Planned Mt. Airy residential complex could include communal living unit

With zoning approval now in place for a plan to develop the site of the former Garrett-Dunn House in Mt. Airy, the future could look very different for what was once a country retreat.

Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, Inc., which owns the 1.5-acre site at 7048 Germantown Ave., has been in discussions for several months with Wissahickon Village Cohousing, a two-year-old group looking to create a co-living community, ideally at the Garrett-Dunn site. While no formal plan is in place, the cohousing group says they are still very interested in pursuing the idea.

Current plans for the property, which once housed the historic Garrett-Dunn House before it was destroyed in a 2009 fire sparked by lightning, call for a $13 million project with 32 homes — a 10-unit condominium building fronting 7048 Germantown Ave. and 22 houses built in two rows behind it.

Andrew Eisenstein of Iron Stone said this week the cohousing community could happen but the first step of the process was getting the zoning variances needed to create a multi-family development on the site now zoned for commercial use, like the Acme store that sits just to the south.

According to the group, there are about 80 established cohousing communities in the country, many in California, but none nearby or in Philadelphia. Lynne Isser, communications coordinator for the cohousing group, said they have held workshops with Iron Stone in recent months to discuss the idea, and they have 10 families signed up so far with several others interested.

Already, the plans designs include some elements friendly to the cohousing concept, such as not including garages, which forces people to park outside their house and see their neighbors. Other discussions include a possible community garden.

“We’re going to keep talking to them about how to tweak the existing site plan,” Iser said. “It would definitely be a multi-generational community, and we’re gearing it that way.”

In cohousing communities, individual families own and control their own homes, but the neighborhood is designed to encourage resident interaction. Some include a “common house,” similar to a condo community’s clubhouse, where residents can gather to watch TV, dine together and hold social events. Some, Iser said, even include guest rooms that can be used when residents have out-of-town guests.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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