The Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage development hosted dozens of guests and as many reporters at an official groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Work on the development, several years in planning, began in early October. By Tuesday, workers had finished paving the 900-foot access road, poured foundations for the first nine buildings of the planned 36-unit development, and started framing one home.

The event, staged by the public relations firm Broadreach for press and community leaders, was capped by comments from former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who was in Belfast to give a presentation earlier that day at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center on the recent upheavals in the Middle East and their effect on US foreign policy.

Asked how Mitchell’s work relates to the cohousing development, project manager Sanna McKim said residents of the Ecovillage, with its emphasis on shared resources, will have to be creative in solving their problems with their neighbors in a way that independent dwellers don’t typically have to.

“From the community end of things, it’s kind of like world peace on a neighborhood scale,” she said, drawing a parallel to Mitchell’s role in peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and more recently in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

McKim said the Belfast Cohousing community has picked up two new members since October, bringing the total number who have bought homes in the development to 22.

Belfast City Planner Wayne Marshall introduced the development to those in attendance Tuesday and lauded the organizers for their progress, particularly given the number of people involved in financing the member-owned development.

Mitchell’s remarks were brief and generally focused on the environmental aspects of the development — homes will use less energy and be clustered to go easy on the surrounding land. The Ecovillage, he said, would serve as a model for those with similar ideals, “but also as a real, practical alternative to many people.”

Other speakers included the development’s newest member Lindsay Verite of Camden (“Community is what I’ve bought and the energy efficient and well thought out house is a bonus,” she said), representatives from the offices of U.S. senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Katye Charette, executive director of the Maine Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.