Cohaus: First residents move into Grey Lynn townhouses, apartments in cooperative venture

A six-vehicle hybrid and electric car stacker is ready to use, Ikea kitchens and bathrooms are installed, cargo bikes are lined up in a basement room, a communal laundry has new boxed Fisher & Paykel equipment and rocks are placed in the central garden, about to be planted.

David Welch, a co-director of Cohaus at 11 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn, said residents had begun moving into New Zealand’s largest new cooperative housing scheme, the 20-home communal-style project on the ex-Fairleigh Lodge site.

When the Herald met those behind the co-house project three years ago, it was priced at $11 million.

Welch said that was before council and consultant fees and the $5m purchase of just over 2000sq m, once the site of two homes.

The final expected project cost was $20m and units were priced slightly higher than originally envisaged, he said – instead of $750,000 they were $800,000.

“So far the main issue is whether we have enough parking for bikes. We allocated 35 parks but we’re already at capacity with only seven places occupied. Once everyone has moved in, we could build bike parks around the edge of the site,” he said.

LEP Construction built the homes, which Welch said would generate 40 to 50 per cent of the electricity required via roof solar panels.

Seven of the 20 homes were now occupied, safety fencing would soon fall and code compliance could be issued around July.

The community was designed by residents and married architects Thom Gill and Helle Westergaard.

“We’ve got partial handover and in about 10 days, all the units will be finished. We don’t have to wait for code compliance because it’s different to other schemes,” Welch said from his own $1.2m three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

“A nascent urban cohousing development” is the way Cohaus describes itself on Twitter.

The reality, says Welch, is that about 48 people, including kids, will soon be living under a far more cooperative community-oriented lifestyle than most traditional housing typologies.

About 20 families and individuals agreed to buy the site, put up the money to build apartments and townhouses and renovate an old villa, aiming to follow a new niche style of urban habitat less individualistic than other schemes: share a garden, a common room, a guest bedroom, six electric and plug-in hybrid cars and a laundry.

But like many other building projects, Cohaus took longer than expected to complete and cost more, and some aspects were axed.

“We’ve been delayed about two months,” said Welch, an Auckland University computational biology lecturer. “Our aim was to have 70sq m units for $750,000. The cost crept up but so have the sizes so we have two-bedroom, 73sq m places which we sold for a bit over $800,000.”

Prices range from $550,000 for a 40sq m studio to $2m for a 180sq m, two-level, five-bedroom terraced townhouse.

“It’s been a lot of work. You wouldn’t start if you knew how much work it was going to be,” said Welch showing off his three-bedroom place with cork floors and Scandanavian-style stair balustrade.

Owners might be asked to pay about 40c/kilometre to rent two fully electric Leafs, two Toyota Aquas or two of the much larger Toyota Prius Alphas.

How will Cohaus stop people from being selfish, taking a car for say a week and not sharing?

“We’re not sure yet. We’re going to just see how demand goes.” Vehicle bookings will be via a fleet management system.

Three washing machines and three dryers could cost $1 a load but people also have room in their homes for their own laundries.

A community room was axed to cut expenses and the shared space is now a garden room of about 55sq m, Welch said, where residents will be able to hold dinner parties, people might have yoga sessions, and kids’ birthday parties are envisaged.

Construction started in November 2019 and the lockdowns and pandemic were the main reasons for delays. Architect Thom Gill is in the co-operative and also designed the new buildings.

Some neighbours were unhappy about height, bulk, dominance, shading, privacy, traffic, lack of carparking and noise.

Neighbour Graham Muir “questioned the whole rationale for the proposal including its ability to achieve the co-house form of living and sustainable outcomes sought and believed this was nothing more than a traditional form of multi-unit housing in the Special Housing Zone”, Auckland Council said.

Toby Hilless worried about height and Welch acknowledged one neighbour who rented his villa had been particularly oppositional.

“We’ve not built cheap housing but valuable housing,” Welch says.

Jasmax architect and two-bedroom townhouse owner Marianne Riley is also delighted with her home, saying her son is drawn to a loft space with attic stairs. Her cat is adjusting but she is pleased with the light, insulation, design and her ability to add bespoke touches like bench tiles.A stair balustrade is to be replaced with tōtara and she still needs to resolve a cat-door issue.

“We get messages all the time from people wanting to buy,” Welch said of the demand for places that are all sold.

The renovated Cohaus villa on Browning St sold for $1.7m.

Welch and Riley greet their new neighbours as they move into what both expect to be a successful new style of compact, sustainable urban living.

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