“Brownfields” are increasingly being associated with green — as in greenbacks.The term refers to abandoned or unused sites that are (or perceived to be) contaminated by pesticides, chemicals or affected by some form of impurity that affects the environment. To effectively breathe new life into a brownfields site in Pennsylvania, teamwork is essential among numerous groups, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, environmental services organizations, government representatives and environmental law firms, to name a few.
And a growing number of developers appear to be showing interest.These parcels encompass commercial, residential and industrial revitalization, with projects involving both the municipality and the state. Philadelphia plans to build on successful redevelopment tactics already at work eleswhere.Joseph M. Manko, the founding partner of Philadelphia environmental law firm Manko, Gold, Katcher and Fox LLP, regularly works with developers and agencies on many levels of brownfield enhancement. In addition to a team of more than 20 lawyers, the firm employs two full-time environmental consultants.”
The reason why brownfield redevelopment makes sense is that a lot of people wind up winning,” Manko said. “New jobs are created; the public health gets protected and open space is preserved. In most cases, mass transportation gets a shot in the arm, too.”Manko also is Gov. Ed Rendell’s representative and chairman of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or Pennvest. The organization is responsible for funding drinking-water, waste- and storm-water projects, while currently working on environmental and economic enhancements in Pennsylvania.
Manko met with Rendell late last month to discuss the future of brownfield opportunities.”With regard to brownfield reuse, we are all on the same page,” Manko said. “As we work together, the program will soon be receiving a boost from Pennvest, that is going to prioritize those projects that meet the necessary standards, continue to revitalize urban areas, foster economic development and demonstrate sound land-use planning.”Manko Gold assisted in 1995 in the drafting of Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act (Act 2) and the associated cleanup standards and regulations. The firm continues to be involved with the creation of federal brownfields legislation and, along with helping to draft legislation, Manko Gold was involved with numerous brownfields projects, which included the Transit America site in Northeast Philadelphia; the Berwick Industrial Development Association’s revitalization of a former facility in Columbia County; as well as the Reiniger Brothers’ site in Upper Moreland.
In the past, redevelopment of brownfields was considered by many to be a challenging, complex process. However, with Act 2 in place, it was possible for each case to be handled individually, streamlining the procedures.Gary Brown, president of RT Environmental Services, explained: “Under Act 2, we learned to apply risk-assessment principals on a case-by-case basis. This has opened the door for more redevelopment along the waterfront and gives future users liability protection — which could have never been done before. We now have enough confidence in the federal brownfields law and the tools available to us under the new land-recycling law to apply appropriate environmental protective measures.”
Anderson Hartzell, regional supervising counsel for the DEP’s Southeast Region, emphasized that his agency’s focus is to ensure that brownfields are cleaned up consistent with Act 2.”I am proud of Act 2 because it changed the face of brownfield redevelopment,” he said. “After Act 2, redevelopers and businesses are working together with the DEP to address environmental projects in a sound way. We have a solid relationship.
“In terms of accurately identifying brownfields, the definition is often nebulous and, until thorough testing is completed, the area is often labeled “contaminated.” It may have the perception of being contaminated if a nearby site is polluted.Today, the city has the ability to address environmental issues and test a site before a company becomes interested in buying it. With its abundance of land, Philadelphia’s future focal point lies in becoming more proactive by ensuring that sites are attractive to developers. The city currently is identifying former commercial and industrial sites it can market. At least two neighborhoods are involved in a pilot study: the Port of Philadelphia and Hunting Park.According to Jon Edelstein, the city’s manager of brownfield redevelopment, Philadelphia’s most impressive project was the creation of the Federal Express facility in the Gray’s Ferry section. It has been operational since early 2002.
“We took an industrial property that was an eyesore and rotting away, and cleaned it up, sold it and created a home for a former suburban-based facility — Federal Express,” Edelstein said. “At the same time, we subdivided land for a recreational walking trail that is part of the Schuylkill River Greenway project. This represents the first time we took title to land south of Schuylkill River Park for the purpose of the trail.”Before Federal Express relocated, the Gray’s Ferry parcel wasn’t generating taxes. Since then, many new jobs were created and the first new neighborhood housing in years was built.The trail currently stretches almost as far as Bartram’s Gardens, while work is under way for the additional enhancement of Schuylkill River Park. The city wants to have the trail available for individuals to use for running, walking or biking. Running southward, it will eventually reach Fort Mifflin and coexist with industrial users.”We are creating a ‘higher use’ for the trail that will positively impact its continued development. Once it is, we expect to have renewed interest in the land surrounding it,” Edelstein said.In the meantime, other major brownfields projects are part of a revival in downtrodden Chester
.As part of revitalizing its Delaware County riverfront, Barry Bridge Park and the surrounding area (formerly part of the Wade Superfund site), Chester is creating a new multipurpose public park, complete with walkways, a fishing area and pedestrian bridge. Future plans call for a “Riverwalk” and adjacent “Rivertown” with substantial office space.”The Chester projects are proceeding forward,” Traynor said. “We are now working in conjunction with the Chester Economic Development Authority to complete the park, which is about to be released for construction. The Riverwalk is in the process of being released for design and bidding.”Overall, throughout Pennsylvania those dedicated to brownfields redevelopment are working to publicize opportunities for developers.
“We are promoting redevelopment of constructive, job-creating industrial properties,” Hartzell said. “We are in the process of working to obtain more interest from potential developers because there are still many available parcels in the region. In the past, brownfields were associated with too many risks. Thankfully, that landscape is now changing and I look forward to the future as the sites continue to be viewed as solid and worthy of investment.”