Those days are over. There are now multiple programs available to assist with bringing these sites back to life.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield site as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Why would a brownfield site be desirable? It is because these sites, once investigated and remediated, are easier to develop because they typically already have the infrastructure such as, water, sewer, gas, electric, roads, and fiber optic connections) that is required for any project.
Federal, state, and local governments working in tandem with the citizenries where these properties exist are transforming them into lucrative business opportunities for developers using grants and tax credits for the redevelopment of former brownfield sites. They are also removing the unknowns by investigating sites for contamination, and if it exists, determining the cost of remediation and the funds available to pay for that.
Augmenting the federal funds available are New York State’s own programs. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development Act of 2018, coupled with New York State’s Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) Program and Brownfield Cleanup Program, have completely changed the redevelopment landscape of communities across New York. Through these programs, potential developers have the information, assessments, studies, community buy-in, and financial assistance that make brownfield redevelopment a viable opportunity.
Over the past 19 years, New York State communities have received over $45 million in BOA grants. The process begins with a BOA Nomination Study outlining a path to return brownfield sites to productive ones. After a community receives BOA designation from the Secretary of State, it can go on to assess sites for possible contamination and cleanup. This designation also affords tax credits to developers who revive the site in accordance with the community’s vision and plan approved by the Secretary of State.
This is when the EPA’s grant program comes into play, helping to fund the inventory and environmental assessments of brownfield sites. “EPA has awarded $1.3 million to brownfields projects in Fulton County since 1999,” said Ariel Iglesias, Division Director for Land, Chemicals, and Redevelopment at EPA Region 2. “We are proud to work with local communities to assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse contaminated properties through EPA’s Brownfields program and grants.”
The EPA awarded one of those grants for $300,000 to the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth (FCCRG) in 2021, allowing it to inventory brownfield sites, conduct eight environmental site assessments, develop four reuse plans, and hold community outreach activities. The following year, the agency awarded the City of Gloversville an additional grant for $500,000 to continue these activities.
“Brownfields are generally pretty desirable as places for redevelopment,”
said Tom Seguljic, an engineer with HRP Associates in Clifton Park, New York who has been working on investigating and evaluating potential sites for redevelopment in Fulton County. “Contamination is a barrier, and what the brownfield grant does is address those issues, finding where there is contamination and how much it is going to cost to address.”
Saratoga Springs-based ELAN Planning, Design & Landscape Architecture PLLC has been working to form redevelopment plans by engaging residents in creating a vision for what they would like to see done to improve the community in which they live. “We started with 30 sites in Gloversville,” said ELAN principal Lisa Nagle. “The idea with the BOA program is to identify the top eight that would be catalytic.” This means that redevelopment of these key sites would spur economic growth in the area by increasing property values and the local tax base and eliminating health risks and any other environmental issues if necessary. ELAN worked with residents to ascertain those sites and using economic and environmental findings, then developed mini master plans with drawings that the city can use for marketing to potential developers.
The requirement for community involvement is key. This ensures that residents warmly welcome developers because they have had a part in choosing the projects. “It’s a process that the community has to understand,” Seguljic said. When that happens, the path forward for the developer is straightforward, he said.
An example currently in progress is a former property that hails back to the late 1800s through the 1950s, when Gloversville produced most of the gloves made in the United States. The abandoned Tradition Leather tannery, vacant for eight years, burned down in 2018. Through grant funding, Gloversville has been able to identify possible reuses for the site, including an independent living center. “We’re trying to get to the essence of what the potential redevelopment is,” Nagle said. “We want to remove that bleary lens that the developer might have in terms of buying that property.”
To make the site more appealing and the picture for redevelopment even clearer, the city has removed the rubble so that HRP Associates can conduct tests to determine if the site has any contamination. “We’re taking the unknowns out of any potential development sites that might be suspect,” said Ron Peters, FCCRG President and CEO.
State and federal funding, combined with community engagement and municipal support make the redevelopment of brownfield sites a great financial opportunity and offer the chance to improve a community.