From convent to cohousing, Aria Denver plans 28 units for people ready to share their lives

In one condo-to-be, there are beautiful views, but no interior walls. Instead, you can see lines that used to mark quarters for at least a half a dozen nuns.

(Courtesy of Aria Denver)
(Courtesy of Aria Denver)
(Courtesy of Aria Denver)

Touring the new Aria cohousing space, at 2835 West Parkside Place, requires a bit of imagination. In one condo-to-be, there are beautiful views, but no interior walls. Instead, you can see lines that used to mark quarters for at least a half a dozen nuns.

Is this a perversion or progress?

Back in 2012, the Marycrest Convent sold their 17.5 acres near 52nd Ave. and Federal Blvd. in Chaffee Park after their numbers dwindled to just seven nuns. In Spring of 2017, Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose Development will reopen the convent as 28 cohousing units, with eight affordable ones.

“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t sentimental and I think that we believe that the sisters had a community based vision for this building, for this site and I feel like that that energy still resonates,” Urban Ventures Project Manager Cassie Wright said.

The idea behind the cohousing is that neighbors will share common facilities, eat meals together, and plan programming for each other. Future residents even get a say in how the building will look.

“With this space, the community helped design the community dining, kitchen and the multipurpose area. They provided input and said they’ve really wanted to preserve a sun room area,” Wright said.

But though Urban Ventures is developing the site with the community, they won’t be providing programming in the long term.

“We aren’t living here,” Wright explained. “At some point, it’s like I don’t live here and I’m sensitive to that. I don’t want to push my values on people who are living here.”

Instead, developers plan to create the framework for community planning and get the right leaders involved. But because there’s no outside authority running things, Wright acknowledges similar cohousing communities see ebbs and flows in their participation. That happens in different parts of everyone’s lives, she says

It’s not just altruism driving the development though, Aria is betting that cohousing fits the new housing market.

“There are far more people who are single who are buying homes now,” Wright said. “More and more people are feeling super isolated living on their own. … And they don’t need to be on their own in this isolated space.”

Perhaps the bigger question is how this will affect the Chaffee Park neighborhood. In a tour, brokers tout a quiet neighborhood, one that’s benefitted from neighborhood organizing brought in with their help.

But the reality is that the census tract encompassing Chaffee Park has seen some of the most house flipping in Denver since 2008. And Aria is planning more than cohousing — there’s already 13 townhomes and, in the end, there will be around 400 units on the site.

“This is a business, and so we have to, yeah, be able to cover our costs,” Wright says. “Yes, our market rate units are market rate, and they sell for $350,000. But over 50 percent of housing that is planned for this site will be for people earning 80 percent of AMI or less.”

Wright says that they’re trying our best to invest in this community while being mindful of the surrounding context.

“How do you invest in a community and avoid gentrification? You know, I’m not sure exactly but I think that this is our best attempt.”