EPA Climate Showcase Communities under Construction

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Tompkins Weekly 9-10-2012

By Liz Walker

“It’s exciting to be so involved in building our community,” said Luigi Morelli, one of the most recent members to join the third neighborhood, TREE, at EcoVillage at Ithaca. Morelli, who is part Italian, and part Peruvian, values the connections he is building among others who have come together from around the country to create this very energy-efficient community. “It’s also a lot of work.”

After years of planning, two of Ithaca’s Climate Showcase Communities broke ground in late June: the TREE neighborhood at EcoVillage and the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood (APN) project in downtown Ithaca. TREE will include 25 new homes and 15 apartments and the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood will add 3 new homes to the community. Construction for both communities is expected to be completed by September 2013.

Now, in early September, TREE has just finished installing sewer and water lines for the 40 units, and will soon be pouring foundations and framing in the first few homes. Aurora Pocket Neighborhood is well into the framing process. Both groups have slideshows of the construction on their websites.

These two residential developments will help meet Tompkins County’s 2050 goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions today-using existing and emerging technologies and practices. The homes in the TREE and APN neighborhoods are designed to be 80 percent more efficient than current residential buildings in the U.S.

Tompkins County, in partnership with EcoVillage, was awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April 2011 to demonstrate how innovative, on-the-ground approaches can be used to create neighborhoods that enhance residents’ quality of life while using fewer resources. The EPA grant focuses on documenting EcoVillage’s innovative, successful methods of green building, mixed land-use planning, and community development, and applying those methods to more mainstream developments in a variety of settings.

“The EPA Climate Showcase Communities project grew out of an unexpected collaboration between folks in the community who were already doing this work,” noted County Commissioner of Planning and Community Sustainability Ed Marx. “This federal grant provides us with the opportunity to elevate this work and communicate it to a broader audience. Our project is the only one focused on new residential development among the 50 EPA climate showcase communities nationwide,” he explained.

A recent analysis showed that the ecological footprint of residents in the two existing neighborhoods at EcoVillage at Ithaca is 70% less than the U.S. average. The TREE neighborhood aims to decrease this footprint even more, while preserving a high quality of life for residents. TREE will employ state-of-the-art “Passivhaus” design, which originated in Germany and is considered the greenest building standard in the world. There are about 25,000 Passivhaus certified homes in Europe, but only 13 homes in the U.S. have achieved Passivhaus certification. The TREE community will triple the U.S. figure by constructing up to 25 new homes which qualify for Passivhaus certification. Estimated home prices range from $85,000 for studio apartments to $250,000 for a four-bedroom home.

The Aurora Pocket Neighborhood is a project of New Earth Living LLC, and a collaboration between builder Sue Cosentini and designer Rob Morache. The mission of New Earth Living is to create a new model for living that fosters social connections, affordability, and a minimal ecological footprint. The APN site is at the corner of North Aurora and Marshall Streets in Ithaca, in an existing neighborhood. Homes will be arranged around a common courtyard with many raised vegetable beds and fruit and nut trees. This central courtyard will serve as a gathering place for residents and provide opportunities for social connection and home gardening.

Liz Walker is co-founder and Executive Director of EcoVillage at Ithaca


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