Clarification: A previous version of this story and its headline incorrectly implied that the new Ithaca affordable housing project would have “woonerfs.”

Greenways will have a narrow road designed “with psychological traffic calming in mind, not a woonerf,” writes Ithaca senior planner Dan Tasman. Woonerfs were mentioned in initial planning documents but, since last May, the project consultant and INHS haven’t used “woonerf” in their correspondence or submittal materials, Tasman said.

Ithaca, N.Y. — The town of Ithaca looks to be expanding its affordable housing stock at its planning board meeting this Tuesday.

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The board will be voting on granting final approvals to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’s (INHS) Greenways project off of Strawberry Hill Circle in the eastern part of town. The project will be INHS’s second in the town of Ithaca, following the recently-completed Holly Creek townhouses on South Hill.

What is the Greenways proposal?

The Greenways proposal includes the development of 46 townhouse units on 10.86 acres to the west of Eastwood Commons, a housing subdivision off of Honness Lane.

The land was previously approved for housing developments in 1973 and 1987 that were never completed. Cornell bought the undeveloped land in 2009 with the intent of building employee housing on the site, and later agreed to a partnership with INHS.

A previous version of the Greenways plan released in 2012 called for 67 townhouse units, but pushback from neighbors led to a scaling-back of the proposal to 46 units. The Greenways project received preliminary approval from the town last summer.

What’s with the ‘woonerf’ thing in the headline?

The project would connect the unattached north and south ends of Strawberry Hill Circle with a woonerf-style roadway, which most of the units face.

A woonerf, which is Dutch for “living yard”, is a type of street where the road is shared by bikers, pedestrians and vehicles. They typically have a low speed limit of no more than 10 or 12 MPH.

From a previous rendering

As Ithacating previously reported:

Up to last night, I had no freaking clue what a woonerf was. It sounds like a children’s made-up word (ex. thingamigjig or doohickey; my brother used “pedewa”). But apparently, it’s a legit urban planning concept. Woonerf is Dutch for “living yard”, and is a type of “living street” where equal priority is given to cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. They’ve seen substantial implementation in Western Europe since their introduction in the 1970s.

The more I read about them, the more I get the impression that it’s a curious blend of a thoroughfare and a courtyard, or Ithaca Commons with vehicle traffic.

The New York Times also did some reporting on the “Woonerf:”

“Woonerf” is what the Dutch call a special kind of street or group of streets that functions as shared public space — for pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars as well.

Roughly translated as “living streets,” the woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf) functions without traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers or even sidewalks. Indeed, the whole point is to encourage human interaction; those who use the space are forced to be aware of others around them, make eye contact and engage in person-to-person interactions. …

In the Netherlands, more than 6,000 woonerf zones burnish these badges of communal spirit where motorized traffic doesn’t rule the road. Moreover, after a period in which they fell out of fashion, the woonerfs are making a strong comeback, and not only in the Netherlands. Woonerfs and their derivatives — sometimes called shared spaces, complete streets or home zones — are piquing the interest of urban planners in several countries.

What’s the timeline for the project?

The first phase, set to launch in the next few months, consists of five rows of townhouses, referred to in the paperwork as A, B, C, D, and E. Buildings B, C, D and E will have three units each, 2 2-bedroom units and 1 3-bedroom unit, ranging in sizes from 1,100 to 1,300 sq ft. Building A, a four-unit row of townhouses, will have 2 2-bedroom and 2 3-bedroom units. In total, phase one has 16 units and 38 bedrooms.

Adding in phase two and phase three, the final product will have 46 units and about 110 bedrooms. While Tuesday’s meeting will approve all three phases together, construction will begin on phase one only.

Build-out of the whole development could take up to 6-8 years according to town documents, though it may also be completed sooner.

Who did the design?

The townhouse designs are by local architect Claudia Brenner.

The floorplans are designed with nearly identical layouts as a cost-saving measure, but each row of townhomes has different exterior architectural details and colors in an effort to give each building a unique appearance.

(Note that Building C was uploaded to the town website in black and white, a color copy is not yet available).

Who will live there?

The units will be sold to income-eligible buyers with annual incomes in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

In return for Cornell selling the property to INHS for a below-market price, Cornell will maintain “right of first refusal”, meaning that Cornell employees that meet the income guidelines will get first dibs on the units as they hit the market.

Any units not bought by Cornell employees within a set initial time period will then be made available to non-Cornell buyers.

Comment from INHS?

Asked for comment, INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella stated “Greenways will be model for what I hope will be many similar projects. It will provide homeownership opportunities for workers with modest incomes in our high priced market.”

“Every home will remain permanently affordable due to the INHS Community Housing Trust. In addition, the design incorporates many green building practices, which helps the environment and makes it even more sustainable.”


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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.