Brownfields in the Green Mountain State

Guest Viewpoint

— Looking across the Black River at the refurbished building that used to house the revitalized former Fellows Gear Shaper factory, the last adjective to pop into my mind was “brown” or “field.”

Once completed, the beautifully restored 19th century factory will hold medical offices, restaurants, shops and more. I was there with Governor Shumlin, ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz and ACCD Secretary Lawrence Miller to celebrate the award of several U.S. EPA grants to help Vermont communities clean up similar sites across the state.

Vermont is home to many properties contaminated as a result of historical uses. Brownfields can be difficult to redevelop, since the perceived risk of being held responsible for possible environmental contamination may discourage investment in their revitalization. Instead these properties and buildings deteriorate, becoming unsightly liabilities for the communities where they are located.

For developers, brownfields can be revenue generators. While it may take a bit longer to work through the required steps, sites with low or moderate levels of contamination can turn a tidy profit once redeveloped. Even sites with significant contamination can become profitable given the level of available incentives.

For communities, finding ways to encourage development in their downtowns provides many benefits. Removing the barriers to brownfield redevelopment returns properties to the tax rolls, improves adjacent property values and reduces the risk of suburban sprawl. Often, redeveloping existing structures preserves historic buildings that have influenced the development pattern of an area. Redeveloped brownfields almost always create jobs, first during the construction phase and then again as businesses, restaurants, health services and housing take the place of once abandoned and blighted space in the heart of the community.

On the other end of the spectrum, reusing existing space and structures preserves open space and working landscapes. Redeveloping in central locations reduces emissions of greenhouse gases by limiting the miles that people need to travel to work, shop or recreate. These projects are win-win for the residents; a liability is transformed to create a more livable, more sustainable community.

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