a common area with a kitchen, laundry room and sometimes guest bedrooms, Owkes said. Then, there are usually shared outdoor spaces. Other components can include gardens, composting stations, chicken coops and car shares.

“Community is there if you want it, but you always have the option of your personal space,” he said.

Owkes said it was important to members of Bozeman Cohousing to have an outdoor area for kids to explore, and everyone wants some element of sustainability. That could mean using solar panels, building with energy efficiency or water efficiency in mind.

Cohousing is inherently a more sustainable form of housing as it is, though, said Montana State University architecture professor Erik Bonnett. As an architect, Bonnett has worked on cohousing projects across the country, and he plans on living in Bozeman’s cohousing community.

Cohousing uses less land than developments for a similar number of people, he said. Cohousing residents typically use less transportation and less gas because they can carpool, and social interactions tend to happen more organically.

As an example, Bonnett said a cohousing resident might run into a neighbor outside and decide to go to a nearby brewery, rather than two parties making plans to drive separately to a different location. Bozeman Cohousing members also hope to be within walking or biking distance of MSU and downtown, Bonnett said.

While pooling resources is more environmentally sustainable, he said it also makes good financial sense. If families can all pitch in to pay for a shared playground outside, they can have nicer equipment than if they chose to each build their own, he said, while also giving their kids more opportunities to socialize.

The desire to live in a neighborhood with deeper connections is a big part of why many people are interested in joining Bozeman Cohousing, Bonnett said. Having strong neighborhood ties is a more traditional concept that can start to become lost as towns urbanize, he said.

Part of the reason why Montana hasn’t seen a cohousing community yet is because knowing your neighbors is part of the state’s DNA, he said. Cohousing is an attempt to preserve and reimagine that, especially as cities like Bozeman grow.

“It’s like, if you need something and your whatever breaks down, you can go ask your neighbor,” he said. “It’s about recreating that in a modern context.”

Everyone from families to individual senior citizens are part of the group’s dedicated core, he said. Cohousing is an appealing option for older adults, as it allows them to live independently while still having a whole community of people to rely on if they need rides to doctors appointments, he said.

Bonnett said he once had a coworker who injured his hip and would have had to stay in an in-patient program for a while if he didn’t live in a cohousing community. But because he had a network of 30 neighbors who could help drive him to appointments and take care of him, he didn’t have to.

Ideally, cohousing communities have 25 to 35 houses, he said. Any less, and residents don’t get as much out of it. Any more, and it’s harder for neighbors to get to know each other as well. With about six committed families right now, he said Bozeman Cohousing is still looking for members, with more information at bozemancohousing.com.

As the Gallatin Valley grows, Bonnett said it could easily start to look like wall-to-wall suburbia. Cohousing gives people a housing option at a denser scale that doesn’t use as much land, he said.

“It’s the real people making decisions for themselves about what their environment is going to be like,” he said.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

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