Up on the Roof

March 5, 2010 at 10:04 pm 1 comment

City rooftops will be a hot spot for an unusual new spring arrival: hydroponic greenhouses that grow food year-round. At least five are expected to go up on New York rooftops in the next few months.

Gotham Greens, a startup that builds and manages rooftop greenhouses, recently received permission to build two hydroponic greenhouses, one in Jamaica, Queens, and the other in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The two greenhouses will occupy 32,000 square feet of roof space. The Jamaica greenhouse alone is expected to yield more than 30 tons of herbs and vegetables annually.

Affordable-housing developer Blue Sea Development Corp. is also planning to build a 10,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse on the roof of a seven-story housing complex in the South Bronx. The greenhouse will supply enough produce to meet the annual fresh vegetable needs of up to 450 people, according to BrightFarm Systems, the consultancy that designed the greenhouse.

Other organizations expected to build greenhouses on their roofs include P.S. 333, a pubic school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Services for the UnderServed, a social services group in Chelsea.

Not surprisingly, rooftop entrepreneurs are facing significant challenges in a city notoriously known for its complex building and zoning laws. Builders of rooftop greenhouses run into a gamut of density, air rights and other issues.

Adding a greenhouse to the roof of a building is like adding another floor, explained Benjamin Linsley, senior partner and managing director at BrightFarm Systems. And that, he said, raises issues with regard to regulations controlling the size of buildings.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer proposes streamlining the regulatory red tape to help facilitate the development of rooftop agricultural greenhouses. In a report released last month, Stringer proposes an authorization process for case-by-case waivers of certain building regulations.

“Priority should be given to projects that create green collar jobs by training and employing New York City residents, especially those who are unemployed or underemployed,” states the report.

Linsley notes that the outer boroughs offer greater opportunities for greenhouses than built-up areas of the city.

“If you would like to build on a building, it’s harder to do in Manhattan,” he said.

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Entry filed under: Local Food Production, Rooftop Gardening, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , .

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