In a departure from traditional housing norms, suburban Seattle is set to witness an innovative experiment in communal living targeted at middle-income buyers. The Trails at Newcastle project, proposed by visionary developers, envisions a housing model that prioritizes shared resources and community bonds, challenging the conventional notion of suburban living.
Situated on a six-acre plot bordering the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, south of Bellevue, the Trails at Newcastle project plans to accommodate 32 homes, each spanning 1,700 square feet. Significantly smaller than neighboring houses, these residences are expected to be priced at an average of $520,000, adhering to the Seattle market dynamics. A unique feature of the project is its orientation, with front porches facing a shared trail, devoid of driveways or garages, and a single roadway pushed to the periphery.
Central to the concept is a community house that will serve as a hub for shared activities, offering meeting spaces for events like birthday parties. The house may also include shared guest rooms and office spaces on a second floor, a design element to be decided by the initial buyers. Augmenting the sense of community, a central garden and a car-sharing program aim to foster interaction among residents.
The brainchild of lead developer Ben Kaufman from GreenWorks Realty, the inspiration for this communal living project struck him nearly two decades ago while meditating at an ancient temple site in Hawaii. Kaufman emphasizes a life philosophy centered on relationships with people and nature rather than material wealth. Fueled by this ethos and a realization that the construction industry lacked alternatives to single-family units, Kaufman embarked on the Trails at Newcastle venture almost five years ago.
While distinct from “intentional communities” that often share a single house based on shared religious or ideological beliefs, the Trails at Newcastle project brings families together within their individual homes. However, with smaller lots (approximately 2,000 square feet), homes will be in closer proximity compared to the adjacent 7,000 square-foot lots.
In a nod to the “sharing economy,” the project aligns with the rise of collaborative services and programs. Shared guest rooms and a communal tool shed exemplify this concept, allowing families to reserve space for occasional needs rather than allocating extra room space.
Despite facing funding challenges that have temporarily delayed groundbreaking, Kaufman remains optimistic about the project’s potential. With three committed buyers and a keen interest from a growing contact list of around 300 names, the next two months are crucial in determining the project’s fate.
While the Trails at Newcastle project may not fully align with sustainability standards in the eyes of some critics, Kaufman emphasizes its location near one of the area’s largest forest preserves, contributing to his vision of a good life connected to nature. Additionally, the project boasts a density of 10 units per acre, surpassing Washington’s Growth Management Act requirement of six units per acre.
The homes will adhere to four-star Built Green standards, a prominent housing certification in the region, featuring Energy Star appliances and a rain garden to collect runoff. However, environmental advocate Alex Steffen questions the project’s impact on combating auto-dependence and sprawl, emphasizing the importance of location efficiency in determining a household’s energy impact.
While Trails at Newcastle may not fully meet every environmental criterion, its true innovation lies in reshaping social norms and potentially paving the way for similar co-housing projects in greener locations.
Explore the evolving landscape of communal living and sustainable housing at CommonShare.