New York is betting big on the rehabilitation of its brownfields
par Elsa Sidawy | 10.19.11
New York wants to clean up some 3,000 abandoned lots throughout the city which for the most part are polluted. In order to restore the land, the municipality has set up an operation to revive the neglected but highly coveted land and thus promote local development.
It all began in June 2008, when Mayor Bloomberg set up the “Mayor’s office of Environmental Remediation,” under his direct authority. The mission of this office? Work for the rehabilitation of “brownfields,” abandoned land whose soil has often been polluted during past industrial activities, for example. According to Dr. Daniel Walsh who leads this team of 15 people, “a brownfield is a vacant site where development is typically thwarted because of environmental contamination.” The clean-up operation, which requires significant funding, was not an immediate favorite with investors. His team has been working for the past two years to encourage them to acquire the land and clean it up: “it’s a kind of recycling program for soil and local economic development: we convert the spaces and restore their functionality.” With 3150 lots in the five boroughs (counties) of the city, the task is difficult.
SPEED platform: accelerating the acquisition of contaminated land
It’s been just one year, October 15, 2010, since the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation launched the online application SPEED (Searchable Property Environmental Electronic Database) to raise awareness of the issue among its target audience and develop a practical and up to date decision-making tool. “Developers are waiting for documents and counsel, this application is speeding up the process.” The platform lists on a map all the sites and provides detailed information on each property: year of construction and, if appropriate, demolition of buildings, size, pictures, and especially environmental data. A kind of carbon evaluation of the Big Apple’s soil. Site traffic, which reached four million visits since November last year, has exceeded expectations. Brokers, developers, owners, and promoters are all rushing to the site before investing.
A $ 60 000 incentive to buy a brownfield
In terms of investment, the tax incentives are the biggest draw. Each investor betting on one of these polluted lands will walk away with $ 60 000, if he or she agrees to properly clean up the soil. An amount “that does not cover all costs, but eases the initial burden.” In total, this investment fund known as the “Brownfield Incentive Grant” (BIG) has $ 9 million over 12 years. Like LEED for greener buildings, the city also manages the certification “New York City Green Property Certification,” which, once the remediation has been performed, certifies that it has been “properly enacted and that the field is now environmentally healthy and fit for future users. ” A first for an American city as this type of certification is usually the responsibility of the state.
This long-term program must run during a twelve-year period at a rate of 100 to 250 sites cleaned per year, even if new brownfields appear as others disappear. “This program is also a signal to developers that the city will not allow new construction without first cleaning up old sites,” warns Daniel Walsh. Review of the first six months of operation: 30 funded projects, which will increase the investments. And therefore the final dividends will end up in the city’s coffers. American-style pragmatism.
To learn more
- Operating budget of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation: one million per year
- Citizen consultation: the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation works closely with the Brownfield Opportunity Area Program (BOA), “so that future property developments built on this soil will correspond to the needs of the people.”
- Summer 2010: Launch of the New York City Brownfield Program and the New York City Brownfield Incentive Grant(BIG)
- Fall 2010: Launch of platform SPEED (Searchable Property Environmental Electronic Database) and the New York City Green Property Certification
Photos credits: City of New York (A) / Platform SPEED / Section of the Office of Environmental Remediation
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Translated by Genny Cortinovis