Preston - The owner of Maple Lane Farms met with a Preston Redevelopment Agency subcommittee for two hours Monday to outline his proposal to build a hydroponic greenhouse and accompanying cogeneration facility at the former Norwich Hospital.
Allyn Brown had been scheduled to present his plan to the full agency board Monday, but that meeting was canceled. Instead, Chairman Sean Nugent, Jim Bell and Joe Biber, along with First Selectman Robert Congdon, met with Brown and his partners.
Brown revealed some details about the project but said he could not name his partner on the industrial portion of the project. Brown hopes to expand his hydroponic vegetable business on a 31-acre parcel of the former hospital property on the south side of the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge. An accompanying natural gas cogeneration plant would provide heat and electricity to the greenhouse, and excess carbon dioxide could be pumped back into the greenhouse for the plants, he said.
Brown's Maple Lane Farms at 57 Northwest Corner Road produces the "Living Lettuce" brand of hydroponic lettuce sold at local Stop & Shop supermarkets. The farm also produces "Currant Affair" black currant juice sold in supermarkets and has 120 acres of fruit and Christmas trees, with pick-your-own blueberries and raspberries in summer, apples and pumpkins in fall, and Christmas trees in November and December.
Brown and Nugent said Tuesday that both parties have research to do before the proposed project can move forward. The property includes significant wetlands, including two ponds, and Brown's group has to determine if the project can work.
"We'll do a little more due diligence, and if it looks like the site will work, we'll make it public," Brown said.
No future meetings have been scheduled between the two parties, Nugent said.
Brown said he doesn't know what vegetables he would grow in the proposed greenhouse. Other than leaf lettuce, the main hydroponic crops are tomatoes, English cucumbers and peppers, he said. At his farm, he is "playing with" romaine lettuce, basil and bok choy and said other leafy greens also would work.
"We need greenhouse space, that's what it comes down to," Brown said. "With greenhouses, you have to run them efficiently. You have to run your own heat and electricity. A greenhouse uses more heat than electricity. Ideally, you team up the greenhouse with an industrial use that needs a lot of electricity, so you both share in the benefits of a cogeneration plant."
Brown is one of four developers who have recently contacted the PRA expressing interest in the Norwich Hospital property. In addition, the PRA is searching for a brokerage firm to market the hospital property, called Preston Riverwalk.
The agency is considering renewing a marketing agreement with Jones Lang LaSalle in Boston and also plans to contact local commercial real-estate firms.