From Vacancy to Vibrancy: A guide to redeveloping underground storage tank sites through area-wide planning

A new guide for town, city and county leaders outlines a new tool they can use to build the financial and political support needed to reclaim and redevelop the thousands of abandoned gas stations, auto body shops, and industrial facilities nationwide.

From Vacancy to Vibrancy focuses on underground storage tank (UST) sites – properties with buried or partially buried tanks that have been used to store petroleum or other hazardous substances. When gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities or other types of development close down, these tanks are often left behind. As they age, the tanks are prone to leakage and can contaminate both soil and groundwater, posing a serious environmental threat. The new guide takes aim at one of the primary reasons these types of properties remain vacant for so long: many officials just don’t know what to do with them.

The regulatory issues associated with vacant properties containing a UST, as well as the time and money involved in cleanup, often makes revitalization seem like more trouble than it is worth. These challenges are overshadowed, however, by UST sites’ potential for neighborhood revitalization. From the Executive Summary:

UST sites are often both small and centrally located, and both these traits make them unique opportunities for revitalization. As demand rises for housing in neighborhoods close to town and in city centers – persisting in spite of larger challenges in the real estate market nationwide – UST sites are in a position to catalyze reinvestment and redevelopment initiatives.

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Partnership in the News: Redevelopment of Brownfield Site Begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa city leaders met with Environmental Protection Agency staff to discuss beginning the cleanup of a brownfield site for redevelopment. Tulsa’s News Channel 2 reports:

Project organizers have met with citizens for several months, scouting possible sites for cleanup and redevelopment. Three sites have already been designated for cleanup.

“Environmental protection really equals economic growth and development,” said David Lloyd with the EPA. “This is a way for cities to reuse sites, use infrastructure, clean the environment and promote economic development.”

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National Brownfields Coalition successfully advocates for federal brownfields program in FY 2012

For small towns, cleaning up a contaminated brownfield can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Rehabilitating former industrial sites, abandoned gas stations or other polluted land can be complicated and expensive – but transforming this land can have enormous benefits to both the environment and the economy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Brownfields Program helps communities of all sizes achieve these goals.

As Congress debated the federal budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, Smart Growth America’s National Brownfields Coalition ramped up a national campaign to support the EPA Brownfields Program in the FY 2012 appropriations process. Faced with $40 million in proposed cuts from the House of Representatives, the Coalition reached deep into its membership to generate support for this important federal program. The Coalition asked mayors and economic development directors across the country to contact their Members of Congress and successfully reached nearly three-quarters of the members of the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittees.

The result of these efforts was that $35 million of those proposed cuts were restored. Among the many efforts involved in achieving this goal, dozens of towns, elected officials, non-profits, companies and other organizations sent letters to their members of Congress supporting the EPA Brownfields Program in FY 2012 appropriations.

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Bi-partisan support evident at Senate Environment and Public Works hearing

Evans Paull, Executive Director of the National Brownfields Coalition, was among those who testified before Congress in October at a joint hearing of the Senate Full and Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health entitled, “Oversight Hearing on the Brownfields Program – Cleaning Up and Rebuilding Communities.” Paull began his testimony:

I wanted to start today by calling your attention to brownfields community turn-around projects that have been carried out in some of the states that are represented on this Committee. There is a recurring theme that I want to stress. EPA brownfields funds, although modest in the larger picture of multimillion dollar redevelopment projects, are often the first funds in to help communities lay the groundwork for turning blighted contaminated properties into new community assets. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these critical resources – EPA funds essentially function to allay fears of the unknown, and then, once known, the funds work in concert with state and local resources to counter the extra costs of redeveloping brownfields. The payoffs from these modest investments in leveling the playing field are enormous, because it’s not just about cleaning up and redeveloping X, Y, and Z site. It’s also about enabling communities to re-position their economies, taking the failed industries of the past and retooling those sites to enable future growth and improved quality of life.

Paull was joined in by David Lloyd, Director of the EPA Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization; Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City; Elizabeth Spinelli, Executive Director of the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation; Aaron Scheff, Brownfields Program Manager at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality; and Marjorie Weidenfeld Buckholtz, President of Environmental Consulting Solutions.

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Smart Growth America and National Brownfields Coalition unite to revitalize blighted areas

Longstanding brownfield redevelopment advocates Smart Growth America and the National Brownfields Coalition launch a new alliance today, with the Brownfields Coalition joining Smart Growth America.

As an official coalition of Smart Growth America, the National Brownfields Coalition can now be found at smartgrowthamerica.org/brownfields/.

“The missions of Smart Growth America and the National Brownfields Coalition are intertwined,” said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “We both understand that brownfield redevelopment is a critical part of fiscally responsible development strategies. Together we will have that much more to offer in terms of experience, technical assistance and the joint pursuit of public policies aimed at reinvigorating neighborhoods across the country.”

As the only national organization dedicated to researching and advocating for smart growth strategies, Smart Growth America’s extensive network and expert staff will offer the National Brownfields Coalition continued support as it seeks to raise awareness about the economic benefits of transforming vacant brownfields into thriving neighborhoods. Likewise, Smart Growth America will benefit from the National Brownfields Coalition’s expertise on federal policies that promote brownfield revitalization and sustainable development.

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Spotlight on Sustainability: Indianapolis, Indiana

It’s not a place where you might expect to see smart growth: the “Crossroads of America”, the home of one of the most significant motorsport races in the world, and a big city with some of the lowest ridership in the country.

But, a smart growth redevelopment district is looking to show Indianapolis residents how much the city can benefit from smart growth. With the help of a Brownfield Pilot Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Indianapolis is on the verge of making big changes to a once-neglected neighborhood.

“The city is looking to a number of programs, like the EPA and HUD grants, as a way to focus limited resources on an area that has a lot of need,” said Ryan Hunt, a senior project manager for the City of Indianapolis, who is working on the redevelopment project. “As a near downtown neighborhood, there’s a real opportunity here to take advantage of what’s out there. These programs give us the opportunity to see a lot of change.”

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Smart growth news – January 3, 2012

The bold urban future starts now
Salon, December 31, 2011
In cities in every region of the country, pie-in-the-sky ideas are moving from brainstorm to blueprint to groundbreaking — and 2012 will prove it.

Oklahoma City reaps positive effects of economic development
The Oklahoman, January 1, 2011
“Downtown Oklahoma City experienced significant changes this year (2011), but probably the most impactful was the renovation and grand reopening of the Myriad Gardens,” Jenkins said. “Construction of the Level Apartments and Aloft Hotel in Deep Deuce have really given that area a dense, urban feel, and the launch of the ‘Downtown It!’ advertising campaign increase awareness of all that downtown Oklahoma City has to offer.”

Study: Cities subsidize townships
Oxford Press (Ohio), January 2, 2012
There is an inequity in government subsidies for roads, police protection and other services that township residents receive compared with city residents, though both groups pay the same taxes, a University of Toledo study shows.

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Ohio selects six communities to participate in the new Brownfields Action Plan Pilot Program

The Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) announced last week six communities that will participate in the state’s innovative Brownfields Action Plan Pilot Program, a new initiative designed to help communities with multiple brownfield sites create area-wide plans to address them.

ODOD launched the program in August of this year and selected the pilot communities after a four-month application and review process. The chosen communities will each receive technical assistance and a $50,000 grant to develop and implement their area-wide plans. The six communities selected include the cities of Fairborn, Newark, Piqua, Ravenna and Xenia, as well as the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation.

ODOD’s initiative is an exciting milestone for brownfields redevelopment and will provide major benefits to Ohio communities. Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that looks at vacant and contaminated sites within a region comprehensively – rather than individually – and allows communities to address each site within the context of broader revitalization and economic development goals. This strategy is particularly helpful for communities plagued by sites that are too small or distressed to be viable for redevelopment individually. Addressed collectively, these sites can all become more attractive to potential developers and can ultimately catalyze community-wide revitalization.

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"Brownfields Redevelopment, Community Revitalization, and Regional Planning: Making It Work Together" webinar materials now available

Thank you to everyone who attended SGA’s Sustainable Communities Network “Brownfields Redevelopment, Community Revitalization, and Regional Planning: Making It Work Together” earlier this week.

We heard from Adhir Kackar and Stacy Swartwood of the Environmental Protection Agency on how the federal government is working to streamline investments in community brownfield redevelopment and regional planning efforts, particularly through the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. We then heard the stories and lessons learned from the community of Ranson, West Virginia already working on brownfield cleanup in conjunction with other economic development projects from Dawn Seeburger, Environmental Resources & Consulting.

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Smart growth news – October 26

The 19 Building Types That Caused the Recession
The Atlantic Cities, October 25, 2011
Among his favorite examples of all the standard real-estate products built ad nauseum across the country over the last half-century, Christopher Leinberger likes to point to the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center. This creation is generally about 12 to 15 acres in size on a plot of land that’s 80 percent covered in asphalt. It’s located on the going-home side of a major four-to-eight lane arterial road, where it catches people when they’re most likely to be thinking about what to buy for dinner.

The Federal Government’s Smart Growth-Inspired Landlord
Streetsblog, October 25, 2011
Robert Peck says he’ll gladly pay more to locate office buildings near transit – the time saved commuting makes it worthwhile.

WNY development panel airs plan
Buffalo News (N.Y.), October 25, 2011
Creating jobs and finding ways to get the biggest bang for the buck out of investments made in Western New York are emerging as top priorities in the strategic plan being developed by a state-backed economic development council. … It encourages “smart growth” that minimizes sprawl and leads to investment in the region’s cities and town centers.

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