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What makes 1515 Surf Avenue different from other multifamily development projects in New York began with Local Law 97. Passed by the New York City Council in 2019 as part of the sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, the statute places carbon caps on buildings that are more than 25,000 square feet—part of a larger goal of reducing citywide emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

1515 Surf falls within those parameters. The project sits on a 66,000-square-foot site in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood, just a block from the beach. When it’s completed at the end of 2023, it will encompass two towers—26 stories and 16 stories—with 463 housing units (139 of them categorized as affordable) and 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

Sustainability was already something developer LCOR took seriously, especially for new builds, so Local Law 97 only encouraged the company to think bigger. “It’s a pretty significant piece of legislation and somewhat groundbreaking across the country,” says Anthony Tortora, senior vice president with LCOR, “so when we went into the design phase, we thought, ‘What could we do for sustainability purposes?’”

From the Ground Up

The answer turned out to be the largest geothermal project in New York State history: a geothermal heat pump that will serve as 1515 Surf’s HVAC system, heating the half-million-square-foot building in winter and cooling it in summer. Geothermal technology draws on heat energy from the ground or groundwater; the building’s heat pump will use a network of 

liquid-filled pipes to transfer heat energy throughout the structure from groundwater in dozens of subterranean wells.

“We know what the emissions caps are going to be in 2024, we have an idea what they’re going to be five years later and we extrapolated from that: What are those caps likely to be in 2034 and beyond?” Tortora says. “And we said, okay, let’s look at a few different HVAC systems and see the extent to which we’re future-proofed out to those various points. What geothermal effectively did was, it future-proofed out beyond what you could know, beyond any of the other systems.”

It’s a more expensive option, adding about 1% to the project’s budget even after a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Community Heat Pump System Pilot Program. But for LCOR, the advantages more than make up for that price tag, with the geothermal heat pump projected to reduce the building’s emissions by 60% over a traditional electric-powered, natural-gas-fired HVAC system. Plus, the heat pump has fewer moving parts, which will reduce maintenance costs.

“While it’s an increased premium in cost today, we felt like it was a worthwhile thing to do,” Tortora says, “not only monetarily to preserve the value of the asset, but also for our larger corporate goals of sustainability.”

Drilling Down

This is LCOR’s first project to include geothermal technology, and a specialized solution requires specialized expertise. The developer retained Ecosave, a Philadelphia-based energy-services company, to design and install the system, which involved drilling 150 wells—spacing them around the 450 piles that support 1515 Surf. “You need to preserve a certain distance between well and pile and a certain distance between wells, so the whole thing became like a big geometry puzzle,” Tortora says. “One of the reasons this was such a great candidate for geothermal is because we had such a big site. New York City developers aren’t used to dealing with an acre and a half of land. It was a pretty unique opportunity for us.”

With separate teams driving piles and digging wells simultaneously, determining the most efficient order of events became crucial. Tortora says: “Who goes first? How many days does this team need versus how many days does that team need? There was definitely a lot of planning.”

Given that, is geothermal technology something LCOR will be incorporating into future work? “We look at sustainability systems for every new project we have, and now that we’ve kind of cracked the code on geothermal, we would love to roll it out more broadly,” Tortora says. “There’s a lot of variables that go into it, but it’s something that we’re exploring for all of our new projects.”  


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