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Brownfields are a challenge, but redevelopment is possible

7/7/2015 | Real Estate Blog

We have spent a good deal of time lately talking about Philadelphia’s problem with abandoned and vacant properties. The city might have an easier time finding a solution if all of the properties were the same — not necessarily a uniform size, but in the same condition. Even if these parcels could be broken down into two or three categories, it might be easier to find buyers or to make redevelopment a more attractive option.

As it is, though, a property can be more than just a vacant lot or an abandoned building. There can be environmental issues that must be addressed before anything can happen. That vacant property on the corner could be a brownfield, and that could come as a surprise to a buyer, a seller or, in rare cases, even the city.

When someone says “brownfield,” large parcels, like the Philadelphia Navy Yard, may come to mind — industrial sites around Philly that shut down years ago. These sites have been major abatement projects for state and federal environmental agencies. But brownfields aren’t always large tracts of land. A brownfield can be the former site of a dry cleaning operation.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Brownfield Development Guide defines brownfields as “underutilized properties where the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants complicates expansion, redevelopment or reuse of the properties.” The term “underutilized” is often used in reference to the land use principle of “highest and best use,” a subject for a separate post. In this context, an underutilized property is one that does not meet the needs of the immediate community or the community at large, that does not contribute to the economic vitality of the area.

We’ll continue this in our next post.