I recently spent the morning at Ecovillage at Ithaca, a co-housing neighborhood on West Hill in District 12. Ecovillage is a three-neighborhood village with about 100 homes, where families also share a common house, laundry, meals, play space, and many acres of undeveloped forests and fields to enjoy.
I lived in Ecovillage for a few years back in the early 00's, and have lived a short five minute walk away ever since. I felt great support from these neighbors last year as I was campaigning for the Legislature, and spent many hours knocking on doors and getting to know more residents.
The reason for my visit this time was not just to check in with friends and constituents or reminisce about the ole neighborhood, but to participate in a workshop for municipal officials called "Asking the Right Questions," co-sponsored by the Park Foundation, Taitem Engineering, and the TC Planning Board. The questions we were learning to ask related to the ins and outs of green building.
Liz Walker, one of the founders of Ecovillage, and Ian Shapiro, of Taitem Engineering, led the discussion. We learned about LEED ratings, the NYS stretch code, net zero building, green technologies like solar panels, heat pumps, and LED lighting, and more.
The newest neighborhood in Ecovillage, TREE, has a four story common house, inside which are apartments of all sizes on the upper three levels. But the TREE common house is not just any old building, it was designed and built at passive house standards. This means that per square foot, the heating, cooling, and general energy demands of the building must be under a certain level - a level about 90% more efficient than the average currently standing building.
With the County's goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050, there is a lot of work to do. Greening the buildings in our community is one major way to do it.
I'm not a designer or developer (though I am married to a home builder who built some of the houses in SONG- the Second Neighborhood Group at Ecovillage), and I don't decide what projects come in to Tompkins County. I'll never know every detail of all green energy systems; we have stellar people in all the municipal planning departments who know all that. The whole point of the workshop was to give those of us who sit at the table and deliberate on those projects, the tools to ask the right questions. My job is to ensure that when developers propose their projects in Tompkins County, I can determine if they are heading in a green direction, and how much greener they need to get.
I'm grateful for the chance to participate in this event. It's inspiring to see what can be done with new technologies and dedicated efforts. I only hope I get a chance to use some of what I learned and I look forward to seeing just how green buildings in Tompkins County can get.