It Takes a Village to Raise a Ruckus

One man's dream of creating South Florida's first "co-housing" project has his neighbors raising the roof

To Bennett and his partners, it sounded as if the Aspen Ridge homeowners had somehow missed the point of co-housing. "They wanted us to build six homes that looked exactly like the others in Aspen Ridge. I don't think they understood what we were talking about."

Perhaps, he believes, intentionally so.
Bocskai, says Bennett, is "one of those people who act really friendly to you at first and then turn out to be completely different. She started out so wonderful, so cooperative, and then she stood up [at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting] and tried to turn the commission against us. There were references to children breaking into homes and all sorts of weird stuff. One guy stood up and said, 'Look, these people will eventually be procreating.' None of us knew quite how to take that. Everybody was silent."

Bocskai says her concern isn't procreation; it's "infiltration." Although "the people I've met are nice enough," she worries that someday the group may be penetrated by "some unique unknown element out there" -- an element that might not be as nice as the folks she already knows.

Over the past two years, both neighborhoods -- the one in place and one on its way -- have come closer to an agreement that there are just some things they are going to have to disagree on. And both sides say respect for the other side has grown. "They're nice people, you can't take that away from them," says Theresa Cirillo, former president of the Aspen Ridge association.

In response to Aspen Ridge complaints, Synergy agreed to pull its buildings five feet farther away from the property line. And the group agreed to move its parking lot. The only remaining sticking point concerns the sewage utility easement, which lays on the opposite side of the access road to Aspen Ridge. If Synergy wants to connect to it, the road will probably have to be torn up during the work. "I can empathize with their not wanting to be put through that," Bennett says.

For her part Bocskai says she has no problem with the Synergy folks themselves, as persons. "At first I wondered a little, but now I view them as a group of professionals who have a particular desire to have a close-knit community."

She just wishes they'd clean up after themselves. For weeks now there's been a huge tree branch lying in the middle of an old tennis court on the Synergy plot, and "it's an eyesore. I can understand them thinking, 'Why should we maintain it when we're just going to build on it anyway?' But still..." Bennett promises that the tree branch will be gone by the time this story hits the street.

There is one last area in which the two groups have found common agreement: "We insist on there being a row of shrubbery along the property line," Bocskai says. "It's a divider." Not a word of dissent to this proposal was heard from the Synergy camp. Sometimes even the most synergistic of neighbors require at least one good fence.

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