Newark, NJ; Hamilton, OH; Jackson, TN win 2015 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement from U.S. EPA

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The City of Newark, NJ remediated the site of a former smelting plant to build a new—and now award-winning—park along the Passaic River. Photo via Archpaper.

Three cities have transformed the site of a former smelting plant, a neighborhood destroyed by tornado, and a near-empty historic downtown into vibrant, walkable places. Now, these projects have been recognized with the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Riverfront Park is the culmination of decades-long work to transform five miles of formerly industrial Passaic riverfront in Newark, NJ. The park’s land was once home to a smelting plant, and sat abandoned and unusable for years. Environmental remediation and an intensive public engagement process have created what will ultimately be 19 acres of parkland and Newark’s first—and so far only—public access to the Passaic River. In this community of color and predominantly low-income area, with few green spaces and a history of industrial pollution, the new park is game-changing. “When I was growing up, we had very few places to play, very few parks,” said Ana Baptista, a Newark resident, in EPA’s video about the project. “My daughters are going to grow up having a relationship to the water and the river that I didn’t have.”

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House subcommittee hearing makes the case to reauthorize EPA Brownfields program

On Wednesday the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing to examine the many benefits of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The program has been funded for the past several years but is not a formally authorized part of the federal budget. Wednesday’s hearing examined whether that should change.

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House subcommittee to hold hearing this week on reauthorizing EPA Brownfields program

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BEFORE AND AFTER: Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta was previously the site of an Atlantic Steel facility. The EPA’s Brownfields program helped make the redevelopment project possible.

Did you know that every federal dollar spent on brownfields cleanup leverages $17.79 in value for communities? And that redeveloping one acre of contaminated land creates an average of 10 jobs? These benefits don’t stop where the brownfield ends: the value of residential property near brownfield sites can increase anywhere from 5.1 to 12.8 percent when cleanup is complete.

These are just some of the many reasons why brownfields cleanup and redevelopment is a great investment of federal dollars, yet the Brownfields program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not formally authorized in the federal budget. Congress has the power to change that, and this week members of the House of Representatives will examine whether to do make brownfields cleanup an official part of the federal budget.

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A new push to make brownfield cleanup more affordable

esty-brownfields-bill-2015Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty and Mayor Patricia Murphy of New Milford, CT visit New Milford’s Century Brass mill, a brownfield site, in 2014. Photos via The News-Times.

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT-5) is fighting hard to reinstate a tax incentive to help cleaning up contaminated land more affordable and more feasible.

Late last month, Esty introduced the Brownfields Redevelopment Tax Incentive Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2002), a bill to re-establish the Brownfields Tax Incentive which ended in 2011.

Originally signed into law in 1997 and codified through Section 198(h) of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax code, the Incentive allowed taxpayers to fully deduct the costs of brownfield sites’ environmental cleanup the year the costs were incurred—making the arduous process more affordable for those who take it on.

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Bringing closed gas stations back to life

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Old gas stations will take center stage at the New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference.
Left to right: Garage Bar, Louisville, KY; Red Truck Bakery, Warrenton, VA.

The first ever New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference begins Tuesday, June 3, in Orlando, Florida. Gas station sites may be small, but they pack a big redevelopment punch for the neighborhoods surrounding them.

The number of gas stations in the U.S. has declined every year since 2002, and there were 23% fewer places to buy gas in 2012 than there were in 1994. Typically in highly-visible locations along commercial corridors, these sites can be an asset for investors and local governments who want to make a big impression with limited redevelopment dollars. Prominent locations and interesting architecture have made old gas stations attractive to investors seeking a strong sense of place to anchor up-and-coming blocks.

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Brownfields Tax Incentive Reauthorization Introduced

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The redeveloped Merchandise Mart on Washington Avenue in St. Louis. Via Flickr

This week, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) introduced the Brownfields Redevelopment Tax Incentive Reauthorization Act of 2014, or H.R. 4542. The legislation would re-establish the brownfields tax incentive for five years through 2018. In a bipartisan show of support for the bill, Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY) have signed on as cosponsors.

Originally signed into law in 1997 and extended through December 31, 2011, Section 198’s Brownfields Tax Incentive is a tax deduction intended to encourage the cleanup and revitalization of brownfield properties. Under the incentive, environmental cleanup costs are fully deductible in the year incurred, rather than capitalized and spread over time. Improvements in 2006 expanded the Incentive to include petroleum cleanup.

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Smart Growth America's coalition members gather for annual meeting

coalition-mtg_3-2014Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1,000 Friends of Maryland (left) with Tyler Grote of Smart Growth America at last week’s meeting.

Last week, members of Smart Growth America’s non-profit coalition gathered in Washington, DC for the coalition’s annual meeting and advocacy day on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, coalition members and Smart Growth America staff discussed the new issues and progress made in each member’s region. Staff from Smart Growth America and Transportation for America briefed the members about progress on projects including the National Complete Streets Coalition, innovative transportation policies in Michigan and projects to improve community health in the transportation planning process.

Then member organizations presented about their achievements in the last year and discussed the challenges within each region. The Alliance to Re-Industrialize for a Sustainable Economy (ARISE) Minnesota’s Zachary Zweifler gave an insightful presentation on how they are designing projects to transform former industrial sites into mixed-use developments using non-traditional approaches. And Kaid Benfield, co-founder of Smart Growth America and the author of People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, shared a few of the major points from his book, which discusses topics as wide-ranging as “green” housing developments that are no such thing, the tricky matter of gentrifying inner cities, why people don’t walk much anymore, and the relationship between cities and religion.

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