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Friday, July 20, 2018

“It is Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been”

It is Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” –George Eliot


In June I began the first of three articles discussing some of the effective planning and developments that I discovered while on a recent trip to the city of Portland, Oregon. What Portland has been able to accomplish over the past 20 years is very impressive. The past two articles covered “Stormwater Management”and “Development Oriented Transit”. I will now conclude this series of articles with the “Future of Brownfields.”

You might be asking yourself, what are Brownfields? Brownfield is a term used to describe real estate that is contaminated or perceived to be contaminated by hazardous substances or petroleum in soil or groundwater. The complexity and cost of cleanup creates an obstacle for redevelopment or reuse of the property.

Here are some examples of a Brownfield: closed landfills, abandoned gas stations, old manufacturing facilities, and former dry cleaning facilities. The cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields brings many economic development benefits to a community. Consequently, redevelopment creates jobs, increases property values, remove or reduce potential health risks, and revitalizes neighborhoods.

The River District/Pearl District in Portland is very similar to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration area in South Phoenix. The only difference is that where there was once a contaminated rail yard, a new urban neighborhood has emerged. New grocery stores, restaurants, galleries, shops and banks now line the streets.

Eleven years ago, much of the Pearl District was blighted and polluted. The area was formerly used as an old railway yard and elevated roadway. Since 1998 this area has been transformed by a development agreement between the city and area developers that led to the construction of useable parks, streetcar lines and thousands of condos and apartments in the neighborhood.

However, the Pearl District has caused some local controversy. In order to accomplish this type of urban renewal property taxes had to be raised. The rising property taxes are protected and can not be used to support existing city, county and school budgets and are limited to only being spent within the district. Controversial as it has been, the benefits are undeniable and well worth the public investment.

According to the City of Phoenix website the Brownfields land Recycling program has facilitated more than $293 million in private investment to restore approximately 275 acres of previously contaminated land and created or maintained over 3,300 jobs. In addition, 21 sites have been redeveloped for public uses, such as parks.

The goal of the program is to reduce obstacles and provide assistance for redevelopment of brownfields in the city of Phoenix. The program has two components:

1) assistance to city departments for redevelopment of contaminated sites for public use, and

2) assistance to the private sector for redevelopment of sites that benefit the community by reducing environmental exposures, supporting job creation, and servicing and revitalizing neighborhoods.

The program also provides municipal grant funds for infrastructure improvements and development fees on qualified brownfields projects and is available citywide.

As a kid I remember playing in the river bottom when it was still a contaminated site filled with tires, cars, trash and construction debris. Some days the breeze blowing east from the 19th Avenue water treatment plant and landfill brought a stench that at times was unbearable.

Today, my family visits the 600 beautiful acres of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration area and I am reminded how far we have come over the past 20 years. As I travel to cities across the county I must also realize that it is only the beginning for us. SoPho between the 7’s has enormous potential to be a model for urban renewal but we must build on our successes and create real solutions and strategies like the city of Portland.


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