We started our journey in May of 2020 – during COVID lockdown. Susan and Dave both have adult children with IDD and were keen to find somewhere for them to live independently – a permanent home with shared common space where they could spend time with their neighbors enjoying a range of activities, social engagement and regularly preparing and eating meals together. After hours of research we discovered cohousing – a concept which appeared to embrace much of what we envisioned for our young adults.
Dave had already identified a piece of property in Lakeland – a small lot across from a grocery store, walk in clinic, coffee shop and more.. Unfortunately, we discovered the property was under contract and eventually sold. While we looked at other options we were introduced to Gail who had been researching senior co-housing in the Lakeland area for several years.
The three of us started meeting regularly via Zoom and then in person at coffee shops in Lakeland. As a result of our meetings, we determined that a community comprising seniors and adults with IDD would be a great combination. Our vision was for our community to be replicable, provide a range of activities, events and eduction for our residents and extend into the greater community.
We formed our non profit, Harwood Village, Inc., whose mission is to create community for seniors and individuals with disabilities by helping develop and support activities and social engagement and assist groups in developing our vision and values within new or existing communities.
During the next few months, we spent hours researching and visiting available land, exploring options with City of Lakeland property and reaching out to other community members to share our vision. It was a tough time; despite the pandemic, property was moving quickly – as soon as we found an option we liked, it went under offer or bidding exceeded the amount we had set aside to purchase property.
We continued our search and also reached out to many of the cohousing communities throughout the US to speak with residents, founding members, architects, developers, project managers, and builders. We thank everyone who helped us during this part of our journey, generously giving their time to share their experiences and answering our many questions.
One Saturday in April 2021, Gail, Susan and her son Adam were in Lakeland and drove past the piece of property that Dave had identified the previous year. We discovered a “for sale” sign on the half acre lot – we called the agent, Jim Edwards, who informed us the property was back on the market. We moved quickly, submitted an offer and agreed a contract the same day!! Now the race was on to carry out due diligence and create a site plan.
Susan, Dave & Gail, with Scott’s help, identified our dream team. We met with Steve, Erica & Philip of The Lunz Group who exceeded our brief in squeezing the maximum 11 units, common house, workshop & gym, pool, covered parking, storage and more onto the lot!! Next stage was to obtain soil sampling and a tree survey before completing our due diligence and finalise our site plan.
In June 2021 Dave, Gail and Mike Flora of Sloan Engineering carried out a tree survey – they identified and measured trees that fell within the footprint of the proposed design plan. In addition, Imperial Testing & Engineering, Inc. carried out soil sampling. Preliminary results were forwarded to The Lunz Group and we anxiously awaited their assessment of the data. At a Conceptual Design meeting on June 23rd we received the news that the preliminary report looked good!!
Harwood Village Development, LLC was formed on July 9 and purchased our property at 211 West Oak Drive on July 28. Gail, Adam, Susan and Scott attended closing with attorney Craig Hill and Laura Johnson at Peterson & Myers offices in Downtown Lakeland.
We celebrated the purchase of our property on August 28 at Hillcrest Coffee with our families, friends, interested neighbors, project team and supporters where we shared our conceptual design site plan and vision for our community – Harwood Village Southgate.
Now the search is on for more likeminded folks to share our journey…
In November 2021 we had the opportunity to purchase an additional 40 feet of land to the west of our existing property. We made an offer, applied for rezoning, and attended meetings of the Planning & Rezoning Board in January and February. Our application was heard and approved by the City Commissioners on March 21st 2022. We will be sure to follow Mayor Mutz’s advise to “use the 40 feet wisely”!!
And now on to finalise the site plan…
May 2020 – meeting at Black & Brew Coffee House
November 2020 – exploring possible sites
April 2021 – revisiting W Oak Drive
June 2021 – soil sampling underway
June 2021 – concept design meeting with Lunz Group
July 2021 – Closing with Craig Hill, Peterson & Myers
August 2021 – Celebrating our progress
March 2022 – Rezoning application approved