The Ithaca Times – March 27, 2014

Cluster Subdivision Near Inlet Proposed in Ithaca

By Bill Chaisson

Developer Susan Cosentini has proposed 31 units of housing in a cluster subdivision she is calling “Amabel” of off Inlet Road in the town of Ithaca. The parcel is between Rt. 13A (Five Mile Drive) and the Cayuga Inlet and was formerly a farm owned by the Mobbs family. Cosentini came before the town planning board on Tuesday, March 18 for a sketch plan review.

This is the second iteration of the project Cosentini has brought to the town. The first incarnation was a 36-unit co-housing project, which she proposed in May 2013. The suburban co-housing project came on the heels of the completion of the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood, her New Earth Living co-housing project in the city.

Hollis Erb, the vice chair of the board, led the discussion. “On future maps could you please show the proposed location of the Black Diamond Trail,” Erb said. “And please explain how the residents will get access to it.

“They will be able to cross the fish ladder using the railroad abutment,” said Cosentini. “Through this area the trail stays on the far side of the inlet and goes over toward Buttermilk Creek [State Park].”

“Where is the Black Diamond Trail development now,” asked member Linda Collins, “and how does it relate to your timetable?”

Cosentini said that she had called the state parks office and was told that the trail would be built out over the next five years, while her own work would likely take place in the next three to five years.

Erb and all the subsequent members of the board lavished praise on Cosentini’s design. Erb was particularly fond of the proposed dog park. She was, however, concerned about the placement of handicapped parking, which seemed to her to be too far from some residences.

“The parcels are purchased per person,” said the developer, “so I anticipate that handicapped folks will purchase parcels close to the parking.”

Erb was also concerned that some of the proposed houses did not have driveways leading right to them. She wanted to know how moving vans or appliance delivery trucks were expected to bring large objects to the houses. Cosentini replied without hesitation that such things could be carried up the proposed paths in a sling. Several of the questions from the board were along these lines: the member would ask the developer how she was going to deal with some unconventional aspect of cluster development, and in all cases Cosentini had a ready answer.

Erb and Wilcox both expressed concern that there was only one entrance to the subdivision. They and other members of the board recommended Cosentini add a second entrance for emergency vehicles in case the primary entrance was blocked.

Several members asked about the status of Inlet Road. Director of Planning Sue Ritter told the board it is a private road that is on the town highway map. Director of Code Enforcement Bruce Bates noted that the owner of the road must keep it plowed. Cosentini said that she and her neighbor Dierk Terlouw own the road; the boundary is the centerline of the unpaved thoroughfare. Town Civil Engineer Daniel Thaete suggested that Cosentini take a close look at the easements on the road because the local utilities had unusual clauses in theirs that allowed them to block the way.

Member Jon Bosak told her that he preferred the proposed cluster subdivision to the original co-housing model. He also said he wanted to see a more complete plan for how Cosentini was going to pump her sewage uphill to Five Mile Drive. “If the electricity that powers the pumps goes out,” he said, “those houses will become unlivable in a few days.” Cosentini assured him that as the project went forward she would keep the town apprised; she already has plans in place for backup generators to power the pumps.

“I have to keep reminding myself how little space this takes up,” remarked member Joseph Haefeli. “I’m so used to suburban sprawl.”

“I want to preserve the intimacy, but also provide privacy as well,” said Cosentini. “I don’t want to sacrifice the trees by changing the layout of the houses.” The site has several scattered copses of mature shade trees; it was formerly a cow pasture.

“I’m curious about the name,” said Collins. “Where does it come from?”

“I did some research into the Mobbs family,” said Cosentini. “They are from Norfolk, England. They have been in this country for three generations, just like my family, but my family came from Italy. But their name comes from the female given name ‘Mabel,’ which in turn comes from the medieval given name ‘Amabel’. I think in the future I am going to use female given names for all my developments.”

Collins wanted to know how large the houses would be. Cosentini explained that there would be six different models based on modular additions to one two-story core, and they would range from 1,200 to 1,900 square feet.

“Will this be phased construction,” asked Wilcox, “or will you find 31 buyers and then build?”

“I want to get the majority sold,” said Cosentini, “so I can put in the sewer system, build the road, and hook a model into the sewer.”

Wilcox wondered how Cosentini got around the town law that required a lot to have frontage on a road. She explained that because every homeowner would be a member of the homeowner association, each member would own a share of each parcel. Therefore each member would own a share of a parcel with frontage.

Member John Beach asked the developer about the price per unit. “I’m working on some unusual wall construction,” said Cosentini, “and that will keep some units below $300,000. I’m trying to meet net-zero standards in Zone 6 and that has been pretty difficult.” In “net-zero building” the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. •

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