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A brownfield is typically land that is abandoned or underused in part because of contamination concerns. The federal government defines brownfields as "abandoned, idled, or underused industrial or commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination."
The term "Brownfield" might make you think of dirty, blighted, and abandoned industrial property. However, that image is too narrow. Though some brownfields are old industrial sites, others are commercial buildings with little or no environmental contamination. Brownfields could be:
When brownfields sit idle, everybody loses. Neighbors face environmental worries and reduced property values. Cities see roads, sewers, and other infrastructure underused. New businesses seek out "greenfields" or undeveloped land, encouraging sprawl. And brownfield owners must deal with a long list of worries - from potential lawsuits to deriving too little income from their property.
When owners or developers clean up brownfields and put them to new uses, many people benefit. Cleanups address environmental problems. Redevelopment can bring new jobs and higher tax revenues. Revitalized brownfields can breathe new life into neighborhoods.
Brownfields offer opportunities that go beyond their old uses. Developers have transformed brownfields into everything from golf courses and driving ranges to mixed developments with housing, office, shopping, and open space. Smaller properties have found new life as bakeries and greenhouses. In short, many uses may be open to a clean site.
Many communities, businesses and environmentalists agree that brownfield redevelopment is worth encouraging. As a result, a variety of private and public sector guidance and incentives have been developed to encourage brownfield redevelopment. Redevelopment is seldom easy or risk-free. But if done right, redevelopment can bring special rewards: peace of mind, income, and a cleaner environment.
The following items are benefits of brownfield redevelopment:
As a community member interested in a brownfield it is important for you to know and be able to discuss with potential developers and property owners the benefits to them of cleaning up and reusing a site. Some of the advantages to owners and developers are:
Many brownfield owners are satisfied with leaving their properties in their current condition. In some cases the neighborhood property values may seem too low to justify any sort of investment in the site. In other cases, the level of contamination is so slight that it seems unlikely to harm anyone. A property owner who decides to do nothing should be sure that the decision is based on a full understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, many owners may not have full information or analyze all the implications of leaving a brownfield as is. Community members may be able to convince an owner to reconsider the decision to let the property sit, but the owner may resent such an intrusion. In particular, the owner should look at possible liabilities for environmental contamination. Even potential liability can affect a business, making it harder to get credit or raise equity for projects not directly related to the brownfield.
Also, a property owner who is letting a brownfield sit idle probably should make sure that things are not about to get worse. If the site is posing a health or environmental threat to neighbors, delay could lead to bigger injuries and bigger liabilities. On a site bad enough to justify government attention, an owner who waits may be inviting cleanup on expensive terms dictated by the government, possibly with years spent with attorneys arguing over the process. In such a situation both the owner and the community may lose as the cleanup is likely to take longer, be more expensive, and not be coordinated with redevelopment options. Even when cleanup appears to be a losing proposition, prompt cleanup may make sense as a way for an owner to cut losses.
Federal, state, and local governments provide incentives for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. Some of these incentives are provided directly to communities and local governments. Certain incentives are offered only to property owners. They include: