Ecovillage Construction Update, 9/2015

3 09 2015

The last stages of work are underway at Ecovillage on Ithaca’s West Hill off of Mecklenburg Road on Rachel Carson Way. Construction on the single-family homes in Ecovillage’s third neighborhood, “TREE” (Third Residential Ecovillage Experience, following its first two, FROG and SONG) has been complete for a little while now, but the 15-unit Common House has yet to be completed. The exterior has been finished, with attractive wood-frame balconies swaddling the building, but interior work (drywall boarding and painting, from the looks of it) is still taking place.

The 15 apartments range from 450 SF studios to 1,400 SF three bedroom units. Rental prices for the apartment units have not been posted. According to Ecovillage Executive Director Liz Walker, “The current goal is October 1st for completion. There will still be inspections after that, so it will be perhaps the end of October or November before people are able to move in.”

Construction is being handled by a local company, AquaZephyr, which received an award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy for a “zero energy ready” home constructed as part of TREE. The designs of the Common House and houses are the work of California architect Jerry Weisburd, with local firm STREAM Collaborative handling the permitting process and design tweaks after Weisburd’s retirement.

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EcoVillage Construction Update, 12/2014

29 12 2014

Heading over to West Hill, construction continues slowly but steadily on EcoVillage’s 4-story Common House/apartment building as part of its third neighborhood, TREE (Third Residential Ecovillage Experience, following its first two, FROG and SONG).  I can’t seem to find any specific values for the number of bedrooms in the apartment building, but there are 15 units ranging from studios to 3-bedrooms. However, using a little math and deduction, a rough estimate can be established. EcoVillage claims 160 residents in its first two neighborhoods, which have 30 units each (total 60), and they expect 240 residents when the 40-unit TREE neighborhood is complete. That gives 80 residents in 40 units, of which 25 of those units are houses. Houses tend to have more occupants than apartments (2.1/house vs. 1.7/apartment from the 2010 county census), so I think 25-30 residents is a fair estimate for the apartment building.

Interior work is underway and all the windows and doors are fitted into place. Exterior finishes and balconies have yet to be installed. The houses are all complete and occupied. Construction is being handled by a local firm, AquaZephyr, which received an award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy for a “zero energy ready” home constructed as part of TREE. The apartment building is scheduled to be finished this spring. Setbacks stemming from building code requirements pushed it away from its original fall 2014 completion date.

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News Tidbits 8/30/14: There Never Seems To Be Enough Housing

30 08 2014

1. In a glance at the economy, some good news: over in Lansing, a new research building is under construction, and expected to add jobs. the new “Northeast Dairy and Food Testing Center” is a 50-50 collaboration between local firm Dairy one Cooperative Inc., and Chestnut Labs of Springfield, Missouri. The new 17,000 sq ft building at 720 Warren Road is a $3.5 million investment and will add 11 jobs at the outset, 3 through Dairy One and 8 through Chestnut Labs. 4 more jobs would be added over the following two years if all goes to plan.

According to the TCIDA report, Chestnut opted for Ithaca as its first satellite office because of a desire to expand into the Northeast and its proximity to Cornell. Although construction was supposed to begin last fall, it looks like we can expect construction to be completed this spring. I have yet to see a rendering, but the design is supposed to be by Syracuse-based Dalpos Architects.

2. Revised renders for 327 Eddy. The 28-unit, 64-bedroom Collegetown project looks nearly the same, except for one crucial detail – the east courtyard and stairwell have been transposed (mirrored), with the east courtyard on the south face and the stairwell on the north face. A few more windows were placed in the west courtyard as well. This is a smart suggestion, whoever’s it was; the 100 Block of Dryden obscures the blank faces of the side wall and stairwell, making it less prominent. The side with more windows faces down the hill, and given the relatively historic building next door, the views are likely to be more protected, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing from most vantage points.

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3. As reported by the IJ last Wednesday, the much-anticipated Harold’s Square project will be getting another revision. The building was originally supposed to be one floor of retail, three floors of office space, and six floors of apartments, with a penthouse level consisting of conference, mechanical and exercise rooms. Now, the top two floors of office space will be apartments instead. Currently, the building has 46 apartments approved, and any changes will likely need to be approved by the planning board. The article also notes that high construction costs in the growing economy are forcing businesses to rethink their development strategies, although the exact same thing happened during the recession due to the tight bank loan market. There’s always a reason.

I really can’t say this change-up in use really surprises me. Ithaca’s office market is not that great. The biggest employers here are colleges (who house offices on or very near campus), research/labs (who need specialized spaces), and tourism (hotels). It’s extremely tough to build office space in the Ithaca market because there’s so little demand for it. Seneca Place downtown was able to be built in 2004-05 partially because they secured Cornell as a tenant. But I’ve heard through the rumor mill that Cornell doesn’t fully use their space post-recession, and the university keeps renting it out as flex space and as a gesture to the community. On the other hand, apartments go like hotcakes, since the residential supply is much less than demand, and the success of recent projects indicates apartments are a safe investment in downtown.

Here’s what I expect – the building will be a little shorter, since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling ratios than office spaces. The exterior will be revised, mostly the low-rise section facing the Commons. The massing may change up, but given that there were 46 apartments on six floors initially, at a minimum I think another 20 apartments to be proposed.


4. The Stone Quarry Apartment project by INHS has been approved. It wasn’t a pretty process, but it’s been greenlighted for construction, which is expected to begin this fall with an intended completion in October 2015.

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5. On the topic of affordable housing, another protested project is coming up for review, the 58-unit Biggs parcel project near Cayuga Medical Center. The project needs an approved SEQR from the town of Ithaca before it can move forward; the sketch plan is to be discussed at the September 2nd meeting, there will be no vote at that time. The working name of the project has gone from Cayuga Ridge to Cayuga Trails; I’m just going to keep calling it the Biggs parcel. There’s only a tenuous little overlap between the opposed parties here and those against Stone Quarry, but if the Ithaca West list-serve is any indication, the argument against the project is one part logic, one part bluster. There have already been allegations thrown around from both sides with this project, which is co-sponsored by the rural equivalent of INHS, Better Housing of Tompkins County, in a partnership with project developer NRP Group of Cleveland. While this Jerry Springer-type showdown continues to unfold, here are some updated renders of the project, courtesy of RDL Architects of suburban Cleveland:


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Nothing to write home about, simple and colorful. But there’s a good chance these never leave the drawing board. If it does somehow get approved, construction will start in Spring 2015 and last 12-14 months.

6. In other West Hill developments, EcoVillage is building their 15-unit apartment building/common house in their third neighborhood, TREE. Article from the Ithaca Journal here, and photo gallery here. I only reach EcoVillage once in a blue moon because it’s so far out of the way from other developments; my last photos are from spring 2013. At that time, the first set of houses were going up for the 40-unit neighborhood. According to the EcoVillage website, the first TREE residents, with homes designed by Jerry Weisburd, moved in last December. When all is complete by next spring, EcoVillage will actually be a fairly sizable village, with virtually 100% occupancy and a population around 240. Unlike many West Hill developments, EcoVillage has had comparatively weak opposition from West Hill residents. Lest they change their mind, EcoVillage adds a neighborhood about once a decade, so they have probably have nothing to worry about until the 2020’s.


Ecovillage Has More Competition Coming

24 05 2013


As noted in the Ithaca Times, the eco-conscious folks who developed the Aurora Street Pocket Neighbrohood have a new proposal in the works. The location for this one, however, isn’t as urban – the site is located off of Five Mile Drive, just west of Elmira Road and the southwest area’s suburban big-box land (fun fact – the road starts at an intersection with Elmira Road five miles from the shores of Cayuga Lake, hence the name).  This general area has seen a sizable number of single-family homes built in the past decade, though nothing multi-unit like the proposal.

Speaking of which, the basic stats – ~36 units, “craftsman” style homes 1-2 floors, single or 3-unit properties depending on preference, and a common house/community center. Enough of seems to be up in the air style-wise that New Earth Living is asking interested parties to fill out surveys or email them, so they can flesh out their proposal. Style-wise, we already have a good idea what this might look like by looking at the Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood, which consists of one renovated home and 4 units in three newly-built properties tucked in from the corner Aurora and Marshall. Green construction, solar panels, LED lighting, food grown on property, but no true farm on the property, and units are clustered but still separate – in some ways, this project seems like a toned-down version of Ecovillage.

Ithaca has a lot of folks that lean far left, and a lot of development going on as of late. This seems like a pretty natural outcome of those two forces. Hopefully, this will be a project the community can get excited about as it moves forward.

The EcoVillage

9 05 2013

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Although I take a lot of jabs at “hippies”, the reason I never made it to Ecovillage before now had less to do with any personal stance and more to do with the fact it was just out of my way. Rachel Carson Way lies about a mile and a half westward of Inlet Island, nestled in the hills opposite from Cornell. This means that when I past through, it’s farthest out of my way, so time often being a priority, it always sat on the bucket list. Finally, I made the conscious effort to take a trip up on my last photo tour.

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Ecovillage runs on the concept of co-housing, which in many ways runs close to most people’s idea of a commune (and mentally, I still find myself referring to it as a commune). There are optional shared dinners, a community-based work system, and of course, being in tune with the natural environment. Hence, solar arrays, housing designed to minimize energy use, foods grown on the property,  and so forth. Ecovillage isn’t unique, not even in Tompkins County (White Hawk in Danby is a smaller but similar concept). But it is probably one of the best known developments of its kind.

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Ecovillage began planning in 1992-1993, when stakeholders purchased a former farm with the intent of launching an eco-friendly community.  The first neighborhood, FROG (First Resident Group), began construction in 1995 and was completed two years later. The second community, SONG (Second Neighborhood Group), received site plan approval in 2001, and was built in three phases over five years. Each of these neighborhoods has 30 units with a community center. The community also has a few other bells and whistles, like a passive bus shelter, a root cellar, carports and a berry farm. The pre-Ecovillage farmhouse and barn are now a separate property holding an antique shop and the City Lights B&B.

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Ecovillage is well underway with its third neighborhood, TREE. At 40 units, TREE is slightly larger than the first two neighborhoods. Construction is definitely underway, and the majority of the community should be complete before the end of the year. Also worth a quick note, a 900 sq ft “Gourd Workshop” was under construction when I passed through. More additions, like an education center and a roadside farm stand, are in the works.

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If you don’t want to be a creeper like me, Ecovillage opens itself up for a free public tour at 3 PM on the first Saturday of each month. That way, you can avoid being like me, trying to take photos when kids keep wandering in front of them, and having that awkward realization that you look like a child predator.

News Tidbits 9/14: Old People and Hippies Like Ithaca

15 09 2009

Conifer Village

Two little planning tidbits of note. One is that a company that specializes in senior citizen housing complexs is scouting sites in the town of Ithaca near the Cayuga Medical Center [1]. The company is currently beginning work on a $10 million, 120-unit complex in Horseheads, which is effectively suburban Elmira (yes, people actually live in Elmira, and it’s a lot like Ithaca, just without the prosperity and colleges). The parcels the company is checking out aren’t too far from one senior citizens’ facility already located on West Hill, a 36-bed facility known as Alterra [2]. None of the company’s facilities are subsidized, so it’s unlikely to be different if an Ithaca location was constructed. This comes on the heels of the Conifer Village senior housing, which was also built on West Hill (72 units, completed last year). In the same vein, McGraw House in downtown Ithaca is planning a 25-50 unit expansion, and is currently in the development stages [3].

So yeah. Old people like Ithaca. I think it’s part of a trend of retirees moving to college towns to enjoy a “higher quality of life” and increased educational and cultural venues that are often associated with such communities. The New York Times did a story on it not too long ago [4].

In other news, Ecovillage is planning its third community, TREE. This goes with the previous two facilities in that area, SONG and FROG. The 30-unit addition, with a new “education facility”, has a tentative construction start in 2010, and for completion in early 2011 [5]. Ecovillage currently has 60 units at its West Hill location; White Hawk, another ecovillage, has plans for 30 total units over the next few years at its Danby location (for the record, Danby is a town just south of Ithaca). Hippies like Ithaca too. But, I s’pose that’s not really news.