Super-green building powered by sun, wind

Solar saver: This Brighton First Lane condo has 133 solar panels, and enough energy-recycling systems to ensure that its residents never have to pay a utility bill, according to developer Robert Scarano.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Brighton Beach will soon be home to one of the only buildings in Brooklyn where the electric meters run backwards.

The condos that a Brooklyn architect and developer is building in his old neighborhood features 133 solar panels enough to supply all the residents’ needs, and often a bit extra to feed back into the power grid, so even though it will draw power at night, on average the building’s net electrical draw will be zero.

“You will never have to pay for utilities here,” said Robert Scarano, the controversial developer behind the “net-zero,” eco-friendly, mixed-use project — which is dubbed “Bright ’n’ Green” — at 67 Brighton First Lane, a pedestrian-only lane a half-block west of Brighton Beach Avenue.

In addition to the multitude of solar panels, Scarano’s “living building” project is chock-a-block with other sustainable technologies to provide what he calls “environmentally just” features — including a water reclamation system to recycle gray water from sinks and showers, a geothermal system to tap underground heat, and three rooftop wind turbines to provide back-up power on cloudy days.

Scarano built Bright ’n’ Green, which has two duplexes, two apartments and a ground-floor commercial space, to gain experience with and also showcase the technologies that he hopes to include in larger, future projects throughout the borough.

“We’ve overdone everything,” said Scarano. “You can’t have people come and say it was too expensive, or you took too long, or there were too many problems. I’ve had a lot of fun working on this building.”

The building boasts an array of sensors to provide real-time data on the temperature, humidity, and carbon-dioxide levels of every room except the closets. All the information can be accessed at anytime through a phone app by the tenants as well as Scarano’s engineers, who will monitor the data to evaluate the building’s performance.

Scarano joked that the fact that all of the tenants can access data on every room — even those of other tenants — could conceivably lead to some awkward moments.

“It can be a civil liberties issue, especially when your neighbor sees the temperature in your bedroom spike at two in the morning,” he said.

But Scarano insists that the sensors will provide valuable feedback to tenants that will help them to conserve resources.

“With a living building, you want to monitor consumptions and report back on it, and everybody is saying the feedback is beneficial for the users, so they understand how to use water and electricity, and be a little more conservative,” said Scarano.

And the building is designed to be healthier for the occupants as well as the planet.

An elaborate, plant-based filtration system purifies the water, the building automatically regulates the humidity, and activated-carbon filters in the kitchen ceilings scrub the air of harmful chemicals that stove burners can release from pots and pans while cooking.

“The air in this building is going to be pristine,” he said. “If you have a respiratory condition, just being in this building will make you feel 10 times better.”

Of course, being so green can cost a lot green up front, so the condo’s two duplexes and two flats range in price from $325,000 to $895,000. But Scarano is confident that prospective buyers will factor in the long-term savings of never having to pay an electricity bill, and also value the other advantages.

“Some of the other things, clean water, clean air, you can’t put a price on that,” he said.

Scarano’s new green building may be his effort to turn over a new leaf after a controversial past developing buildings that allegedly skirted zoning laws. In 2008, he was charged with filing false or misleading statements on applications submitted to the Department of Buildings in connection to two of his Brooklyn developments.

Mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio lead the charge against Scarano at the time in his post as Public Advocate, and he called for revoking Scarano’s license.

“Scarano is the worst example of an architect who continues to build in this city despite his long history of violating zoning and building codes and practicing unsafe construction,” said DeBlasio at the time.

Scarano counters that none of the allegations were ever proven, and that he reached a settlement with the city years ago. Regardless, he said that his award-winning green development deserves to be viewed on its own merits.

“It’s not about me,” Scarano said, “it’s about improving the environment.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Sneak peek: An inside look at one of the four duplex accomodations inside a new Brighton First Lane condominium, which is built to produce as much energy as it consumes.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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