LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The BrightFarms greenhouses on Stony Hill Road will soon be history.
The Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at its June meeting to terminate its lease agreement with the New York-based company, which had grown greens in the 50,000-plus square-foot facility for nearly a decade.
The township entered into a 10 year lease agreement with BrightFarms in 2012 to erect a hydroponic greenhouse on two-acres of the sprawling Patterson Farm off of Stony Hill Road to eventually grow fruit and vegetables.
The termination of the lease includes the removal of the greenhouses and utility lines, restoration of the site to pre-construction conditions and any necessary remediation.
“I, for one, will be happy to see those buildings removed and for that portion of our history to be in the history books as it were,” said Suzanne Blundi, the chair of the board of supervisors. “Let’s hope we can get this ironed out and move forward as quickly as possible.”
“I, too, look forward to getting this over and done with,” said Supervisor Dan Grenier. “As we remove this facility from this great farmland that we have and bring it back to what it was, we have to have oversight to make sure they are doing what they committed to and at some point, when the process is done, it can be brought back to a farming use and we will be done with the development at the Patterson Farm and move forward in a positive light.”
Under the lease agreement, BrightFarms has been paying the township $25,000 a year plus the rate of inflation. It had also been paying for utilities for its facility.
After breaking ground on the greenhouse in 2012, BrightFarms began growing fresh greens for local supermarkets, including McCaffrey’s Market, and for restaurants in Philadelphia.
McCaffrey’s Market and BrightFarms first approached the township in December 2011 with the idea of erecting a state-of-the-art greenhouse that would grow produce for McCaffrey’s, give back to the community and “continue the rich legacy of the Patterson Farmland.”
Proponents cited the promise of local jobs, increases in agricultural productivity of the farm, preservation of the environment, reduced truck traffic, increased economic activity, added local taxes and fresh and healthy food for the community.
While calling the project “visionary,” opponents argued against the location of the greenhouses, saying that township open space was not the right place for BrightFarms.
Over time, opponents also raised issues over extreme light pollution coming from the greenhouses, excessive water consumption, chemical storage, trash containment, permitting compliance, rental fees and destruction of farmland.
BrightFarms ran into trouble in 2016 when it was cited by the state DEP for improperly discharging residual wastewater without authorization. BrightFarms CEO was asked to appear before the board of supervisors to provide an explanation.
Among the most vocal opponents to BrightFarms has been Donna Doan, who heads Patterson Farm Preservation, Inc.
Doan has championed the preservation of the farm citing its superior soils and has fought to preserve the property, including the Satterthwaite House, which was recently listed by Pennsylvania Preservation as an “at risk” property.
Doan has been against BrightFarms from its inception, calling it a”good idea but in a very bad location.
“They are not using soil so they would not need the prime farmland,” she argued at the time, noting that the farmland at Patterson is superior to 98 percent of the farmland in Pennsylvania and “building on any amount of that farmland is taking away from future generations.”
It was Doan who had notified DEP in 2016 of the possible violation. She also took video of wastewater being pumped out of the greenhouses with a hose and posted in on YouTube.
"I applaud Lower Makefield's decision to cut ties and repair the farm,” said Doan. “BrightFarms violated their lease, was fined for industrial discharge, and scraped topsoil from prime farmland taxpayers paid to preserve. BrightFarms must be held accountable to repair all damage they inflicted. The development was inappropriate for Patterson Farm from Day 1."