PlaNYC: Brownfields

We see them every­where: the fenced-off vacant lots filled with garbage and rub­ble that every­one wish­es could be a park, or a new super­mar­ket.  In real­i­ty, how­ev­er, brown­field cleanup is much more com­pli­cat­ed than “The Vacant Lot” episode of Hey Arnold! made it out to be.  Brown­fields are unused plots of land that were for­mer­ly indus­tri­al or com­mer­cial sites.  This means there is usu­al­ly con­t­a­m­i­na­tion from haz­ardous mate­ri­als or waste.

There are thou­sands of the­se vacant prop­er­ties in New York City, which gives the city a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to revi­tal­ize the area and improve the­se urban blights.

[You can track the year-long process of a brown­field-reme­di­a­tion project in our Atlas Lab sec­tion, via Kaja Kühl’s project Field Lab.]

PlaNYC’s third sec­tion out­li­nes goals and pro­grams to moti­vate the trans­for­ma­tion of brown­fields.  The entire process is cur­rent­ly mud­dled and con­fus­ing for landown­ers, devel­op­ers, and the city alike.  PlaNYC hopes to ease brown­field cleanup and facil­i­tate devel­op­ment.  Brown­fields could real­ly embody the mes­sage of PlaNYC: sus­tain­able, green devel­op­ment that uplifts the com­mu­ni­ty and improves the neigh­bor­hood.


Ini­tia­tive 1: Increase par­tic­i­pa­tion in the NYC Brown­field Cleanup Pro­gram by part­ner­ing with lenders and insur­ers

The NYC Brown­field Cleanup Pro­gram (BCP) was estab­lished by the 2007 Plan, and over­sees cleanups for the low- to mod­er­ate­ly-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed prop­er­ties.  It tries to use a “stream­lined and pre­dictable process” and also gives landown­ers and devel­op­ers lia­bil­i­ty pro­tec­tion for brown­field sites enrolled in the pro­gram.  With this ini­tia­tive, New York State’s cleanup stan­dards have been adopt­ed and all projects will be over­seen by a team of city sci­en­tists and engi­neers.  The risk for devel­op­ers and own­ers will be min­i­mized in all ways pos­si­ble in order to spark growth and pro­gress.  There will also be pro­grams to encour­age lend­ing and financ­ing for those seek­ing rede­vel­op­ment.  Fur­ther, the BCP will work with insur­ance com­pa­nies and financ­ing insti­tu­tions defend­ing the client.  Anoth­er pro­gram called the Brown­field Incen­tive Grant pro­gram (BIG) funds inves­ti­ga­tions and cleanups to make brown­fields more com­pet­i­tive in the real estate mar­ket.  The BIG pro­gram will allow grants to be used for lia­bil­i­ty insur­ance, eas­ing the bur­den of devel­op­ers.  Over­all, the BIG pro­gram and the BCP is com­mit­ted to help­ing those want­ed to start brown­field devel­op­ment and demon­strates this by part­ner­ing with insur­ance com­pa­nies and finan­cial insti­tu­tions.


Ini­tia­tive 2: Increase the capac­i­ty of small busi­ness­es and small- and mid-size devel­op­ers to con­duct brown­field cleanup and rede­vel­op­ment

Small- and mid-sized devel­op­ers do not have the exper­tise need­ed for brown­field reme­di­a­tion.  This ini­tia­tive estab­lish­es an envi­ron­men­tal expert refer­ral pro­gram for free and for the pub­lic good.  It will provide advice and free con­sul­ta­tions


Ini­tia­tive 3:Enable the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, cleanup, and rede­vel­op­ment of brown­fields

Brown­fields dif­fer at each site; they are not projects that can be mass-pro­duced.  The NYC BCP will estab­lish flex­i­ble time­li­nes that allow for the appro­pri­ate cus­tomiza­tion of brown­field devel­op­ment.  For exam­ple, own­ers can now cleanup the prop­er­ty before putting it up for sale.  Also now allowed, is the devel­op­ment of a cleanup plan, and then post­pone action until a poten­tial buy­er has been iden­ti­fied.  This per­mits mon­ey to be bet­ter spent and time put to bet­ter use.  In addi­tion to more flex­i­ble guide­li­nes, a real estate search engine, SPEED, will be improved to cater to devel­op­ers needs.  They will have access to data, his­tor­i­cal maps and infor­ma­tion, and aeri­al maps of more than 3,000 brown­field prop­er­ties.  The­se new pro­grams are aimed to be open and com­mu­ni­ty-guid­ed, so affect­ed res­i­dents under­stand the changes in their neigh­bor­hood.  A new estab­lish­ment, the Envi­ron­men­tal Project Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter (EPIC) will help those in this com­plex process.  It is anoth­er online tool that will ease the nav­i­ga­tion and bur­den on inter­est­ed par­ties.  The City will also part­ner with the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy (EPA) to improve avail­able tech­nol­o­gy.

Ini­tia­tive 4: Build upon exist­ing state and fed­er­al col­lab­o­ra­tions to improve the City’s brown­field pro­grams

Work­ing fur­ther with the State and Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will help improve incen­tives for landown­ers and devel­op­ers.  Lia­bil­i­ty pro­tec­tion for inter­est­ed par­ties is of utmost impor­tance, as that is one of the largest deter­rents.  A pilot pro­gram will also be estab­lished to waive part of an envi­ron­ment lien on a prop­er­ty if the devel­op­er will work with NYC BCP.


Ini­tia­tive 5: Study the eco­nom­ic val­ue of brown­field rede­vel­op­ment in New York City

While brown­fields are large­ly under­stood to spur eco­nom­ic growth in a neigh­bor­hood, very few focused stud­ies have been done to quan­ti­ta­tive­ly assess the impact brown­field devel­op­ment.  The City will col­lect rel­e­vant data con­cern­ing brown­field rede­vel­op­ment to rig­or­ous­ly eval­u­ate brown­field val­ue in terms of job cre­ation, rev­enue income, and real estate oppor­tu­ni­ty.


Ini­tia­tive 6: Lever­age the NYC BCP to estab­lish fund­ing and oth­er incen­tives for cleanup and rede­vel­op­ment

The BCP’s projects in brown­field cleanup have had numer­ous pos­i­tive results for the City, like the cre­ation of jobs and afford­able hous­ing.  Even­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, there is poten­tial to com­bine the BCP’s incen­tives with oth­er incen­tives from city pro­grams.  For exam­ple, the Bronx Over­all Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion worked with the BCP to estab­lish a low-inter­est loan pro­gram for Bronx brown­field cleanups.  Part­ner­ships like this will bet­ter cater to each indi­vid­u­al site and neigh­bor­hood. BCP will try to work with oth­er finan­cial insti­tu­tions to devel­op an infor­mal coun­sel­ing pro­gram, where inter­est­ed par­ties can get help and nav­i­gate through the finan­cial bar­ri­ers.


Ini­tia­tive 7: Sup­port com­mu­ni­ty-led plan­ning efforts

A new pro­gram will be estab­lished to involve the com­mu­ni­ty in brown­field development—the NYC Com­mu­ni­ty Brown­field Plan­ning Dis­trict (CBPD) Pro­gram.  This will des­ig­nate 25 CBPDs, which are areas in the city that have clus­ters of brown­fields with active Com­mu­ni­ty Based Orga­ni­za­tions (CBOs) inter­est­ed in their devel­op­ment.  This way, the rede­vel­op­ment of a brown­field will be direct­ly linked to the community’s inter­est.  The CBDP will be able to guide the CBOs through the entire process.  They will also help the expan­sion of the State’s Brown­field Oppor­tu­ni­ty Area (BOA) Pro­gram.


Ini­tia­tive 8: Sup­port local and area-wide com­mu­ni­ty brown­field plan­ning efforts

In con­tin­u­a­tion of work­ing with the CBOs and BOA pro­grams, a help­ful report of man­age­ment prac­tices will be pub­lished.  The City will also provide tech­ni­cal assis­tance grant so the­se groups can afford con­sult­ing ser­vices specif­i­cal­ly for brown­field cleanup.  Edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams will be pro­vid­ed through the NYC Brown­field Part­ner­ship and brown­field rede­vel­op­ment infor­ma­tion will be more acces­si­ble.  Much of this infor­ma­tion will be avail­able online, and the City will work with the New York Depart­ment of State to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty por­tal for brown­field plan­ning.


Ini­tia­tive 9: Increase the trans­paren­cy and acces­si­bil­i­ty of brown­field cleanup plans

New York City is con­stant­ly chang­ing, and this can at times make it dif­fi­cult for res­i­dents to fol­low devel­op­ments in their own com­mu­ni­ties.  It should be easy to be informed about the cleanup work being per­formed in their neigh­bor­hoods.  Under the NYC BCP reg­u­la­tions, brown­field cleanup plans must go through a peri­od of pub­lic com­ment.  To make this more acces­si­ble to res­i­dents, there will be an online doc­u­ment repos­i­to­ry for the pub­lic.  In the past the­se doc­u­ments are load­ed with tech­ni­cal jar­gon, which is not acces­si­ble to the pub­lic.  This frus­trat­ing bar­ri­er will be elim­i­nat­ed by com­mu­ni­cat­ed more clear­ly to the pub­lic.  In addi­tion, there will also be a per­ma­nent online library of brown­field edu­ca­tion­al videos and infor­ma­tion.


Ini­tia­tive 10: Pro­mote green reme­di­a­tion in the NYC Brown­field Cleanup Pro­gram

Each cleanup plan is required to include a Sus­tain­abil­i­ty State­ment.  This State­ment will give an oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op­ers to real­ly con­sid­er how to make green choic­es and doc­u­ment green reme­di­al mea­sures incor­po­rat­ed into the cleanup process.  While it will not bind or lim­it devel­op­ers, it estab­lish­es a com­mit­ment to green actions.  There will also be grants to fund green audits, and incen­tives for those employ­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices.


Ini­tia­tive 11: Pro­mote green space on reme­di­at­ed brown­field prop­er­ties

Brown­fields have so much poten­tial, they can turn into a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter or a hotel, but they can also turn into pub­lic green spaces.  The New York City Pock­et Parks Pro­gram will con­vert small brown­fields into park­land.  There is a pilot pro­gram in the mak­ing that will cre­ate three pock­et parks from brown­fields.


The City sees brown­fields for their incred­i­ble poten­tial to cre­ate jobs, pub­lic space, and neigh­bor­hood enrich­ment.  The pro­grams estab­lished in this sec­tion of PlaNYC work to pro­tect pub­lic health and the envi­ron­ment while at the same time involv­ing res­i­dents in the process.