The Aurora Dwelling Circle ó an ultra-sustainable infill community in Ithaca, N.Y. ó will offer residents both sustainable homes as well as community.
Robert Morache The Aurora Dwelling Circle ó an ultra-sustainable infill community in Ithaca, N.Y. ó will offer residents both sustainable homes as well as community.

While remodeling is still her primary bread and butter, Sue Cosentini, president of Cosentini Construction, knew she had to diversify in this slow economy. She went where her interests lead her and, through a separate LLC called New Earth Living, is developing a small, sustainable infill community in the city of Ithaca, N.Y.

With designer and sustainability planner Rob Morache, who owns sister firm New Earth Strategies, Cosentini is developing The Aurora Dwelling Circle, modeled after co-housing and cottage development. “We’re taking it several steps further, making it ultra-sustainable in many ways and overlaying the cooperative land-use model,” says Cosentini, who owns the Dwelling Circle property, which is adjacent to her own home. As part of the concept, her home, which is the existing home on the parcel, will also undergo a retrofit.

Synergistic Approach

The four 950-to-1,500-square-foot homes will be built at the property’s edges so owners can share a central common space. There will be district space heating and hot water. “We will be using a biomass boiler with submetering to measure use,” Cosentini says. “The district system is possible because of the units’ low energy use.” Edible landscaping, a shared water collection system, shared root cellar, and shared inverter for the photovoltaics are also part of the plan.

In addition, Cosentini and Morache have done extensive research and planning on broader social issues including a focus on community through communication and communal governance and are intending to have a strong emphasis on aging-in-place and multigenerational living at the Ithaca community.

A New Way

Sustainability and a thoughtful relationship to the land are what distinguish this development from a run-of-the-mill housing cluster or apartment complex. “There is green space associated with all the units and it is compatible with what exists in the surrounding built environment,” Cosentini says, which means the project is more likely to get approval from the city. The project has been called a model for the future by local residents and policymakers.

While Cosentini acknowledges Ithaca as “a hotbed of sustainability,” she believes the dwelling circle concept can be used in other regions. “The single-family home on two acres in suburbia with its heavy dependence on fossil fuels for roads, infrastructure, and commuting is no longer even remotely sustainable,” Cosentini says. “Land like that now has to be preserved, and we have to increase density in our urban areas. The development pattern we have come up with is really a wonderful way to do that.”

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.