ITHACA, N.Y. — Multi-lot single-family housing developments are something of a rarity in Ithaca and Tompkins County. The city of Ithaca lacks the space and most single-family home builds in the outlying towns are custom builds on solitary lots. A pair of proposals coming before the town of Ithaca hope to change up the status quo.

The first development, proposed by Ken (Otto) and Graham Ottoson, calls for eight single-family homes to be built on Westhaven Road on West Hill, on undeveloped land currently owned by EcoVillage.

The homes are to be built for the Karen (“Kah-REN”) refugee community, who have fled persecution in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) and resettled in the Ithaca area in recent years. The loss of public housing at the Ithaca Housing Authority’s Northside complex has scattered the tight-knit community across the county.

“We live in EcoVillage, and have grown a deep appreciation for community,” wrote the Ottosons in their application. “While neither of us have a particular desire to be developers, we have skills (Otto builds homes for a living) and means (thanks to the generosity of our parents). We want to help this tight community stay together.”

The Ottosons have negotiated an agreement with their EcoVillage neighbors to buy some of the village’s unused land along Westhaven Road for eight 100′ x 200′ home lots, and two lots would share a driveway. Each lot would be developed with an approximately 1,200 square-foot home. The Ottosons have described the homes as functionally and stylistically similar to some of the energy-efficient White Hawk homes they have built. The homes, to be built over a two year period, would be sold to the Karen families at a subsidized price to be their permanent residences.

Reactions from neighbors have been mixed. A couple have expressed enough comfort with the plan and its effort to diversify the neighborhood, as has EcoVillage, while at least one other neighbor has expressed concerns that the homes and their smaller lot sizes would not be stylistically appropriate for the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, in East Ithaca, prolific local developer Visum Development Group is bringing forward plans for a 52-lot home community, “Strawberry Hill,” on the former Greenways parcel on Strawberry Hill Circle. Visum purchased the property for $950,000 last December.

The new home community on the currently vacant 10.44-acre site would offer four home styles with home sizes ranging from 1,292 – 1,566 square feet, all standalone three-bedroom homes with an attached one-car or two-car garage. Three home styles are two-story homes, while the fourth is a one-story plan intended for those who wish to age-in-place, a home that adapts more easily for the changing needs of seniors. The plan would be to leave the northwest side of the parcel undeveloped except for a walking trail, and the homes would be built in two or three phases.

Thirteen homes will be built on a cul-de-sac arrayed with Eastwood Avenue, and the other would have 39 houses. Quick note on that, these plans are subject to change because the Ithaca Fire Department wants more than one entry/exit road for 52 homes. Expect a site plan revision. Price points for the homes have not yet been stated at this early stage in the project, but the plans do state they would be market-rate.

In its application, Visum said it met one-on-one with about 15 neighbors to develop their plans, and it’s to those residents that Visum credits adding the one-story home style for aging in place. Some debate is likely here because Visum attributes the two cul-de-sacs to a desire by neighbors to limit traffic on their streets as much as possible; however, if IFD argues a second entrance has to go somewhere, then something has to give somewhere.

It would appear the project conforms to zoning on-site as long as they go with the cluster subdivision approach, which clusters areas of housing in order to preserve larger swaths of natural space. Visum is working with Fagan Engineers on the Strawberry Hill home development.

Both projects will go before the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board for initial concept review at 7 p.m. on April 19. The Westhaven subdivision is small enough that preliminary lot subdivision approval is possible at the meeting, while the Visum Strawberry Hill is just undergoing concept review. That plan will require a few more meetings of discussion and review before any lot approvals are to be considered.

Brian Crandall

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