ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithacans tend to be a left-leaning, unique bunch. The Tiny Timbers project is figuratively out of left field.

First off, the project is for-sale housing. In Tompkins County, new owner-occupied housing typically falls into two categories – expansive and expensive properties off yonder in the former farm fields, or less pricey but aesthetically undistinguished modulars.

Tiny Timbers is a little different. As the name implies, they’re relatively small as for-sale housing goes – 600 to 1300 SF (square feet), on 2000-6000 SF (0.05-0.15 acre) lots. Not micro houses, but far smaller than the typical house under construction these days.

The houses will be built with timber shells using locally-harvested hemlocks.The homes will use high-efficiency thermal envelope, use electric air-source heat pumps for heating and cooling, and the applicants are looking into an off-site solar panel facility to power the homes, which would offer the capability for net-zero energy use.


The homes will be located on a 2.37 acre parcel of land at the corner of Dryden Road and Freese Road in the hamlet of Varna, on bare land once derisively known as “Mt. Varna“. The parcel will be subdivided into fifteen home lots, along with a village green, two gazebos, twenty shared parking spaces, stormwater facilities and landscaping. It’s more of a Fall Creek home density vs. the typical Dryden acreage, but being on Varna’s water and sewer system makes it possible.

The idea for Tiny Timbers comes from local businessman Buzz Dolph, who with his wife owns and operates the Stone Quarry House, a small vacation rental property located a couple miles away on Quarry Road. It was while building a few small rental houses that Dolph decided he liked the look and idea enough to explore a bigger project. Working with STREAM Collaborative architect Noah Demarest and landowner Nick Bellisario, the idea for Varna’s “Tiny Timbers” was born.

Image property of Tiny Timbers LLC
Image property of Tiny Timbers LLC

Prototype houses have been or are in the process of being built, with the Varna project and a potential West Hill site being the next big steps. The ultimate goal is to have the homes available as kits to builders nationwide, with 45-50 homes built in various locations for the local market.

One thing that could help that reach that goal is price – the Varna homes will be marketed in the $150,000-$200,000 range, which for new housing is a pretty rare segment due to labor, materials and land costs. It works here because as a “pocket neighborhood”, land and infrastructure costs are spread out, the homes aren’t that big, and the pre-assembled components will keep material costs down while allowing for a quicker, less labor-intensive build. The target market includes singles, empty nesters and young families, and there will be a few different home sizes and appearances to meet buyers’ tastes.


Initial reaction has been mostly positive. Neighbors, even some of those opposed to the Evergreen Townhouses project proposed further up Dryden Road, have written letters of support. On the other end, an Ithaca Times op-ed was not as friendly, saying that they stand out too much from the rest of Varna. But one might argue that a little uniqueness is healthy.

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