Chaffee Park Residents Choose Their Own Adventure

I was embarrassed to admit the term “sociocracy” was new to me. But Ann Long happily described it: a form of collective decision-making that’s not quite consensus, yet ensures all voices are heard. Each viewpoint is sought and considered alongside an equally deep listening for what is best for the group. Dynamic governance.

Ann has lived at Aria Cohousing since its opening in 2017 and she likes this intentional way of governing that focuses on listening to others and seeking to understand their perspectives. She’s learned things about her neighbors she might not have otherwise. 

I suspect the building’s former residents—the Sisters of St. Francis—would love this. When they sold 17 acres of their Marycrest campus in order to create affordable and sustainable living (and to do some downsizing of their own), their former convent became the 28-unit condominium project that is now Aria Cohousing.

Nola Miguel and her mom Lynne Miguel

Last month in The Gray Zone we met Ashley and Sandy, and Sunshine Home Share Colorado, the nonprofit that connected them. I was curious to explore more living arrangements older adults in North Denver are gravitating toward. What about people who aren’t committed to staying in their homes, yet aren’t attracted to retirement communities? I reached out to a few people and before long was talking to Chaffee Park residents Ann Long and Nola Miguel.

There are plenty of reasons to stay in a home you’ve been in for years. 

And there are just as many reasons to move on: you’re ready to let go of maintenance responsibilities or unused space, or you want to live closer to family. You’re looking to home sale proceeds to fund retirement or to weather a financial downturn. Or, you’re simply ready for a new adventure. What have we’ve learned in recent years about brain health? Trying something new forges brain cell connections that will serve us well in later years.

When Nola Miguel’s mom, Lynne Miguel, retired a few years ago in Madison, WI, she set her sights on moving closer to her daughter, son-in-law Andy Doll, and grandchildren Soleen and Leo. Prior to COVID-19, Lynne visited every couple months. As she explored options in North Denver, it became clear how expensive the move could become. 

With Chaffee Park recently rezoned to allow for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), Nola’s family can now seriously consider leveraging the property their home sits on to create an ADU tailored to Lynne’s design and layout ideas. 

The former convent was completely renovated and converted into condos for cohousing at Aria.
Photo by Kathryn White

It’s an overwhelming idea at times for Nola, pulling project components together in her mind (permitting, builders, designs, financing). But the prospect of having her mom nearby as Soleen and Leo grow up helps keep the idea on the table. 

Nola’s work at the Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition and her connections with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative—which has developed 5 ADU model designs that could perhaps be used elsewhere in Denver—have put her in a good position to think concretely about this option.

For Ann, the pull of relationships also fueled her move. She’s connected with the Chaffee Park Neighborhood Association and has become involved with the Federal Boulevard Multimodal Transportation Study. Aria sits about a mile from a shiny new RTD G Line station, but the route between the two is not yet pedestrian- or bike-friendly. And the relationships within Aria itself: Ann’s face lit up as she described the multigenerational community meals and shared spaces. “You know your neighbors here. There are so many familiar faces. It’s like a little city. And you help create it.”

Kathryn has lived in North Denver since around the time the Mount Carmel High School building was razed and its lot at 3600 Zuni became Anna Marie Sandoval Elementary. She’s raised two children in the neighborhood, worked at several nonprofits, and facilitates a Caregiver Support Group for the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.

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