Ithaca Journal – June 2009

Two Ithacans Launch Affordable, Sustainable Housing Initiative

June 3, 2009

ITHACA, NY – Sue Cosentini and Rob Morache are one step closer to making their dream of bringing a model of affordable, highly sustainable living to Ithaca. Yesterday, the City of Ithaca’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved the area variance for the Aurora Dwelling Circle, a cluster of 4 homes on Aurora St.. Aurora Dwelling Circle is the first in what Cosentini and Morache call 5-2-ONE™ communities. 5-2-ONE™ is an initiative in which at least 5 people or 5 households come together to combine their focus, efforts, resources and land to reduce their ecological footprint to that of ONE person or ONE household. Cosentini and Morache arrived at 5-2-ONE™ because if everyone on Earth lived as Americans do, we would need 5 Earths. Since we only have 1 Earth, we must make an effort to live within those limits. 5-2-ONE™ is a conceptual framework for planning and personal action.

“This initiative combines green technologies and sustainable practices with the power and synergy of human relationships”, says Cosentini.

This is not just about sustainability, it is about economic viability. Here in Ithaca we have seen an increase in home prices which has raised taxes and decreased affordability. We need new housing strategies that increase density and tax base, put more people within walking distance of amenities and services, keeps housing affordable, yet maintains the aesthetic character of our neighborhoods.” Says Morache

In response to this challenge, Cosentini and Morache developed Aurora Dwelling Circle, a model single family residential housing cluster planned for the double lot Cosentini owns at 519 and 523 North Aurora Street. The homes are designed according to German Passivhaus standards meaning they are super-insulated, requiring little or no supplemental heat. The rooms are designed to maximize daylight and solar gain and the roofs face south for future solar panel installation. Such efficiency will maintain long term affordability as energy prices rise.

The site design maximizes the use of limited space by clustering the homes around a shared yard with a social gathering area, food and herb gardens, a compost area, bicycle garage and courtyard. “An advantage of sharing the open space is the sense of community that it introduces. Residents can readily share the benefits that come from being able to rely on others, yet maintain a sense of privacy in their own homes. This is different than living in a city, having friends and being social. The shared proximity creates a kind of extended family. You won’t need to make an appointment by email or text to see your friends,” says Morache.
The new buildings will maintain the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhood. Noah Demarest, a neighbor adjacent to the northeast corner of the proposed community, says, “I honestly feel they [Cosentini and Morache] have done a great job creating a unique style and form that is both contemporary and at the same time consistent with the diverse character of Fall Creek. I fully anticipate that this development will become an important draw for the immediate community and will serve as a model of the most sustainable form of housing within the City of Ithaca.”

The initiative also incorporates a strategy for dealing with potential conflicts that might arise among people living in close proximity and sharing common space. Cosentini, along with Ed Lisbe, a conflict management, team facilitator and business coach for Fortune 500 companies, have developed a workshop on listening, dialogue and human interaction, called Conscious Communication. “Living in community offers lots of opportunity for joy as people share their lives together, however differences and obstacles to being related can also arise.

“ Most often in conversation or in a relationship we are more interested in getting our point across then we are in the other person. So this extraordinary workshop is about having communication provide it’s most powerful and primary purpose… truly hearing and “seeing” what is really going on for the other person.” says Cosentini. The course will be available to anyone interested, not just 5-2-ONE™ residents.

Cosentini and Morache explored planning and developing a project of this type for the past five years, and many sites were considered. Finally, they decided to use the empty lot between their two homes. “It just all of a sudden made sense. The design really is ideal for cities – both large and small. If we build it in a location that requires driving back and forth to get where you need to go, it defeats the purpose. Fall Creek is the perfect place because it’s close to all the amenities you could want. It’s all in walking distance – shopping, great parks, the movies, dinner,” says Cosentini. “It is in cities that we have a greater need for smaller spaces with smaller price tags.” The two hope that 5-2-ONE™ will serve as a model for other cities with similar needs.

Purchase of the homes is on a first come, first serve basis.