How Congress Could Help Create the Next Great Neighborhood

The following article is a cross-post from The Atlantic Cities.

East River State Park in Brooklyn was once a rail-to-barge shipping facility, a use that left the site contaminated. A brownfields grant from the EPA helped clean up the site. Photo courtesy of Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr.

In Brooklyn, you don’t have to look far to see a hip neighborhood spot that was once a contaminated empty lot.

The East River State Park in Williamsburg was built on the site of a former rail-to-barge shipping terminal. A Whole Foods is under construction in Gowanus on a site previously vacant and contaminated with benzene*. 15 Dunham is a new residential building near the Williamsburg Bridge with affordable housing built atop a former gas station. A high-end design studio for race car engines sits on a cleaned-up site in Williamsburg that stood vacant for nearly 25 years. And plans are under way to turn the massive Domino Sugar Factory site, currently decaying on the Williamsburg waterfront, into park space, offices, apartments and retail.


Details of the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act

The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013, introduced today by Senators Lautenberg, Inhofe, Udall and Crapo, would improve the way the federal government supports brownfields redevelopment in the United States. Here’s how.

The Act reauthorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program, and improves the program’s ability to support local economic development. If passed, the bill would modernize and improve key elements of the program, and would provide additional tools and resources to communities working to redevelop brownfields. It makes a number of improvements recommended by the National Brownfields Coalition, which is comprised of a broad set of stakeholders, including local governments, developers, and community redevelopment organizations.


A new bill in Congress is great news for America's neighborhoods

Yards Park in Washington, DC was built on the site of a former brownfield. Photo via Flickr.

Cleaning up contaminated land benefits the environment and the economy, and a new bill introduced today in Congress would make it easier for towns and cities to do just that.

Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Inhofe (R-OK), Crapo (R-ID) and Udall (D-NM) introduced today the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013. If passed, the bill will help communities across the country clean up contaminated and abandoned land and put it back into productive use.


Brownfields grants double their benefit with new health center trend

An architect’s rendering of the future Spectrum Health Services building. Image via Spectrum Health Services.

Cleaning up contaminated land – known to environmental regulators as “brownfields” – has a long list of health benefits as a result of cleaner air, water and soil. Now, a cleaned up brownfield site might fix your sprained ankle, too.


Smart Growth America's Top 12 of 2012: Growing our coalition

The Fairborn-CEMEX town plant redevelopment is one of hundreds of brownfield sites across the country. Photo by the Ohio Office of Redevelopment, via Flickr.

We’re doing a special blog series highlighting some of Smart Growth America’s favorite accomplishments from 2012. This is the fifth of twelve installments.

In 2012 Smart Growth America welcomed two major new programs to our advocacy work.

In February, we announced a new alliance with the National Brownfields Coalition. The National Brownfields Coalition, now a program of Smart Growth America, seeks to raise awareness about the economic benefits of transforming vacant brownfields into thriving neighborhoods. The Coalition brought with it expertise on federal policies that promote brownfield revitalization and sustainable development have helped us pursue public policies aimed at reinvigorating neighborhoods across the country.

Complete Streets

Speak out to renew the federal Brownfields Tax Incentive

Developers working to clean-up and redevelop brownfields could soon lose a major federal aid – unless advocates work together to save it.

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.

The incentive is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, but there’s a chance to save it. The National Brownfields Coalition is asking Congress to extend the Incentive as part of the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012, more commonly known as the “tax extenders” bill.

Join the call to make brownfields cleanup easier: send a letter to your members of Congress today.

The Incentive is already helping towns put contaminated land back in to productive reuse. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, the Incentive helped make possible the redevelopment of a former industrial site in the city’s historic Martin Luther King Drive Business Improvement District. The site is now home to new commercial and residential space, and has greatly added momentum to efforts within the Business Improvement District.


Michigan legislature proposes improvements to Brownfields TIF program

The former Michigan Bell and Western Electric Warehouse is being rennovated to become a home for the Neighborhood Service Organization and 155 housing units for homeless individuals. The project is made possible by federal and state historic tax credits, federal brownfields tax credits and a 10-year tax abatement from the City of Detroit. Photo copyright by Michael G. Smith. Used with permission.

New legislation moving through the Michigan State Senate could make it easier for developers to clean up and rebuild on brownfields in the state.

Michigan’s Senate Bill 1210, an amendment to the state’s Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act (Act 381), is likely to see significant changes this year. If enacted, the bill would promote urban development throughout the state, reduce regulatory requirements, streamline the approval process. Here’s an overview of how.


Partnership in the News: Tulsa, OK poised to clean up brownfields

With the help of a $175,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Tulsa, Oklahoma is in the final stages of a brownfield redevelopment plan that includes six properties throughout the city. The grant will help Tulsa clean up the sites and thus serve as a catalyst for broader revitalization and redevelopment efforts. On cleaning up one of the former industrial sites, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said:

“This could be a great asset to the city, contributing to the tax rolls and the business community. We just have to get it there.”


Funding Opportunity: Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces $4,000,000 in funding for brownfields. The Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant program facilitates community involvement as well as the research, training, and technical assistance necessary for brownfields assessment, cleanup, and subsequent reuse.

Brownfields area-wide planning grant funding must be directed to specific areas affected by either a single large site or multiple brownfield sites, such as a neighborhood, downtown district, city block, or local commercial corridor. The grant funding will result in an area-wide plan, including implementation strategies, for the brownfields-affected area. The brownfields area-wide plan will inform the assessment, cleanup, and reuse of brownfield properties and promote area-wide revitalization.