ITHACA, NY – Coming soon to the town of Ithaca: a new housing development that will bring 30 new homes into the Ithaca market. With a couple of big twists.

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For one thing, the Amabel (AM-uh-bel) project isn’t going to be a group of McMansions on a cul-de-sac. Developer Susan Cosantini of Ithaca’s New Earth Living LLC says her homes will be far from that stereotype.”The houses are around a common courtyard, they’re designed so that the relationship is to each other rather than the street. With courtyards and gardens, there are spaces to foster social capital and communication. The houses are in conversation to each other, rather than the road.”
Another big difference from the traditional Faux-Chateau: They’re net-zero energy, meaning they’re designed to produce as much energy as they use.”There is also a very small carbon footprint. The lots are smaller, they leave as much natural space as possible, they are net-zero energy, with adequate roof area for solar panels and high-efficiency utilities. We’re hoping to put in an electric car station as well,” says Cosentini.
The project even addresses the topic of food security. Each house will have its own garden plots, and residents will share use of a barn, orchard, and eventually a root cellar.The “pocket neighborhood” of 30 new homes and one existing home and barn was approved by the town of Ithaca for the land at 619 Five Mile Drive earlier this month, after three years and multiple design studies. Lots are expected to begin sale after March, with 12 different home configurations sized from 1,250-2,100 square feet, and starting in the upper $200k range.

While it’s pretty well known that Ithaca has a dearth of housing, Cosentini, a native Ithacan, Cornell alum and 30-year veteran of the construction industry, thinks her firm’s project will be successful for one simple reason. “People are lonely, I think.”

“People want social connections, it brings meaning and purpose. We don’t have enough of that, generally. At the same time, I’m trying to incorporate adequate privacy, and the more rural feeling will help with that. People want to have closer relationships.” Cosentini says that a potential buyer survey New Earth Living posted on its Amabel webpage drew 130 responses, of which about 60% were from the Ithaca area, and 15% from outside New York State.

“People want somebody to have a glass of wine with and shoot the breeze, process life. It’s a lot more valuable than a stupid internet connection.”

Cosentini says the buyer experience goes beyond a home lot and standard Home Owners’ Association. “The homes are proactively designed – we’ll host “Amabel connections”, where people will engage in conversation with each other online through forums as they grow interested and decide whether or not to live at Amabel. Everybody has the opportunity to look at each others profiles, ask evocative thought questions, and engaging in social capital-building.”

Once 20 people are committed, Cosentini says work will begin on infrastructure, like sewer and road improvements, a cost she estimates at over a million dollars. The site, one mile from Ithaca city’s State Street corridor, will use town water and sewer.  “[Amabel]’s more of an antidote to sprawl, rather than sprawl. The site is a perfect location. Hopefully it does diminish random rural lot development, and reduce environmental impact.”

For Cosentini, the construction of Amabel will be a major life achievement. “I got into the trades thanks to a boyfriend I had at the time, and because it was outside and I love being outside. I was terrible at it at first, I didn’t even know the names of tools, but I persevered! Community and construction are big passions for me.”

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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.