Ithaca Times- April 13, 2011

Tompkins County, EcoVillage win EPA grant to study sustainable housing options


Photo Provided Workers install solar panels on the roof of a new residence at EcoVillage at Ithaca. 

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:38 am 

Tompkins County, EcoVillage win EPA grant to study sustainable housing options By Bill Chaisson Ithaca Times 

On Monday, April 11, Tompkins County announced that collaboration between its planning department and the EcoVillage at Ithaca’s Center for Sustainability had led to a $375,450 Climate Showcase Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Planning and EcoVillage will study three different experiments in sustainable development, including phase three of EcoVillage itself, a micro-cohousing development in Ithaca, and a planned development on 26 acres of county-owned land north of the medical center.

“We were invited by the county to apply,” said Liz Walker, the executive director of the Center of Sustainability and one of the founders of the EcoVillage. “They thought that the work we’ve been doing here over the last two decades has a lot of merit. We’ve analyzed what has worked and what has not worked. This grant will give us the opportunity to delve into what we have learned.”

Walker has written two books (see, one on the EcoVillage and another on sustainable development in the greater Tompkins County area called “Choosing a Sustainable Future.”

Ed Marx, the director of the Tompkins County department of planning and sustainability, noted that the EcoVillage uses 40 percent fewer resources than a normal development of comparable size.

“In their third phase they are shooting to be 80 percent more efficient,” he said. “They will document the process of doing this and propose to local municipalities that they follow their example.”

EcoVillage plans to break ground on TREE (third residential EcoVillage experience) in late summer.

“We’re actively looking for members,” said Walker. “We have 23 out of 40 households filled. We are looking for diversity in both ethnicity and age.”

The Web site for the TREE project ( explains what is involved in entering into a co-housing community.

The infrastructure of TREE will be technologically groundbreaking for North America. EcoVillage will use “passive house” construction, which was developed by the Passive House Institute and is more widely used in Europe.

“The walls are 15 inches thick,” said Walker, “and there is energy recovery ventilation to keep the heat in, but still allow circulation.”

The dwellings will also employ solar thermal equipment to make hot water (and photo-voltaics for those who can afford the technology).

“There is an electric baseboard back-up system,” Walker said, “but the house is so tight that only seven linear feet of baseboard heat is installed.”

Studios in TREE will cost $80,000, and home sizes range up to a four-bedroom house for $255,000.

“What we’re trying to do here is to show that middle class people can create a wonderful community,” Walker said.

While EcoVillage is a rural setting with a residential community integrated into organic farming operations, the second project that will be studied under the EPA grant is in an urban setting.

“It’s called the Aurora Dwelling Circle,” said Marx. “It has been approved, but not built. It’s an in-fill project.”

The site is at the corner of North Aurora and Marshall streets in Ithaca.

“It’s in an existing neighborhood where they’ll do in-fill to create a courtyard,” said Walker of the dwelling circle idea. “The courtyard is a place for a garden and shared meals, but you have separate homes.”

Builder Susan Cosentini and designer Rob Morache run New Earth Living, the organization that will build the Aurora Dwelling Circle.

The third project to be examined constitutes yet another type of development.

“It is intended to be something more like a village,” said Marx. “A developer is sought who would use the lessons learned [by the EcoVillage] to a develop a more mainstream project, something more market-oriented.”

Marx noted that EcoVillage does a lot of outreach before building, and those who get involved must buy in to the co-housing model.

Co-housing was developed in Denmark in the 1960s. While residents have separate homes, there are common facilities that are planned and used by all the residents. The sharing of facilities creates energy efficiencies and reduces the use of natural resources.

While the EcoVillage is designed as a hamlet – there are presently 160 people living there, and the third phase would add another 65 – the community north of the Cayuga Medical Center would be village-sized, covering 26 acres.

“We’ll work with the county to explore making an ‘EcoVillage-type’ setting at the hospital,” said Walker. “It will include all our features, on-site food production, on-site jobs and access to public transportation. It will continue the nodal development model.”

Monday’s award was not the first federal grant that EcoVillage has won. Last year they secured funding for their new-farmer training program, Groundswell.

“It’s been in existence for several years,” said Walker, “but it was a volunteer organization. Now it has paid staff.”

Last summer Groundswell ran a practicum in conjunction with TC3, creating an accredited farmer-training program in which 18 students were enrolled.

The new EPA grant is for three years.

“Liz Walker and her compatriots did most of the writing,” said Marx. “Planning helped with the writing and did the reviewing. It was a really short time frame. We couldn’t have done it without the collaboration.”

Marx said that 20-25 awards were made this year, the first year of the program. The county needs to formally accept the grant at the April 19 meeting, and then the funds will be available immediately.

For more information about New Earth Living and the Aurora Dwelling Circle

To become a homeowner in the Aurora Dwelling Circle or for more information please contact us