The Ithaca Times, April 24, 2013

Aurora Pocket Neighborhood open house will showcase design, co-housing model

By Dialynn Dwyer

ITHACA — The Aurora Pocket Neighborhood is near completion, bringing three new, highly energy-efficient, cottage-style houses to the downtown.

An open house will be held on Saturday, April 27, and Saturday, May 4, from noon to 5 p.m., where visitors will get a walkthrough of the three new houses that are part of a co-housing community. The owners of the houses will move into the new community on Aurora Street in May and June.

Developer Susan Cosentini said presentations will be given so visitors can learn more about cooperatives, sustainability and co-housing. The project’s designer Rob Morache, and Roy Andrews, chief operating officer for New Earth Living Communities, will also be present to answer questions.

Cosentini is already planning a larger community to be built a mile from downtown Ithaca.

In addition to the cozy, energy efficient houses featuring bio-mass boilers, solar thermal arrays and photovoltanic panels on the roofs, the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood will have an edible landscape with a dwarf orchard and a garden for the residents of the pocket to share.

“It’s pretty much exactly the same as EcoVillage in that it’s a co-housing community with a cooperative land use,” said Cosentini.

The difference is the co-op is only comprised of a maximum of eight people because there are only four units.

Cosentini’s house sits on Aurora Street and is a part of the pocket neighborhood. She said she began considering what to do on the land once she owned the lots adjacent to her property.

“Quickly as I went inside the inquiry of sustainability, it became clear that sustainability isn’t really about technology, it’s relationships,” she said. “So I knew I wanted to create that community as opposed to a bunch of super-insulated houses that were net-zero. Although that’s definitely a part of the equation.”

The future, she said, is not about sacrifice but play and fun.

“We are going to garden together and grow food together, and reduce our carbon footprint significantly by having it be a cooperative effort instead of an isolated individual effort. It’s sort of part and parcel,” she said. “As we move into the future it’s not going to be about disintegration, it’s going to be about integration. So that’s a part of this.”

The vetting process for becoming a part of the cooperative was a relaxed one, she said, with the only requirement being that everyone took the listening workshop she runs.

“The people who came together are amazing and these people took a risk,” she said. “Now we’ve got progeny on the ground, these houses are definitely proof of concept. There wasn’t a proof a concept. So the first people who came forward pretty much are the people that are here. And they really fit the demographics we distinguished as who might be interested in this model. We have an elder, two families are very interested in the environment and one family has young children.”

The two houses in the back of the neighborhood are mirror images of each other, each 1350 square feet. There is an effort to make one of the smaller houses affordable by purchasing materials (tiles, cabinets, vanities) on Craigslist and applying for grants.

The third house, next to Cosentini’s, is larger at 1,550 square feet.

All the houses also have multiple entrances to correspond to the different social spaces.

“These houses, as part of a co-housing communities/new earth living communities, they have to have a relationship with both the existing community and the new community,” said Cosentini. “They have a particular design to them so the spaces all relate to the social environment.”

All three houses include skylights, stackable washer/dryers and air source heating pumps.

“They out-perform passive house in airtightness, which is actually really, really great,” said Cosentini.

With guaranteed lower energy costs, Cosentini said utility bills will directly correlate to how long and how hot people’s showers are. And, depending on how much food can be produced in the garden, food costs for the neighborhood residents could also be dropped greatly.

The project was financed by the construction funds purchased by the new owners of the homes. Cosentini said the homes were purchased for between $280,000 and $350,000.

“Affordability in new construction is always a problem,” said Cosentini of the project. “That’s not anything unique to this project. Affordability in new construction is really tough because new construction is so expensive. But what we’re trying to do in order to mitigate that is by virtue of the comprehensive approach we’re taking in terms of your actual comprehensive living costs, we’re trying to make them more affordable.”

The next project will have to be financed slightly differently, she said, because more pre-development work for the project will be required. The idea is the project will be made up of between 30 and 36 units, in pockets no greater than seven, around a common courtyard. The owner-occupied co-operative would have a much bigger garden and orchard for the project.

Cosentini said she is looking to get “net zero” and have enough solar production for electric vehicles as part of the new project.

There already is a waitlist of about 20-25 people for the new neighborhood. Those interested in the new project can fill out a survey on the New Earth Living website.

“My ultimate goal is to do this as urban as I possibly can,” said Cosentini of the communities she’s creating. “New Earth Living is a very young company, but I do want to build co-housing and this type of community as urban as we can so walkability is really enhanced.”

To learn more about New Earth Living, the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood or Cosentini’s new project, visit


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