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Creating Community-Based Brownfield Redevelopment Strategies

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This coastal dumping ground is now home to a multi-purpose community centre in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii. USDSA

Includes Agriculture on Remediated Brownfields and Case Study, Urban Oaks Organic Farm

By the American Planning Association

It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S. In many brownfield redevelopment projects, community groups are frequently left out of the process. However, they represent the main constituency that suffers from the negative impact of vacant and abandoned brownfield sites. The purpose of Creating Community-Based Brownfield Redevelopment Strategies is twofold: first, it is designed to help community-based organizations (CBOs) recognize that brownfields are opportunities for neighborhood revitalization,

and, second, it provides critical information to help local CBOs participate more effectively in the complicated process of brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. This guide intends to empower residents to actively and effectively participate in brownfield site redevelopment and understand how different development strategies will benefit their communities.

Excerpt: Case Study

Urban oaks organic farm, a collaborative effort among community volunteers and the city of new Britain, Connecticut

The North Oak Street area in New Britain, Connecticut has suffered its fair share of neglect. Originally home to Italian, Irish, and Eastern European immigrants who comprised the hardware manufacturing workforce, the neighborhood quickly deteriorated after the factories closed. Subsequently, a freeway was constructed through the heart of the manufacturing district, eliminating the blight of the empty factories but fragmenting the North Oak Street area. By the 1990s, it was one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods in New Britain, and residents of Hispanic decent had replaced its European immigrant population.

To combat this concentration of poverty, the state of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management named the North Oak Street Area a Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) in late 1990s. As a NRZ, the neighborhood had access to funding and technical as- sistance for strategic planning and economic development efforts. The NRZ planning process identified North Oak Street as a vital corridor and focused efforts around revitalizing numerous dilapidated properties along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

Initially, the New Britain worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to eliminate a public housing facility that concentrated poverty and crime in the neighborhood. The city took possession of that parcel and transformed it into a park, which opened in 2009. In addition, the New Britain Police Department committed to rebuilding a police substation that was destroyed by fire. With these two projects demonstrating progress, the city turned its attention to a cluster of parcels owned by the Sandelli family.

Sandelli Greenhouses, Inc., was a horticultural product distribution operation. At its peak, the business operated seven greenhouses on four acres. In 1983, the Sandelli business shut its doors, and the site remained abandoned for nearly two decades while the family worked out property ownership. During this time, the property sat neglected while vandals and illegal dumpers defaced it. Residents were eager to see the site cleaned and put into active use. Today, the Sandelli property has little resemblance to the over- grown junkyard it had become. Now a thriving organic farm, the Sandelli property redevelopment serves as an excellent example of agriculture-related reuse of brownfields.

To demonstrate its commitment to the North Oak Street NRZ, the city used a variety of tools to get the Sandelli property into active use again. Kenneth Malinosky, director of municipal development, played a primary role in this endeavor. After years of neglect, the Sandelli family sold the property at an auction to Elmo Aiudi for $85,000. Aiudi had planned to donate the land to the Marchigian Society, an Italian fraternal organization, but when this donation fell through, Malinosky facilitated a meeting between Aiudi and two well-known local organic farmers, Tony Norris and Mike Kandefer. Malinosky had recently learned that these two farmers were looking for a new home for their farm in Bolton, Connecticut that was displaced by development. The three worked out a long-term lease agreement that suited both parties—the farmers were to pay property taxes and the utility bills, and in return, the farmers offered Aiudi a weekly vegetable allowance.

With this agreement in place, Malinosky began to line up funding to assess, remediate, and renovate the site. Norris, a long-time community activist, organized over a hundred volunteers to launch the cleanup effort that cut brush and removed trash from the site. Ultimately, the city used funding from the New England Brownfields Assessment Pilot Program to conduct environmental site assessments. These assessments concluded that the site did require environmental remediation for semivolatile organic com- pounds (SVOCs). In addition, a variety of other environmental concerns existed on site including large amounts of greenhouse- related debris, an abandoned car, soil piles, and underground gasoline and fuel oil storage. As the intended reuse of the site was an organic farm, soil contamination was the biggest concern.

Malinosky appealed to then-Gov. John Rolland’s office for funding to renovate the salvageable greenhouses on site. The site rede- velopment was finally completed with a Community Development Block Grant from HUD. The total cost of the cleanup was approxi- mately $155,000 and the total cost of site improvements, which included the renovation of four greenhouses, was approximately $1.25 million.

The Urban Oak Organic Farm opened on a portion of the Sandelli site in 1999. The farm provides education for residents and school groups in organic gardening methods, sustainable agriculture, nontoxic farming techniques, composting, and other environmen- tally friendly farming techniques. In addition, a farmer’s market is open to the public every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. The establishment of the organic farm has helped enhance the urban environment by demonstrating farming responsibility, non- polluting techniques and soil amendments, pest control utilizing natural predators, and by providing greenspace in a dense and urban area.

In June 2003, the EPA Brownfields Program awarded the city of New Britain a $60,000 grant to remediate an abutting property, which contained a gas station and multifamily residential building. This property is now owned by the city and serves as Urban Oaks Organic Farm’s year-round retail outlet.

Read the complete guide here.

1 comment

1 Nancy Thompson { 10.28.10 at 6:52 pm }

The Sandelli property redevelopment is a great story. Lessons to be learned: (1) active and positive involvement of the city government, (2) attempting to tie a future re-use of a brownfield back to its history, (3) identifying popular trends–local food in this case–and turning them to advantage, and (4) remediating eyesores and problem properties to rebuild image as key components of redevelopment strategy. Also striking is the relatively low cost of simply cleaning up–$155,000 of the total much higher number for redevelopment of the Sandelli property.

The bummer: eliminating public housing. Nothing is said about where these people now live and whether they have been able to raise their economic status as a result of what has happened. Probably the outcome isn’t as pleasant from that perspective.