Quick update, May 2023: while this FAQ document still reflects the spirit of the project, and many of the details are also still accurate, it is also very dated in some significant ways. Our larger plan is shifting to an alternative ownership and development model. This shift is driven by financial and other necessities, but we are expecting it also to open up a wider range of options and (finally!) significantly accelerate the timeline as well.

As all of this is still taking shape, it will take some time for the website to catch up. We are delighted for your interest, especially at this exciting moment, but suggest that for up-to-date information right now, it’s best to follow the Almanacs – and, yes, observe and consider joining some of the vital Circle work yourself. Only WE together are going to make this happen. You can also go here for more information. (aw 5/15/23)

A project like Common Ground Ecovillage is multi-faceted.  We have found that Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) documents work well to explain the in’s and out’s of what we are wanting to do.  This page answers some basic questions about what’s happening at Common Ground in general.  Here are links to other FAQs on more specific topics:

In brief, what is Common Ground Ecovillage about?

Our mission is to create an agrarian ecovillage, a farm-based community where care for the land and each other is central. Our hope is to build a small village where we can enjoy a mutually supportive life together in a sustainable community. A compact cluster of modest homes will be built, sharing the open parts of the land with a farm where the community will raise much of its own food. The majority of the land will remain as forests and wetlands. Click here for a provisional illustrated diagram of the project.

Is Common Ground Ecovillage a co-housing development?

We don’t describe ourselves as a co-housing project, although most definitions of cohousing would resemble our plans for Common Ground Ecovillage. We prefer to use the term “ecovillage” since our land is a large rural parcel and our overall plan is for a modest village within the context of managed woodlands and a substantial, integrated community farm.  The overall plan follows closely the well-established principles of Permaculture.

How many houses will you build?  Do you plan to build more houses in the future?

In late 2015 the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved our rezoning application.  This approval allows for a maximum of 34 homes in the village cluster, as well as up to four additional dwelling units to be included, for example, as part of the farm complex.  Most of the housing units will be single-family dwellings (possibly some duplex homes too) ranging in size from about 600 sf to 1800 sf. Our plan includes a “common house” for a variety of community activities and guest rooms.  The plan also includes a small number of dwellings that can be larger structures with private suites and common spaces shared by unrelated individuals.  Our plan places permanent legal restrictions on future development of the property.  It is very important to us to keep most of the land in farming and woodlands for community residents to enjoy.

What is the plan for home and land ownership?

All Common Ground Ecovillage land, including land in the residential village, will be held in common ownership.  The precise legal mechanism for accomplishing this goal is not yet in place, but likely will resemble something like traditional Community Land Trust model.  The legal structure for our homes is planned to follow the limited-equity housing cooperative model where the dwelling units are owned by the cooperative and leased to those who reside in them.  Our community has discussed home ownership options and has concluded that a housing cooperative is the best means of ensuring long-term affordability of housing at Common Ground Ecovillage.

What does “limited-equity” mean?

This means that members of the housing cooperative (i.e., those who reside in the village) may decide as a group to limit the amount of appreciation in co-op shares and home values that members receive back when they leave the community.

What will the houses be like?  What choices will there be in home design?  For example, will I be able to build a cob house?

We’re planning for a mixture of home sizes.  While detailed architectural standards are still to be determined, we have discussed stylistic elements and agreed that design standards will reflect “regional climate-tempered elements”, such as high ceilings, covered porches, louvered window shades, breezes and cupolas to exhaust hot air, and deep overhangs to block sun in summer while inviting it in in the winter.  Many of these elements are traditional responses of Southern/regional architecture to the local climate.  We embrace them both for their ecological sensibility and to help root us in this specific place and connect us to the wider community.  We prefer the coordinated use of color, materials, and simple ornamentation for a stylish and interesting effect harmonizing with other buildings and the land.  We also endorse “round elements”, specifically including possibly some entirely round homes, as well as homes with round cores, mirroring the proposed Common House style.  This further evokes the curved flow of the land, the layout of the village, its main pathway, and a sense of enclosing and nurturing the life in a uniquely organic and ancient way.  Round elements may also be combined with the rectilinear elements more characteristic of the traditional climate-tempered regional style to yield a spectrum of hybrid designs. We are open to exploring possibilities such as cob homes. All homes will need to adhere to Common Ground Ecovillage architectural standards (yet to be developed) and be permitted by the county.

What will the farm be like?

To see the farm in action, click here for a video!  A central purpose of the farm will be providing food and other land-based products for use by the residents. In addition to an expansive vegetable garden, we plan a mix of fruit and nut trees as well as berries. The plan also allows for chickens and possibly a few pastured cows and/or sheep and/or goats. The farm site will include a barn, and other buildings such as a garage, workshop, greenhouse and sheds. Just how the farm will be organized and managed is still to be worked out, but our hope is that much of the work will be done by community members under the guidance of one or more farm managers that are also community members. In addition we plan a significant educational component where interns come for a season or more to learn farming skills.

How “green” will Common Ground Ecovillage be?

It is hard to be precise about exactly how “green” Common Ground will be at this early phase as it depends on a number of factors.  It’s also a subjective term and has different interpretations even among those who strive for “greenness”. It is fair to say that an abiding ecological orientation is central to Common Ground Ecovillage, and that we have high aspirations to “push the envelope” with green building. See this link for a general perspective about the ecovillage. Also read more about how our Common House aims to be green in more ways than the typical ones.

How much will it cost to live at Common Ground Ecovillage?

The short answer is we don’t know at this juncture, primarily because a precise assessment of our overall development costs is still in the works.  However, some of our early calculations following the housing cooperative model discussed above suggest a co-op share price in the range of $30,000 to $35,000 per adult.  You might think of this as an “entry fee” for living at Common Ground Ecovillage.  It is somewhere in the range of what you would pay as a down payment for a mortgage on a modest home in Orange County.  This share price would be returned to you (with interest) when you leave the community.  In addition, for residents of Common Ground there will also be a monthly fee.  This is the more difficult cost to estimate at this point, but it will likely be somewhere in the range of $1,400 to $2,100 per household per month – the level of the fee being proportional to the size of your dwelling unit.  A portion of this monthly fee (cumulated over time) is returned with interest when you leave the community.

What does the monthly fee cover?

Approximately half of it goes to cover the financing of the “blanket mortgage” – the community’s loan to cover the cost of designing and constructing the dwelling units in the village.  The other half goes to cover a variety of community obligations such as insurance, property taxes, maintenance of property, reserve accounts and professional consultations (e.g., legal and accounting).  This second half of the monthly fee will be set to be roughly equivalent to the sorts of non-mortgage costs faced by all homeowners.  It’s important to understand that household monthly fees also cover many aspects of community life that are not easily monetized.  For example, all individuals in the community will benefit from food produced in the community garden, shared assistance from others in the community for transportation, childcare and similar needs, the social and emotional companionship of others, access to use of common spaces, temporary accommodations for visiting family and friends, etc.

What are the requirements for participation in the Common Ground Ecovillage community?

For becoming a member, or for expectations of members, see the membership process page.  When the project becomes a reality and we’re living on the land, there will be a “work” expectation for every adult to ensure full participation in the life of the community.  Details lie well in the future (and will be decided by the members themselves), but “work” will be something that matches the ability and interest of each member.

Where do you plan to get your water?

The Orange–Alamance Water System has committed to providing water service to Common Ground Ecovillage from its line on Frazier Road. We plan to supplement this with rainwater catchment and a deep well to provide water for the farm. We are strongly committed to responsible water use, storage and disposal.

Will everyone both live and work on the land?

Only some Common Ground Ecovillage residents will both live and work onsite.  Others may work/telecommute from their homes to activities elsewhere.  Some resident members will live on the land and commute to their jobs.  We intend to reduce our use of vehicles by encouraging ride-sharing, community owned vehicles, and the like.

What is the motivating impulse for keeping this project moving forward?

This project is an urgent matter for us because we are eager to begin making our dreams a reality!  For the land and for the neighborhood, it is urgent because the pressures of urban expansion into this part of Orange County are strong and certain. There may not be another chance to preserve the rural character and farm-centered way of life in this immediate area.  Orange County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan designates this part of the county as a 20-year Transition Area, which is defined as “an area changing from rural to urban in form and density”.  Our purpose is to create a small, livable, community for ourselves and others, not to make money.

Can I visit the land on my own?

The best way to visit the land for the first time is by signing up on our mailing list and watching for a planned event/tour on the land.  A member may also be willing to meet you on the land for a personal visit.  We are not yet a residential community.  Thus, the access points have gates, and for liability and other reasons, it is best that non-members not visit the land on your own.

Why do I see references to “Hart’s Mill” throughout the website?

Hart’s Mill was the original name of the project. The project was renamed to Common Ground Ecovillage a few years ago to reflect our renewed commitment to social and economic justice. Read more about our history here: Our Story.