Lanark Eco-Village (LEV)
The land base is 140 acres in Lanark County, near the Village of Lanark and the confluence of the Clyde and Mississippi rivers. Mike Nickerson has joined hands with other eco-villagers to purchase the property; he is a key figure behind the LEV (Lanark Eco-Village) and the Sustainability Project www.SustainWellBeing.net. There is an existing house on the land, as well as a new, well-equipped woodwork shop with a potentially habitable apartment and two large producing gardens, approx. 1200 sq. metres. The land is rocky and mostly forested, but with viable pockets of soil for food production. We are also considering other properties close by, preferably with access to the river.
To establish the ecovillage, a key factor will be municipal zoning approval. The property is currently zoned as rural, which allows for one residence. It is therefore necessary to apply for an Exception to the Township’s Official Plan for this property. Discussions with the municipality so far have been encouraging. In light of our efforts to utilize and promote renewable energy methods, we have received a grant from the Eastern Ontario Community Energy Network to cover the cost of the zoning application. We have completed a site plan, submitted it to the municipality and are working on responses to questions they have for further information to support the zoning application.
Legal Structure of the Eco-Village
Those wishing to take part, and actually doing so tend to see LEV as a concerted movement of like minds towards a sustainable living space, community, country and eventually planet. They might well be happiest with a bare minimum of organizational formalities. But the world we currently live in imposes a number of demands on us and how we relate to it and to each other. Some of these are comparatively straightforward, demanding little more than payments to governments or commercial enterprises (think: property taxes and utility bills).
Others, however, require much more planning and discussion. As long as an outside layer of government exists, it will insist that someone or something “owns” the parcel of land occupied by LEV. In the world of 2013, it isn’t sufficient to simply reply “it’s the eco-villagers, stupid” unless and until we have either named a specific individual or created a corporate entity for this purpose. The first option, designating a person, is a non-starter for reasons ranging from inequality of power and responsibility to mortality. The second must therefore be accepted however distasteful the term “corporation” might seem to those who identify it primarily with bodies conducting uncontrolled exploitation and despoliation of natural resources and ecosystems. Actually, the word simply means “a group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law”.
We do not, alas, become a corporation simply by agreeing among ourselves. There are several kinds of corporations recognized in the province of Ontario, and we need to select the type we want to be and fulfill the appropriate requirements, which include preparing “Articles of Incorporation”, appointing Directors, submitting an application and eventually creating by-laws.
A Multi-Stakeholder Cooperative or Non-Profit Corporation?
Creating and sustaining the ecovillage will be a joint effort involving significant contributions of different kinds – vision, enthusiasm, skill, labour, money – from many people. How many? We don’t know yet, but it seems likely to be somewhere between ten and a hundred. Not all will actually reside at LEV: we hope and expect to have “friends” who want to see the project succeed and are willing to help. But regardless of where they live, it is important that all members feel they belong as real and significant parts of a whole.
Another sometimes distasteful term, already alluded to a few paragraphs back, is “ownership”. Even so, we think there needs to be several kinds of ownership in the project. First is simply “buying into” our goals as kindred spirits, feeling and taking responsibility for LEV and other villagers. But there also has to be something not too dissimilar to a land purchase agreement for those helping to make LEV possible financially. While this may seem anathema to those who hold to the traditional Native position that we belong to the land instead of vice-versa, there are two reasons why it is necessary. First, in the modern world, the Powers That Be still require that some entity “own” the land, at least in the sense of paying taxes on it. Second, those willing to commit any significant amount of money to the project (unfortunately, still a necessary commodity) generally need the reassurance that their contribution will not evaporate spontaneously leaving only a bitter memory. Finally, although we intend to use as much locally-sourced material and our own labour as possible, alteration of existing structures and construction of new living quarters inevitably costs money. It is only fair that these charges be borne primarily by the people who benefit from them most, that is, those whose “hearth” is where their heart is – at LEV!
We believe that mutual respect, understanding, and our common goals will prevent a divisive split of the “haves and have-nots” type. We recognize that some potential eco-villagers may not be able to afford a completely “up-front” payment on their share of the accommodation costs and therefore intend to offer a more “pay-as-you-go” plan, subject to the liquidity of the project as a whole. Furthermore, individuals with enthusiasm, skills and time enough to make significant contributions in labour and/or materials should be able to trade off these efforts against their financial obligations to the eco-village. It is not possible to completely codify the extent to which this is possible here and now, as it will depend on the eco-village’s circumstances at the time someone wishes to join LEV
Originally we proposed to establish a multi-stakeholder co-operative to own the land, buildings and major equipment, patterned in part after the O.U.R. Ecovillage on Vancouver Island. In August 2012 we received approval for a grant of $2500 from the Ontario Co-operative Association towards the services of a Co-op Developer. Subsequently it became apparent that a number of the core members had concerns about how well we could fit this particular model, with the result that we have not as yet incorporated. At the time of writing, consensus is leaning towards becoming a non-profit corporation rather than a co-operative. That said, many of the earlier decisions remain essentially intact and are described below.
We envision four categories of members:
- Hearthkeeper Stewards
- Landshare Stewards
- Provision Stewards
- Community Stewards
Hearthkeeper Stewards are those who live full-time on the property. As a group, they would have an overriding vote in decision-making. It is proposed that individual Hearthkeepers would each purchase a share having a value of one-tenth of the current value of the property plus estimated building costs. Potential Hearthkeeper Stewards who are unable to make the capital investment can contribute on a monthly basis, the amount being calculated on a 10-year amortization of the share price. Contributions would be non-refundable for the first three years, after which they would become vested. It is possible that couples or families wishing to become Hearthkeepers will be required to purchase more than one share, perhaps 1 1/2 for a couple and 2 for a family, but this is still under discussion. Similarly, the details of refundability of capital, labour contribution and sharing of running expenses are not yet fully worked out and ratified.
Landshare Stewards are people who have a foothold on the property; they may stay there part-time, as a second home, share in the use of the land and gardens etc. They are expected to contribute half of the amount of a Hearthkeeper Steward. Landshare Stewards would have priority to become Hearthkeeper Stewards if they so choose.
Provision Stewards are people who are willing to make a substantial investment or provide for a substantial endeavour in terms of materials or support in the ecovillage but do not live there.
Community Stewards would be the current members who do not fit the above categories, currently contributing $60 per year. Prior to becoming a member in one of the other categories, a person is expected to become a Community Steward for six months to a year and attend a majority of the monthly meetings during that time. This probationary period allows the new members to become familiar with other members, our goals, plans, mode of living and day-by-day operations, and conversely for the Hearthkeepers (and others) to become acquainted with him or her before any long-term commitments are made on either side.
The four membership categories would be represented on the Governing Council, which would make day-to-day decisions. Which decisions would be referred to general membership has not yet been defined.
At present three Hearthkeeper Stewards, one of them Mike, live on the property. Another couple are Landshare Stewards; their investment is an interest-free loan which was applied against the mortgage on the property, and is considered to be an advance on a future share in the ecovillage. At this point all the contributions go to the owner of the land, and are applied towards mortgage, taxes, running expenses etc. Our working assumption is that these would be rolled over to the eco-village corporation on its institution.
Approximately twenty further individuals are Community Stewards in good standing. About five of these people regularly participate in work parties for construction and refurbishment projects, clearing trails and building sites, etc. (Some of the projects accomplished include a solar food dryer, “compooster”, bike shed, and an outdoor cooking facility, the latter unfortunately not quite finished before winter set in.) A couple of these hard-working folks have expressed strong interest in becoming Landshare Stewards when space becomes available.
Our target is to establish LEV as a corporation and transfer the land and buildings to it during 2014. While this is considerably behind the optimistic predictions of a couple of years ago, it seems feasible and meshes well with our efforts to obtain permission to build new residential quarters, necessary for the continued expansion of the eco-village. It is our hope and feeling that “once you build it, they will come”!
We have drafted bylaws, with most of the required legal details in draft form, modeled after those for organizations with similar goals and situations. Once approved by the membership, the full text of our Operational Plan and documents of incorporation will be placed on the Members’ area of this website.