Ohio Advances Sustainable Brownfields Renewal

Top: A former industrial site in Columbus, OH, undergoes cleanup and remediation.
Bottom: The site is now home to Harrison Park housing complex and a town rec center.
Image courtesy of Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund.

Cleaning up and redeveloping abandoned, contaminated brownfield sites can create jobs, increase tax revenue, renew neighborhoods and is a great investment of public funds. But local officials make those investments go even farther by supporting projects that not only improve an area and attract private investment but catalyze redevelopment of surrounding properties, too.

That’s the concept behind area-wide planning, the idea that brownfields redevelopment works best when it connects individual site redevelopment with a larger vision for community revitalization. By redeveloping multiple sites in the same area through a single plan, the reinvestment in the neighborhood can be leveraged by a number of projects, not just one,and make public dollars go even further.

This strategy has helped a handful of areas across the country achieve notable successes, but federal and state funding restrictions have made addressing multiple sites at the same time notoriously difficult. In the past, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricted its brownfields cleanup grants to work on individual sites, requiring separate applications for multiple sites. Projects that included “petroleum brownfields” like gas stations required application to a separate pool of funding with a separate set of rules. All of these stood in the way of coordinated area planning, and efficient redevelopment of the properties.

At a meeting Smart Growth America (SGA) helped convene in Columbus last year, the State of Ohio, the EPA and SGA examined how Ohio could encourage more effective brownfields redevelopment, particularly for vacant gas station sites. Since that meeting, EPA has awarded the first-ever federal Area-Wide Planning Pilot grants, through which many grantees will combine work on petroleum and non-petroleum brownfields. In Ohio, state administrators worked with seven grant applicants on proposals, providing technical assistance during the application process and additional funding prioritization to communities engaged in area-wide planning. When the grant winners were announced last month, Cleveland was among the communities selected and Ohio has been working with all seven grant applicant areas to help them move forward with their area-wide plans.

Area-wide planning in Ohio doesn’t stop there. The state announced a new Sustainable Reinvestment Pilot Track for its Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund. The $8 million program will provide grants of up to $1.5 million to demolish, conduct environmental cleanup, and improve infrastructure on catalytic brownfield sites with the potential to spur area-wide revitalization. With three focus areas – sustainable infrastructure, urban waterfronts, and wind and solar projects called “cleanfields” and “brightfields” – the track will help target transformational sites for a variety of critical reuse strategies.

“We are proud that Ohio continues to lead the way in innovative brownfield, sustainability, and alternative energy solutions” said William Murdock, Ohio Urban Development Director. “Ohio’s investments in brownfield area-wide and sustainable reinvestment projects have a substantial leveraging impact in creating new jobs and economic development opportunities throughout the state.”

You can learn more about Ohio’s area-wide planning programs at http://development.ohio.gov/Urban.