Jerry Rosengarten, the developer of the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan and the father of the leisure suit, plans to build a big solar farm on a wooded lot in Mastic in lieu of an option to put a warehouse on the parcel.
The proposal would place a nearly mile-long array of 67,000 solar panels on two-thirds of the 100-acre wooded lot on Moriches-Middle Island Road just east of Brookhaven Calabro Airport.
A draft environmental impact statement for the Middle Island Solar Farm, as the project is called, was accepted by Brookhaven Town last month. Hearings before the town planning and zoning boards are planned for March 21 and 23, respectively.
Rosengarten, who gained fame in the 1970s for designing the polyester leisure suit, has a home in Southampton that incorporates solar, geothermal and other green-energy systems, and he had once planned to build a “green” community housing development on the Mastic parcel.
Rosengarten said he and his partners consider green energy a priority. “I personally have an agenda that is to conserve energy,” he said.
But not all are on board with the project. One critic said the notion of chopping down trees to put up solar panels should be avoided at all costs.
“Our position is we don’t trade green for green,” said Maryann Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, adding the group would consider filing suit to block the plan. “It’s the last intact piece of woodland that feeds the [Forge] river,” she said.
But Rosengarten and his team say the solar farm will be considerably less intrusive than the other prospective plans for the parcel, which is zoned light industrial. The allowable warehouse plan could see a 775,000-square-foot facility for cold storage on the lot, one that uses solar and geothermal for energy — but one that Rosengarten said he’d rather not build. “If I wanted to do it I would have done it,” he said. “The world is changing. Energy has to change.”
While most free-standing solar arrays require concrete footings, Middle Island’s builders are proposing a less intrusive technique called helix-coil construction that minimizes disturbing the land.
The developers say the plan conforms with Brookhaven Town’s 2015 adopted commercial solar code, which would leave around a third of the 100 acres undeveloped. It would include a buffer of at least 200 feet from a housing development just to the west of the arrays, which would not be visible from homes or two main roads abutting them.
Blueberry and other low-growing vegetation would be planted beneath the panels, where the land can absorb 6 inches of rain water. Project manager Adam Rosen said that means runoff won’t be a problem. “Not one drop of water [from the arrays] will get into the Forge River,” he said.
The plan calls for clearing around 63 of the 100 acres.
The site sits beside another 100-acre parcel that has been preserved and is jointly owned by Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County. Combining the two would be ideal, said Brookhaven Town attorney Annette Eaderesto.
“In a perfect world where I had unlimited open-space money and a willing seller, would I love to purchase this? Of course,” she said. But open space money is limited, and thus far, Rosengarten hasn’t offered to sell, she said.
As for the clearing of trees, she said, “Of course, we don’t like to see that happen, but it’s owned privately and it’s zoned industrial. He could build buildings there. If he complies with the solar code, what can the town say?”