Ohio Looks to Pilot Area-Wide Brownfield Program

Columbus Coated Fabrics, originally uploaded by Flickr user brutalSoCal.
Last month, the State of Ohio took some important steps to support localities looking for better ways to redevelop abandoned gas stations and other contaminated land in their communities. Ohio officials met with community-based organizations from across the state to discuss starting a pilot state area-wide planning program that could kickoff as early as this summer.

Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that helps communities understand the combined impact of multiple brownfield sites. By looking at vacant and contaminates sites as a connected whole, rather than in isolation, communities can better plan for housing, transportation and infrastructure projects that support the entire community. An area-wide approach can help foster a new vision for communities impacted by brownfields and support the revitalization of all of the properties there. This is particularly useful for some sites, like abandoned gas stations, which may be more difficult to redevelop individually because of their smaller size.

Recognizing the benefits of this process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program last year, which will provide the 23 communities selected for assistance with financial and technical support to implement area-wide planning strategies to revitalize the empty gas stations, closed landfills and abandoned factories inhibiting investment in their neighborhoods.

Demand is extremely high for this type of assistance: for every community awarded federal support through this program, five more communities applied. And while a handful of states – including New York and New Jersey – have state-level area-wide planning programs in place, most state have few tools available to support communities trying to revitalize brownfields.

Ohio is one of the states looking at new ways to provide these tools. Last month’s workshop, convened in partnership with Smart Growth America and with support and engagement from the EPA Offices of Underground Storage Tanks, Brownfields and Land Revitalization, and Sustainable Communities, offered insights from EPA representatives working on the federal area-wide planning pilot program, and speakers from Ogdensburg, NY, Ranson, WV, and Cleveland, OH in the process of implementing area-wide planning efforts now. Its real focus, though, was engaging participating jurisdictions from Ohio and surrounding states in providing feedback about what state-level resources were needed to support local area-wide planning efforts.

The message from participants was clear: there’s a great deal of interest in pursuing area-wide strategies for brownfield redevelopment, but communities need help. Based on the feedback the Ohio Department of Development received, the agency will be looking at ways to fund a state-level area-wide planning grant pilot program this summer. The program will help give communities in Ohio access to the tools they need to advance area-wide plans, reclaim the vacant and contaminated properties, and revitalize neighborhoods.