Maitreya Ecovillage Keeps Its Domes
Maitreya Ecovillage, an ecovillage project in a small city in the western U.S. I’ll call Juniper Grove, won a small, unofficial victory for high-density/non-code buildings. (In order not to embarrass city officials, or trigger unwanted consequences for them or for Maitreya Ecovillage, I've changed the name of the town.)
Two friends of mine, Rob Bolman and Melanie Rios, and Rob’s mom, own five adjacent lots with small houses and a triplex on one end of a block near downtown. They took the fences down, and they and the 20 tenants — mostly environmental activists and bicyclists — enjoy weekly potlucks and shared community facilities: a strawbale community center, a community garden and chickens, a shared bike shed, and so on.
One way they help environmental activists and students in Juniper Grove is to offer extremely cheap living spaces, $200 a month, in seven different eight-foot-wide wooden domes. The domes are hand-made with about $50 of new but mostly recycled materials and donated labor. The domes have wooden floors and are insulated, and have no electricity or plumbing. Dome residents share the kitchen and bathroom facilities with residents of one of the apartments.
A neighbor, annoyed by Maitreya’s chickens making too much noise as they laid eggs, reported the community to Juniper Grove’s planning and building departments for violations of camping regulations (the domes) and zoning regulations (too many chickens on the property). The next day Melanie and Rob received a letter from planning department and building code officials saying they had one week to come into compliance or be fined $400 per day.
In times of Climate Change and Peak Oil, she told them, urban dwellers and others must create small-scale, high-density living spaces with cooperating neighbors who share resources, reduce fossil fuel use, and grow and raise food onsite. “The folks living in the domes are putting out only ten percent of the carbon emissions of the average resident of our town, and they are pioneering how many of us may be living once drought and other climate change factors force people to migrate to communities like Maitreya Ecovillage.” Melanie let the enforcement official know that they would appeal a decision to disallow the domes, calling in the media and their thousand or so friends to a public hearing.
As it happens, Melanie does have a huge email mailing list of TV viewers across the US, as well as the many people she knows personally, because in April, 2007 she participated in an episode of the "Wife Swap" reality TV show. Melanie lived for a week with a family in Greensboro, North Carolina, while the mom of their family lived at Maitreya with the ecovillagers. (After convincing the dad of the family that global warming and Peak Oil issues were real, Melanie was unable to persuade him to give up one of the family's two SUVs. Meanwhile at Maitreya, the mom refused to eat "dirt food" vegetables grown in the community garden.)
Melanie and Rob thanked the Juniper Grove official for her time, and for the opportunity to bring awareness of these issues to others, and bicycled home.
The next day the city official's boss called with the message that Maitreya could keep the domes, but two of them would need to be moved ten feet back from the property line to comply with lot-line regulations, which Rob and Melanie agreed to do.
And now one more high-density urban ecovillage, with a community garden and community bike shed — and really low cost-dwellings with ultra cheap rent — exists in one small city in the US of A.
Not a bad idea at all.
- How Yarrow Ecovillage Got “Ecovillage Zoning” – May 2008 issue
- L.A. Eco-Village Stops Bulldozers! – May 2008 issue