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EcoVillage at Ithaca

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Retains 100% of stormwater runoff from developed areas of the site for up to a 100-year storm with no impacts on or connections to the municipal storm sewer system.
  • Generates an estimated 61% less runoff than the conventional residential subdivision proposed from the site. Predicted runoff for EcoVillage is 42.1 acre-feet per year compared to 108.3 acre-feet for the conventional subdivision.
  • Reduces annual nitrogen loads by an estimated 14%, phosphorous by 32%, and suspended solids by 10%, compared to the conventional residential subdivision proposed for the site.
  • Reduces irrigation needs for turf by 95% compared to the conventional residential subdivision planned for the site. EcoVillage contains only 3.62 acres of turf.
  • Avoided the release of approximately 1,330 tons of CO2 by preserving 20 acres of woodlands. These trees also sequester 43 tons of CO2 annually.
  • Produces about 60,000 kWh per year with ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays. This supplies 42% of the FROG neighborhood's energy, avoiding 250 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Social

  • Increases awareness of sustainable living practices by hosting about 1,000 visitors per year through monthly tours. 85% of surveyed tour attendees said that their visit to EcoVillage increased their understanding of clustered housing.

Economic

  • Generates a gross annual revenue of $233,500 in organic produce sales on two farms, providing CSA shares for approximately 1,000 people during the growing season.
  • Creates 7 full-time-equivalent (FTE) farm jobs during growing season, and 2.5 FTE during winter, as well as several part-time seasonal jobs.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Rick Manning Landscape Architect

  • Project Type

    Community

  • Former Land Use

    Agriculture

  • Location

    115 Rachel Carson Way
    Ithaca, New York 14850

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    175 acres

  • Budget

    $8.5 million for TREE and Village Green improvements

  • Completion Date

    1997 - FROG neighborhood; 2006 - SONG neighborhood; 2014 - TREE neighborhood

EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) is a 175-acre, planned cohousing community with 100 residences clustered on the site in three, five-acre neighborhoods. Built sequentially over nearly 20 years, each neighborhood is a housing cooperative that supports the EVI community’s goals of sustainability, accessibility, and affordability. Residences are privately owned and contain the amenities of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, community gardens, play areas and a community center called a common house. Site design played a key role in creating the pedestrian-oriented, social neighborhoods. By clustering the homes on just 15 acres, 80% of the land could be set aside for natural areas, wildlife habitat, and two working farms. Through its consensus based decision-making process, creative site design and building methods, the EVI community fosters sustainable lifestyle choices, impacting collective resource use and waste production.

  • EcoVillage contains three distinct neighborhoods: ”FROG” with 30 homes completed in 1997, “SONG” with 30 homes completed in 2006, and “TREE” with 40 homes completed in 2014. Each neighborhood is a New York State housing cooperative based on “cohousing” with shared common facilities and many shared social events, including several community meals a week.
  • All of the EcoVillage development is densely clustered, setting aside more than 80% of the 175-acre site for natural areas, wildlife habitat and organic working farms. 50 acres are placed in a permanent conservation easement administered by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
  • The EcoVillage community is actively engaged in restoring the health of its natural areas and ecosystems, which were depleted after years of conventional farming. Three major habitat areas are the hardwood forest, the aspen groves, and the semi-open fields. Together, the community has planted over 100 trees in the aspen groves and field margins.
  • To preserve farmland, neighborhoods were located away from the highest quality soils on the site. 15 acres of land are rented to two resident-owned farms at the cost of local property tax on the land. The farms supply organic fruits and vegetables to 1,000 county residents through CSA shares and U-pick berry harvesting during the growing season.  
  • Stormwater runoff generated by the FROG and SONG neighborhoods is collected in a 1-acre pond and a dry basin capable of detaining 1.8 acre-feet of runoff. The pond is used by residents for recreation.
  • Runoff from the TREE neighborhood is infiltrated during sheet flow through meadows or captured in a manmade stormwater wetland.  
  • The agricultural areas are irrigated using rainwater collected in a pond near the farm fields.
  • Each neighborhood has a deer-fenced community garden. Many residents also incorporate gardens, edible plantings and herbs in their small private yards.
  • Residents compost all non-meat kitchen scraps.
  • No pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used anywhere at EcoVillage.
  • In FROG, all 30 homes incorporate passive solar for light and heat, with 14-ft high windows on the south side. In 2012, a 50-kW array of photovoltaic solar panels was installed just east of the neighborhood to provide power to the homes. The FROG common house has its own 6-kW photovoltaic installation.
  • In SONG, all 30 homes are Energy Star-certified but each is individually customized, demonstrating a wide variety of sustainable building techniques. 14 of the homes have photovoltaic panels on their roofs.
  • In TREE, 10 of the 40 homes are certified under the stringent Passive House standard and all are expected to be certified as LEED Platinum. TREE will have 50-kW ground-mounted array of solar panels.
  • The EcoVillage is home to a non-profit education organization, Learn@ EcoVillageIthaca with initiatives that include the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming and Welcome Home, a project of the  EPA Climate Showcase Communities Program.

Challenge

The initial development of the first neighborhood, FROG, did not conform to local zoning, which specified a minimum lot size of 30,000 sf with 100 linear feet of road frontage and a minimum depth of 200 ft. This made cluster development unfeasible without a variance.

The EVI community has a consensus based decision-making structure that complicated the design process for the third neighborhood, TREE. TREE’s design included design documents for the neighborhood’s layout, vehicular access, and future plans to improve the Village Green and install traffic calming. While decisions about the TREE interior site design were largely left to its future residents to approve (homes were pre-subscribed), changes to the Village Green area required the participation of the entire EVI community. Changes to the entry drive were the most debated.

Solution

In order to allow the construction of EcoVillage, a special land use district was set up with its own zoning. Over time, the special district has been amended as new neighborhoods were built and the Town of Ithaca has changed its zoning to allow, and even foster, cluster development.

The landscape architect for TREE worked intensely with the future resident group and the EVI community to build consensus about the TREE neighborhood design and improvements to community access. In particular, he worked to show how changes to the entry drive could be handled in both a cost effective and functional manner. This involved meetings, listserv discussions, staking out the drive and bringing the fire department to EVI to test drive the realignments.

  • The EVI development’s estimated cost is $2.4 million for materials and activities related to the site and landscape. A conventional suburban development of 100 homes would cost $8.3 million for the site/landscape. This represents a 70% savings.
  • The EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) mission is to promote experiential learning about ways of meeting human needs for shelter, food, energy, livelihood and social connectedness that are aligned with the long-term health and viability of Earth and all its inhabitants. Sustainable living practices are encouraged and shared in this environment. As a result, residents at EVI demonstrate large reductions in resource use. Recent studies of the overall community show a 40% reduction in natural gas, 53% reduction in electricity, and 71% reduction in water use compared to typical homes in the northeast.
  • While the founders of the first neighborhood selected the EVI property for its available farmland and proximity to the city (with employment destinations and utility access), the location has posed problems throughout the past 20 years. Steep hills and two miles between EVI and downtown make walking and biking difficult, while 25% of electricity use at EVI goes towards the cost of pumping city water uphill to the village. Topography can be an even greater factor than distance in creating the type of walkable and sustainable community that EVI wished to create.
  • Fire access has been a contentious issue at EcoVillage from the beginning, because the Ithaca Fire Department was not comfortable with the unconventional site plan with buildings located closer together than typically seen in the area. Due to the suburban location, there was not adequate municipal water for fire protection, so a dry hydrant was installed at the pond. Ironically, a fire occurred during the construction of FROG which led to further discussions on fire safety even though the site did meet the requirements of the NYS fire code at the time. Renegotiation with the Ithaca Fire Department was required as TREE was being built under a newer NYS fire code that specifies more stringent fire access in terms of wider lane widths and limited lengths on dead end roads. EVI wished to install narrower lanes without turn-arounds. Ultimately, part of the conflicting goals were resolved with IFD’s understanding that the TREE homes are constructed of less combustible materials and a better flow of water is now available due to systemic improvements to water pressures in the town. (The Town put in a water tank on EVI property to serve the whole West Hill area.) The TREE site plan was also modified to ensure that each home was within the required distance from a location to park a fire truck in the event of a fire. No large turn-arounds were ultimately required.
  • The long entrance drive is paved with gravel and is 24 ft wide with additional shoulders as required by Town site plan requirements and fire access. Dust from the gravel road has been a perceived problem. The EVI community has posted a 15-mph speed limit, but it is widely believed by the community that visitors do not follow this rule. In transportation planning, it has become increasingly understood that that road design has a greater influence on driver’s speeds than posted speed limit. Narrowing lanes was explored in the Village Green area but rejected by the fire department. Traffic calming with a series of chicanes has been approved and will be installed in the near future.
  • Gravel walkway pavements have caused accessibility problems for wheelchair-bound members of the community and visitors. Parts of the earlier neighborhoods have been retrofitted with cold process asphalt pavement and the TREE neighborhood is entirely paved.

Project Team

TREE Neighborhood
Owner/Client: EcoVillage at Ithaca, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Rick Manning Landscape Architect
Architect of Record: Jerry Weisburd
Construction Implementation Architect: Noah Demarest
Civil Engineer: TG Miller, P.C. Engineers and Surveyors
Construction Administrator: Michael Carpenter 

Role of the Landscape Architect

For the third neighborhood, TREE, Rick Manning Landscape Architect worked with the entire EVI community to refine their master plan and to develop the site plan for TREE. The design included design documents for the TREE neighborhood’s layout, rain gardens, pathways, vehicular access and future plans to improve the Village Green and install traffic calming.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Michele A. Palmer, Lecturer, Cornell University
Research Assistant: Mujahid D. Powell, Undergraduate Program, Cornell University
Firm Liaison: Rick Manning Landscape Architect
August 2014 

Topics

Stormwater management, Water conservation, Water quality, Energy use, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Educational value, Food production, Job creation, Other economic, Food garden, Onsite energy generation, Trees, Green communities

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