Altair EcoVillage in Pennsylvania

Steven Welzer
4 min readMay 1, 2022

(this article, by Altair’s project manager Joel Bartlett, appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Green Horizon Magazine)

Introducing new paradigms takes time!

In the summer of 1999, my wife Margo and I were invited to a meeting of Chester County, PA elders who called themselves STAR (Seniors’ Talents And Resources). They had heard about a local cohousing initiative, inspired by a national conference at the George School in nearby Bucks County in 1997. They were hungry for community — living together to combat the isolation they felt, to say nothing of the difficulty of having to maintain homes now too large for their needs. “Would you be interested in starting a cohousing project with us?” “Sure,” we said — we loved the concept, and we were in our early fifties, so we had the energy. Little did we know we’d still be trying to realize this dream 22 years later!

In the early years of “Altair” (named after the first magnitude beautiful star in Aquila, the Eagle, part of the Summer Triangle of constellations) we didn’t talk about “ecovillages,” “sustainability,” or even “universal design.” We focused on the neighborhood model which had appealed to us at the 1999 Cohousing Conference held at Pioneer Valley Cohousing in North Amherst, MA. We weren’t developers, didn’t know how to evaluate sites, had no use for project management or timeline tools — in short, we were wide-eyed idealists. But, regardless, we saw an immediate response when we publicized the idea. Fifty attended our winter holiday party; and within a year we were able to host our first “Getting It Built” workshop.

Then we embarked upon a search for a suitable property. We looked at many and considered many site designs. Meanwhile, we were drawing in participants and investors. We finally managed to buy an 8-acre plot of pasture and woods in the village of Kimberton, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and we started putting the pieces in place, but it was only recently that East Pikeland Township approved a zoning ordinance conducive to our distinctive concept (clustering units, parking cars at the periphery, etc.).

That breakthrough now enables us to advertise, take reservation deposits, and hold member design workshops to finalize our plans and practices. We feel confident that in the next year or two we’ll be able to build the low-impact intentional community embodying our vision. We also are intent upon becoming a model of sustainable housing for our region.


We’re often asked: How come you’ve been at it for so long and haven’t built yet? We explain that our conception of how to live lightly and foster community is somewhat alternative relative to the current standard American suburban residential model. We’ve needed to educate zoning boards and lending institutions (and neighbors!) as we’ve carried through our practical organizing. A downsized, pedestrian-oriented community is different from what the housing market is used to. But we’ve always noticed how it has resonated when we’ve pointed to the unique features of ecovillage living — the open space preserved because we are clustering homes, the reduced energy bills, the quality of the green construction we propose — in addition to the high degree of community interaction and support fostered by the cohousing model.

The latter, developed in Denmark in the 1970s, strives to bring people into relationship. It provides an answer to the isolation modern living has generated and promotes equitable governance. The six principles that Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant brought over from Denmark in their landmark book Cohousing still resonate with Altair’s mission:
1. future residents organize to plan their community;
2. the design promotes community interaction;
3. each family owns their own home, supplemented by extensive common facilities;
4. the residents manage the community;
5. the residents operate using a non-hierarchical structure;
6. residents have their own income sources.

Cohousing is a particular model of ownership. The ‘ecovillage’ concept broadens the vision to include green characteristics that we plan to embody via:
* building using Passive House principles;
* obtaining a Silver Rating using the US Green Building Council’s SITES v2 Guidelines for sustainability (that applies both to the design and the maintenance of the community);
* establishing a non-profit entity that has as its mission helping others build sustainable ecovillages;
* participating with local Community Supported Agriculture farms;
* promoting an electric car sharing system;
* trying to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.

And, all the while, we are designing homes intended to “fit in” to the historic little village of Kimberton. We’ll be enjoying a walkable community — one not dependent on owning a car.

Recalling all that our group has been through — the six or seven townships we have discussed the project with, the many sites we have explored, the several developers who have helped us, and the people numbering in the hundreds who have walked through our doors — it is gratifying to now be on the cusp of design and construction. We have starter funds, excellent professionals under contract, and the support of the Township. We’re proactively learning to use the robust governance model called Sociocracy.

Never having given up on the dream, we’ll be gratified to finally see it come to fruition. We still have a lot of work ahead of us as we move into the next phase of our project, but things now are falling into place. Over the years so many have told us of their interest in ecovillage living. We hope to soon be able to provide the opportunity.

For more information:
. Altair EcoVillage:
. Global EcoVillage Network:
. Cohousing Association of the United States:
. Sustainable SITES Initiative:
. Passive House Alliance:



Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).