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  • 14 Jan 2021 2:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The New York City Brownfield Partnership is happy to announce we are accepting applications for the 2021 Big Apple Brownfield Awards! Winners will be notified in the Spring and we are hoping to recognize the outstanding projects at an in person awards event in the Fall of 2021.

    The Big Apple Brownfield Awards were created by the New York City Brownfield Partnership to highlight the most remarkable brownfield projects in New York City and the success of practitioners in the City’s brownfield industry each year. Please review the newly developed award categories for this year’s nominations here “2021 BABA Nomination Guildelines."

    The awards continue to celebrate and bring public attention to the most successful brownfield redevelopment projects, such as those that have used innovative remediation techniques, engaged the community positively, and demonstrated ingenuity in sustainability and green construction.

    The NYC Brownfield Partnership is now accepting applications for these prestigious industry awards. To submit an application, go here:


    All applications are due by Friday, February 19, 2021. No late submissions will be accepted.

    In order to be eligible for the 2021 Big Apple Brownfield Award, the project must:

    1. Be located within the five boroughs of New York City;
    2. Have been impacted by an environmental contamination issue;
    3. Have participated in an environmental remediation regulatory program; and
    4. Have received final regulatory signoff by December 31, 2020. Examples of final regulatory signoff include: Notice of Satisfaction, Notice of Completion, Certificate of Completion, Declaration of Covenant Not to Sue, or “No Further Action” letter.
  • 29 Dec 2020 9:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer 

    Brownfield stakeholders have learned to leverage the unique characteristics of brownfield properties contaminated with petroleum—such as former gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities—and convert them into beneficial new uses.

    Many of these characteristics, including property size, location and prior use, give petroleum brownfields special appeal and flexibility. Just one attractive use of petroleum brownfields is considering them an interim reuses while planning for a permanent, long-term reuse.

    Historically, the footprint of these sites has proven attractive through its flexibility in being considered across several practical end uses. That’s because most occupy relatively small parcels of land that are typically located along major roadways or intersections in neighborhoods. Small properties can be used for neighborhood amenities, including pocket parks (small urban parks frequently created on a single parcel), restaurants, senior housing, community centers, and more. 

    Properties can also be combined with other parcels to enable larger projects redevelopment strategy. Most of these redevelopment projects achieved success by:

    • Developing a strong vision for reuse;
    • Engaging the community to explore a property’s reuse potential;
    • Understanding and applying available financial and technical assistance resources; and
    • Building strong partnerships among the project team, community members and regulatory agencies throughout the entire life of the project.

    Of the estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S., approximately one-half are thought to be impacted by petroleum, much of it from leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at former gas stations. These sites blight the surrounding neighborhoods and threaten human health and the environment as petroleum contaminates groundwater.

    Petroleum brownfields, such as old abandoned gas stations, are being cleaned up and reused to the benefit of communities across the country. EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) and Brownfields Program jointly focus on the cleanup and reuse of petroleum-contaminated sites. The Brownfields Program awards brownfields grants for the assessment and cleanup of petroleum brownfields (e.g., those determined to be relatively low-risk priority).

    There was a time when a former retail fueling site would be re-imagined as the same reuse for future—tanks were in the ground and developers could not see doing the heavy lifting, including potential litigation, to convert them to non-fuel end use. A former fueling station was bound to become a future one as well. These times have changed with the advent of innovative cleanup practices helping change minds. 

    Take New York City: Dating back to 2017, NYC gas stations, targeted as development sites, saw 30 fueling stations disappear, which left only 50 open to the public in Manhattan—a number that is dwindling as bids for land grow, according to The New York Times. Numbers have not been updated but that number is sure to be even lower three years later. 

    Brooklyn also experienced the dwindling of retail fueling stations. In a 2017 report, the borough noted that a growing number of retail gas stations were anticipated to be lost in the coming two to three years, including fuel stops in Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Sunset Park.

  • 19 Oct 2020 10:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    If you missed the first Coronavirus Experiences webinar,  held jointly by BCONE and the NYCBP in September and entitled Back to the Burbs? Back to the Office?, please sign up for the 2nd part of the series being held on October 23, 2020 from 10am to 12:00 p, entitled Is Your Building Safe?  This webinar series will continue into 2021 to cover the growing number of topics of interest to our professions.

    The speakers at the September and October webinars have created a list of recent articles on the topics (included below).  Feel free to contribute to the list:  if you’ve written a recent article on the topic or if you’ve read something of interest, send the link to sboyle@geiconsultants.com and we’ll keep growing the Reading List. 


    A CrowdRx expert in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems did not find a single arraignment court in the city that was safe to be in, the report states : https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/ny-nyc-courthouses-crowdrx-report-unsafe-conditions-coronavirus-20201001-avpvzs435jd6xkxiuvq4z5cii4-story.html  Never heard of CrowdRx. They might become one of our potential speakers. 

    And check out piece on what some landlords are doing to make their buildings safe: https://www.nreionline.com/office/three-office-landlords-discuss-technologies-they-ve-implemented-protect-tenants-covid-19 

    Excerpt: “Silverstein Properties has also upgraded its ventilation systems in offices to MER-15 or 16, which is similar to what hospitals use to prevent the spread of infection and refers to the number of times recirculating air is filtered. The system also adds in fresh air from outdoors. Kerret says that an even higher ventilation standard, MER-16 or 18, has been adapted for elevators, making them safe for more than a few people at a time, as long as everyone is wearing a mask. According to the CDC, to become infected with the coronavirus, it takes time for exposure to 1,000 airborn particles. Elevators at Silverstein’s WTC properties travel at 1,600 feet per minute, so with MER-16 to 18 ventilation—similar to ventilation in operating rooms—mask-wearing passengers are unlikely to become infected as they will reach their floors within about a minute.”

    KBS has “deployed technology to help tenants make a seamless, safe transition back to the office as government mandates are lifted. This includes UV light, which kills viruses and bacteria, in HVAC systems and on surfaces in common areas, as well as touchless amenities and devices in shared spaces and high-traffic areas.”






    Home Sales Surge In Brooklyn: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/realestate/brooklyn-real-estate-sales.html

    Vermont Covid Transplants: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/coronavirus-vermont-transplants.html




    Converting Malls Into Distribution Centers

    Addressing the challenges of commercial property conversions.

    Sep 21, 2020

    Sponsored by Frank P. Crivello

    Simon Property Group, Inc., the largest shopping mall operator in the United States, has entered into talks with Amazon about converting unused shopping mall space into distribution centers (DCs), according to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal. With the retail sector expected to lose up to 25,000 stores in 2020, the Amazon news is only one small part of larger discussion about converting unused commercial spaces into much-needed industrial real estate. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused retail stores and offices to shut their doors, an e-commerce boom has left the U.S. logistics sector scrambling for access to additional distribution and cold storage space.

    On the surface, converting malls into DCs and warehouses seems like a great idea. Malls are conveniently located near population centers and tend to have spacious ceilings that should be well-suited to racking and material handling systems. As with any commercial property conversion, however, turning shopping mall units into DCs will not happen without overcoming some challenges.


    Shopping malls aren’t usually zoned for industrial use. Industrial facilities are loud and bring in a significant amount of heavy truck traffic. Zoning restrictions will vary widely at the state and local level depending on the mall’s geographic location. Convincing a planning board or city council to modify the land use permissions for a large commercial area such as a shopping mall may not be easy—especially if that mall is surrounded by residential properties. For some areas, the promise of jobs and economic stimulation may be enough to sway the decision-makers, but it’s likely that many areas will not be willing to rezone.


    While multi-tenant logistics facilities are nothing new, it’s rare for a distribution center to share a facility with retail tenants. The discussions between Amazon and Simon Property Group seem to be focused on occupying abandoned J.C. Penney and Sears stores. If the rest of the mall remains occupied by dozens or more retailers, new processes and planning will be required to mitigate the risk of negative business impacts.

    Here are some examples of potential problems that property owners would need to account for:

    •         A steady flow of large delivery vehicles and semi-trucks might make commercial shoppers nervous and deter them from visiting other stores in the mall complex.

    •         An industrial facility may have dozens or hundreds of employees on a single shift. Retailers in the mall would want owners to ensure those workers don’t monopolize preferential parking, while the DC tenant may prefer their employees to park close by.

    •         While mall security focuses on loss prevention and customer safety, security at a distribution center has different needs.

    While none of these issues are necessarily deal-breakers, it’s important that commercial property owners, existing retail tenants, and new industrial tenants address concerns up front to establish good business relationships.


    Though any new retail tenant in a mall would need to renovate the space to some degree, the level of renovation required to convert a former clothing retailer or electronics store into a functional distribution center would be more extreme. For example, concrete floors in retail stores may only be 3” to 4” thick while a warehouse may need to be 6” or more.  Parking lots and driveways also have the same potential issue; asphalt for a retail parking lot is not as thick as needed for constant heavy truck access. There may also be limitations to the type of equipment the industrial operator would be able to use. For example, installing conveyors or other permanent material handling systems may not be feasible. Fortunately, recent advances in picking robotics and wearable technologies might make it possible to implement automation without permanent installations. If the mall only has a single loading dock area for all tenants to share, a distribution center would likely monopolize that area with its stream of inbound and outbound shipments, so additional docks would need to be added.


    While there are certainly challenges, operating a DC out of a mall does have some benefits:

    •         The employees from the distribution center are likely to shop at stores in the mall on breaks and before and after work, which will be a boon to struggling businesses.

    •         Most malls are conveniently located within minutes of major highways and already have large, accessible parking lots. This should facilitate easy access for inbound and outbound truck drivers.

    •         If the mall has lost some of its large anchor tenants, it’s likely that the community will benefit from the jobs provided by a distribution center.

    About Phoenix Investors

    Founded by Frank P. Crivello in 1994, Phoenix Investors and its affiliates (collectively “Phoenix”) are a leader in the acquisition, development, renovation, and repositioning of industrial facilities throughout the United States. Utilizing a disciplined investment approach and successful partnerships with institutional capital sources, corporations, and public stakeholders, Phoenix has developed a proven track record of generating superior risk-adjusted returns, while providing cost-efficient lease rates for its growing portfolio of national tenants. Its efforts inspire and drive the transformation and reinvigoration of the economic engines in the communities it serves, currently encompassing over 30 million square feet. Phoenix continues to be defined by thoughtful relationships, sophisticated investment tools, cost-efficient solutions, and a reputation for success.







    From Peter Meyer, Ph.D. U of Louisville:

    The U.S. housing market, which has been a bright spot in the pandemic-battered economy, is running out of fuel.

    With buyers eager to take advantage of low mortgage rates, the inventory of homes to buy is scarce. That’s driving up prices and threatening to derail the boom by pushing homeownership out of reach for many Americans.

    For homebuilders, the huge demand for housing is an opportunity to crank up construction and solve the inventory crisis. Instead, some are deliberately slowing things down as they grapple with supply shortages, surging lumber costs and intense competition for labor and land.

    “It’s smart business,” said Gene Myers, chief executive of Thrive Home Builders in Denver. “But that means continued shortages and higher prices.”

    After the Covid-19 lockdowns in March brought sky-high unemployment, most builders expected a crash. What they got was a brief pause followed by a crush of buyers armed with the lowest interest rates on record and a burning desire for more space in the suburbs.

    Inventory shortage

    There was pent-up demand for housing when the pandemic hit, after a decade when builders mostly focused on the higher end of the market, constructing fewer, more expensive homes. Recently, they’d shifted focus to cheaper properties for the massive millennial generation now aging into homeownership.

    But with higher costs eating into profit margins, builders might once again chase the wealthy who want bigger homes with large yards and home offices. That comes as the inventory shortage has gotten even more acute.

    The supply of existing homes, shrinking for years, is at an all-time low. At August’s sales pace, it would take a little more than three months to run out of new homes for sale, the lowest level on record, according to government data dating back to 1963. That’s down from almost six months in February.

    Sales of existing homes jumped 10.5% in August compared with a year earlier, outpacing new home sales for the first time since 2015, according to Redfin. That came as fewer new homes were listed for sale.

    New home construction this year will hold steady at just under 900,000, about the same pace as in 2019, according to a projection by the National Association of Home Builders. For 2021, the industry group forecasts that starts will increase slightly but will be held back by the cost and availability of building materials.

    Lumber spike

    The trouble for builders is that vacant land takes about two years to be developed, a process slowed by local government regulations. Meanwhile, lumber prices are expected to add $16,000 to the cost of a typical house, according to the NAHB.

    They’ve risen because producers idled saw mills in the U.S. and Canada in March and still face timber shortages resulting from a beetle infestation and wildfires, said Joshua Zaret, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

    Homebuilders aren’t the only ones bidding up the price of wood. Quarantined families have been especially busy remodeling during the pandemic. This summer’s hurricanes and wildfires will also add to demand once the insurance checks start coming in.

    Slowing sales

    Builders can keep raising prices to stay ahead of costs, to a point, said John Burns, an Irvine-based real estate consultant. But some are raising them by as much as 2% a month, he said.

    “If that went on for two or three years, we’d be very concerned about affordability,” Burns said. “Every time prices go up, it’s great for homeowners and bad for the renter who aspires to be a homeowner.”

    Stocks of homebuilders have climbed in recent months as orders for new homes surge. The looming issue is that the demand for housing is outstripping supply at a time when construction has gotten more expensive.

    Lennar, the biggest builder by revenue, said it’s intentionally limiting sales to homes already under construction to avoid buying lumber at today’s high prices. The company says it’s trying to be patient, betting it can continue to hike prices to help offset the higher costs.

    “Sales could have been stronger with a singular focus on volume,” Stuart Miller, the company’s chairman, said on an Sept. 15 earnings call. “It is challenging at best to materially ramp production in this labor-constrained market, and it’s even more challenging to replace entitled land.”

    Wood shortage

    Alan Gerbus, a second-generation Cincinnati custom builder, is already in the hole on a house before he’s even started. He submitted a contract to his buyer in late June for an $800,000 house but his costs just for wood products jumped $25,000 by the time it was signed 40 days later.

    “The lumber supplier said he can’t honor that price,” Gerbus said. “I’m praying for the lumber prices to start falling by the time I’m ready for delivery.”

    Even if builders wanted to plow ahead, it’s hard to get wood these days. Robert Pool, co-owner of Main Street Lumber, a family business in Denison, Texas, that sells products to builders, said he had to turn down some new customers early in the lumber supply crisis because he wanted to be sure he’d have wood for his existing customers.

    Pool’s price for oriented strand board, widely used for roofs and siding, more than doubled to $24 a sheet in March, he said.

    “It hurts when you have to tell somebody no,” he said.

  • 18 Aug 2020 10:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer 

    Kate Abazis has a stated career goal to reduce urban sprawl by turning around brownfields, and is on track to become a geologist. 

    Emma Garrison is a firm believer that remediation and redevelopment can spark the introduction of new green technologies in order to build a brighter and more sustainable future for cities.

    Meantime, Taylor Hard advocates for brownfields as affordable housing end uses, as well as outlets to serve as emergency shelters, housing for military veterans and an overarching objective to “assist residents.” 

    These three young professionals are among seven of the most recent Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship Program recipients, an annual event designed to provide financial support to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the brownfield industry in New York City.

    The scholarship was named in honor of Ms. Duncan, an avid environmentalist, talented dancer and tireless community supporter who died in 2010. 

    The scholarship awardees, along with three of the other four recipients, joined Partnership board members for a Zoom video conference in mid-July to discuss how the scholarship money will enable them to further their career paths as urban redevelopment change-makers—the new generation of brownfield practitioners. 

    On the Zoom call representing the Partnership were President Ernie Rossano, Vice President: Ezgi Karayel, Treasurer Michele Rogers, Secretary Laura Senkevitch, and Executive Director Susan Boyle. 

    The team asked broader questions of the recipients about their studies and how they were coping within the COVID-19 pandemic era. The conversation dovetailed into urban redevelopment and, for Kate Abazis (CUNY Queens College, Master of Science in Applied Environmental Geosciences), the region where she went to college,  Broome County, N.Y., saw large employer-corporations such as IBM depart the area and also leave heavy contamination in its wake. 

    In the county, the city of Binghamton, N.Y. is turning a very long and twisting corner with the recent launch of a construction project that will ultimately be a $20.5-million affordable housing development at Canal Plaza. The project is poised to deliver 48 apartments and new commercial space—built on a former brownfield and answering a regional need for quality and affordable housing. 

    To Kate, “Broome County is a beautiful part of New York state but the economic potential of the region went unnoticed for too long. Recently Binghamton University became a recipient of the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program and several new businesses have opened nearby. I believe that remediation and redevelopment of the brownfields in Broome county are the key to revitalizing the region for the long term and reducing urban sprawl. This would also decrease the reliance on the university as the sole source of funds, building a stronger community.”

    In addressing pollution and remediation of contaminants, the “transformation of brownfields is a burden on local communities that entails time, money and many agencies to fix the problem. It may be difficult to convince companies to address the issue in a community that might not have immediate economic potential.”

    The trend of potential developers cutting and running is a sad narrative across the U.S. “Companies might not want to address the issue for fear of being blamed for the problem. It is imperative that these regions are cleaned up and reused instead of moving industries to greenfields where issues can expand,” Kate states. 

    Emma Garrison (CUNY Queens College, Earth and Environmental Sciences career path pursing a master of arts degree in geological and environmental science) talked about sites in her New York community as case studies for younger students to learn about themes such as biodiversity and green infrastructure. 

    Emma has a vast interest in rectifying NYC pollution that greatly impacts local organisms and ecosystems, and how these ecosystems are able to cope with the stressors of wide-ranging carbon impacts, but also how using data can help produce better resiliency in future designs.

    Taylor Hard (CUNY, Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, pursing a master’s degree in public health) has closely been watching the collaborative efforts between the public/private partnership to generate brownfield opportunity—with end result being projects that are cost effective and protective.

    Taylor has an inside track about the process: She works for the New York City Mayor’s office within the Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), and spoke on Zoom about wanting to become more involved in tackling urban air pollution and carbon reductions, with an emphasis on mitigating lead exposure later found in children. The remedy would start with a “multi-disciplinary approach to tackling this issue,” Taylor said.  

    Taylor detailed solutions to reconcile the financial risks of a project and the potential rewards that can be realized. It’s a chronic issue when documenting the many projects nationwide that start but are later aborted, but then perhaps jump-started again under new development regimes. 

    She also talked about the State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) and the way the best and most savvy developers have been able to maximize tax credits to use for remediation purposes. Drilling down further this effort was recently spotlighted as a Partnership blog and how BCP has evolved over the years, marked by better accountability and overall efficiency. 

    Following are snapshots of four other Abbey Duncan scholarship recipients and some insights into where they have been and where they hope to go. 

    Francesca King

    Pursuing a degree in Applied Environmental Geoscience. She is currently employed with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in the Water Resources Group as a Public Health Sanitarian.

    Francesca spoke about the legal liability of businesses for their role in contamination and about the drinking water contamination crisis. “Many businesses go to great lengths to avoid the liability, which makes the push forward counter-productive. My primary responsibility is the enforcement of the sanitary code on businesses that utilize private wells as a drinking water source. I also assist with the private well survey program, and find this work to be the most rewarding. If a potential drinking water contaminant is identified, our group goes door-to-door notifying homeowners and collecting water samples.” 

    Francesca finds that “one of the main challenges with brownfield site redevelopment is legal liability, especially concerning the funding for remediation. This is most evident with the controversies and lawsuits concerning emerging contaminants, such as PFOAs and 1,4-dioxane,” she said. 

    Michelle Ren 

    (New York University, pursuing a civil engineering degree) 

    Michelle decided to major in civil engineering because “it would allow me to have the tools and knowledge to understand impacts of structural and environmental improvements. However, I am interested in eventually becoming an environmental engineer in order to contribute to the efforts in solving pressing concerns around providing access to clean water.”

    Her long-term interest lies in designing and enacting cost-efficient and practical solutions to water pollution “while also making clean water accessible to struggling communities. This also means finding ways to protect existing water resources such as groundwater, which can be contaminated if they lie under brownfields. Working as an environmental engineer would give me the opportunity to not only pursue my passions in improving the environment but also contribute to the health and living standards of my community.” 

    Claire Siegrist 

    (NYU, pursuing a master of science in Environmental Science)

    As an Assistant Project Manager with GBTS, Claire has assisted in managing multiple remedial investigations and remedial actions in New York and New Jersey. “I have overseen the in-situ chemical oxidation of chlorinated volatile organic compounds, petroleum spill delineation through soil borings and laser-induced fluorescence, and the in-situ solidification/stabilization of purifier waste and coal tar contaminants at two parcels within the former Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant.” 

    Through her work at GBTS, Claire continues to expand her managerial skills and portfolio of contaminated sites. “My fascination, however, lies in the science of contaminant fate and transport and the design of cleanup actions,” she says. 

    Kennly Weerasinghe

    (CUNY Queens College Biology, Geological and Environmental Studies)

    Kennly’s goals in starting and completing the MA program “is to become well versed in hydrogeological field work, laboratory work and modelling techniques. With the acquired data, I want to be able to write and publish a thesis related to an aspect of environmental remediation with respect to water and soil contamination.” 

    Upon completing her graduate studies at CUNY Queens College, she plans on either continuing her education in a PhD program or pursuing a career in the private or public sector related to environmental remediation.

    “Brownfield sites are impacted by the real or perceived environmental contamination present and the associated challenges with respect to remediation strategies,” she says. “These sites exhibit contamination by compounds such as lead, petroleum spills, PCBs, PAHs and VOCs. The contaminants found at these sites may pose a significant health risk to individuals through prolonged exposure and thus render brownfield sites unsuitable for residential and or commercial use in its present condition. The physical and chemical properties of the contaminants and the degree of contaminant penetration at the sites often complicate remediation efforts.”

    Over the next year, we will try and stay in touch with the seven scholarship recipients as they blaze their respective trails in becoming the future spear carriers for this industry in New York City and New York State.

  • 11 Jun 2020 11:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Susan E. Golden and Hilary G. Atzrott, Venable LLP

    Local Law 97 of New York City's Climate Mobilization Act requires certain buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2024. The City is moving forward to implement the law, although certain elements have been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. Venable's prior summary of Local Law 97 is available here.


  • 10 Jun 2020 2:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer 

    New York State brownfield stakeholders received  a “report card” about the 17-year-old Brownfield Cleanup Program, a report that shone a light on the program’s tax credit distribution trends—a mechanism that developers are able to apply for and obtain to enable winning projects. 

    Michael Murphy, on the New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation team, presented “Brownfield Cleanup Program by the Numbers” as a program presented jointly by the Environmental and Energy Law Section of the New York State Bar Association and Environmental Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York last December. Many New York City Brownfield Partnership Board members planned and/or attended the event and wanted to share this information with our membership.  We appreciate the approval from Mr. Murphy and the Section and Committee of the Bar Association to do just that.

    The session provided an inside look at the State’s program, and the verdict delivered by Murphy is that the BCP, established in 2003, is “demonstrating continued strength.” New York State brownfield stakeholders on both the public and private side concur that the BCP has significantly evolved over its lifetime. 

    David J. Freeman, Director, Environmental Law Department, Gibbons P.C., New York City, remarks that DEC’s attitude toward the BCP program has significantly evolved over time. “DEC’s view has swung from being a big proponent of the program (immediately after its initial enactment), to viewing it as a problem and keeping sites out of it via ‘eligibility criteria,’ to having a more balanced view—being generally supportive of it but conservative as to the amount of  tax creditable expenses being authorized by Decision Documents

    Julia Martin, Esq., a partner with Bousquet Holstein PLLC, considers BCP a critical piece of the redevelopment tapestry in the Empire State—both across downstate New York City regions as well as upstate. A recent trend: there’s been a growing emphasis on tax credit dollars directed to developers championing Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOAs) and affordable housing projects, both powerful endgames to drive social and economic change.   

    Martin says the BCP has created critical resources for the brownfield redevelopment community to not just survive but to thrive. Lenders can approve loans more readily when they see that their borrower-customers can gain access to state-sponsored tax credits via ambitious, forward-thinking reimbursement templates for riskier sites. Project developers are able to more confidently throw their hat into the ring in the first place, and develop sites within the urban infill for these projects—all the while knowing they have a higher level of financial insulation. 

    “With each new classification of site generation [there are three classifications, Generation 1 through 3] the state has made a case to make BCP enhancement, and that’s seen through the narrowing the program focus,” comments Martin.  

    Martin believes that the tax credit distribution process has evolved to where stakeholders of Gen 3 sites are seeing tax credits flow their way within a restructured BCP where tax credits are commensurate with contamination levels. To wit, footprints with high incidence of contamination, and subsequent remediation work are eligible to receive tax credit allocations that match the remediation work necessary. On the flipside, lower remediation work means fewer tax credit allowances.

    Inside The Numbers 

    During the December presentation, Murphy of DEC provided a snapshot of the BCP program, starting with a broad summary of brownfield redevelopment credits from 2005 through 2018. Drilling down, redevelopment claimed costs and credits showed total costs amassed $12.99 billion over the period while credits distribution amassed $1.98 billion, or 15.25%.

    Crunching the numbers of total costs and credits for “on-site preparation” showed costs of $1.45 billion and tax credits $421 million, or 28.87%. “Tangible property component” saw costs reach $11.46 billion and tax credits of $1.54 billion, or 13.47%. “Onsite groundwater remediation” costs came to $71.5 million and credits of $16.5 million, or 23.15%. 

    Articulated across the nine New York State regions, Murphy said there’s a total average of $5.01 million in redevelopment credits per certificate of completion (COC). Of all regions, Region 4 (the greater Albany area) amassed $15.1 million in redevelopment credits while smaller New York State areas such as Region 6 fetched $147,000 in credits. Region 2 (New York City and the five boroughs) landed second with $7.7 million in credits.

    Last December, Murphy with DEC presented data indicating that redevelopment credits per the three generations saw Generation 1 site classifications garner $1.07 billion in credits, or 13.92% of the total pie, while Generation 3 accumulated only $16.37 million of tax credits—a far smaller sum. However, while the total credit sum was smaller for Gen 3 the tax credit money registered at a higher percentage—34.39%. Gen 2 sites were in the middle, receiving $885 million in credits, or 17.06%.

    The indication is that Gen 1 had historically over time received a significant amount of tax credit dollars for a fewer number of very large properties, while Gen 3 received fewer tax credit dollars spread out across far more smaller-size properties.  

    “Years ago, there were brownfield developments that received tens of millions of dollars where the cleanup was very minimal,” says Freeman. “This was because the initial tax credit scheme allowed tax credits as a right for all development expenses for any site that was admitted into the program.” 

    DEC responded with a set of “eligibility criteria” that attempted to address this issue by artificially keeping sites out of the program, says Freeman. “A series of cases, culminating in the Lighthouse Pointe decision by the Court of Appeals, ultimately struck down these criteria as not authorized by the Brownfield Cleanup Act.  But the Legislature took matters into its own hands and, in both 2008 and 2015, amended that Act to limit the generosity of the tax credit scheme.” 

    Martin of Bousquet Holstein advises brownfield stakeholders to better comprehend the benefits of the tax credits and other economic development incentives available for brownfields. The law firm has represented redevelopment projects in New York State with an estimated construction value exceeding $5 billion, which will generate BCP tax credits well over $750 million.

    Drilling down, here are some highlights pulled out of context: 

    Affordable housing emphasis. In May 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the landmark $20 billion, five-year plan to combat homelessness and advance construction of affordable housing in New York State, marking the largest investment in the creation and preservation of affordable housing—all underpinned by the quest to end homelessness in New York. In an “Affordable Housing Preservation” line item, $146 million had been earmarked for substantial or moderate rehabilitation of existing affordable multi-family rental housing currently under a regulatory agreement.

    The line item has incentivized developers and their partners, and is accelerating at a robust level.  Developers can indeed reap the benefits in championing affordable housing developments, witnessed by an accelerated tax credit outlay if they meet certain spelled-out criteria set forth in the revised BCP accord.

    In Murphy of DEC’s PowerPoint presentation, a slide entitled “redevelopment credits per generation” listed three generations but also integrated BOAs and affordable housing sites as separate line items. Affordable housing projects saw total tax credits rise to $7.9 million while BOAs accumulated tax credits of $23.2 million over the period. 

    Martin of Bousquet Holstein says that “BOAs are designated areas where a community organization conducts a study and a redevelopment blueprint is established—a vision for the area,” Martin says. “Some BOAs could establish affordable housing as part of the blueprint. Perhaps the end use mandates a retail component, such as mall or grocery store.”

    She says that some BOA guidelines expressly mandate that X percent of the overall project be set aside for affordable housing. Developers must adhere to the BOA blueprint to maximize their tax credit positions. 

    Cost-containment principles produce accountability. The BCP has evolved to where Gen 3 tax credit distribution is held to more stringent standards. Program accountability has been fortified, and an example is the “necessary cost” aspect—buttoning that down by proving that costs are necessary. 

    Regional trends. Murphy revealed that per nine New York State regions and taking into account certificates of completion (COCs), the average per COC amounted to $5 million. Across all regions sees varying levels of brownfield work taking shape. In Region 2 (NYC), tax credit outlays over the years has been significant due to the density of the metro footprint. Region 4 (the greater Albany) has also been the beneficiary of tax credit reimbursement over the years due to an aggressive push for smart growth in that area. The same applies to Region 9, which encompasses Buffalo, which has been undergoing a significant amount of brownfield work over the past few years.

    Being cognizant of tax credits. A burning question is: Are developers and other stakeholder even aware they’re potentially eligible for credits? Getting the word out is paramount. In Regions such as 5 and 6, which have seen less robust tax credit allotments over the years, it could be a case of scale—fewer projects are undertaken in regions that have less square mile bandwidth. But, it could be a case of developers not being aware of the BCP tax credit program, thus they avoid pursuing projects there.    

    End use development trends.  When taking a snapshot of the type of end uses that have been executed, the trend has seen a preponderance of “restricted residential” projects—amassing 164 in all. Simply put, these are sites where there are terms and conditions underpinning what can be developed. Commercial projects topped 130, unrestricted 56, industrial 21 and “residential” 19. 

    Lessons learned through experience. Industry participants have learned much over 17 years. Clearly at the outset and reflecting Generation 1 projects, developers walked away with large tax credit sum. The program has evolved where equity and balance have been implemented into the system.  

    Going forward, there are to date 44.7% of “active” BCP sites having received a certificate of completion. The average time from BCP application to completion is about 4.5 years, according to Murphy’s presentation. COCs that are wrapped up quicker more than likely occurred as stakeholders learned to navigate the process more nimbly.

    “The average time between site admission and issuance of a COC has been calculated by DEC as 4.7 years,” says Freeman. “However, that number is likely to be inflated by some of the early sites, which took 10 or more years to obtain their COCs. A more typical time frame, particularly for more recent sites, is 2 to 3 years from admission to COC issuance.”

    There were 67 sites in the DEC department pipeline awaiting COCs by the end of 2019, with 37 in the Gen 3 bucket and 27 within Gen 2, which is consistent with a trend that sees Gen 1 sites “sunsetting” over time and Gen 3 rising up and dominating the BCP landscape. 

    As Martin of Bousquet Holstein concludes: “The Gen 1 sites were pretty progressive [back in 2003] where developers, within the public-private partnership, were driving change within communities. From the start it was a novel approach to create more redevelopment of impoverished sites. Over time, the BCP has been greatly refined to intensify the focus on economically challenging areas.” 

  • 3 Jun 2020 2:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer

    You can’t miss the simple but powerful two-word calling card embossed on Gil Lopez’s email stamp: “In SOIL-idarity.” This speaks volumes about the way Lopez is hard wired toward championing environmental reform within the New York City urban infill. 

    An evangelist for all things environmental justice, Lopez, co-founder and president of Smiling Hogshead Ranch, was named the 2020 NYC Brownfield Partnership’s “Distinguished Service Award” recipient. “I moved here with determination and rigor to move the needle further on community greening,” declares Lopez. “Back then the community garden idea had really been stagnant.”

    That sure has changed. The Big Apple boasts more than 450 community gardens, most a fixture of city living. There was a time they bordered on extinction. In the late 1990s, city officials, seeking revenue, planned to auction off vacant lots—including more than a hundred community gardens—to the highest bidder.

    These days, every borough plays host to at least one urban farm—just two of many include GrowNYC (21,000-square-foot urban garden filled with vegetable beds made from recycled materials) and the Battery Urban Farm (one acre in the 25-acre Battery Park dedicated to growing more than 100 types of vegetables).  

    Nominated by NYCBP board member Laura Senkevitch, who had partnered with Gil while at Long Island City-based The Fortune Society, Lopez’s selection was unanimous—and for a host of reasons. “Gil envisions brownfields as a connector to the greater good,” says Senkevitch. “I’ve worked with him a long time and have understood his vision. He sees the urban/community garden as a future-forward concept—really a larger ‘macro’ vision and not just about brownfield environmental remediation, but about building connections for the future.”

    The acclaimed environmental educator and landscape designer was the principal behind what at the time was dubbed a “guerilla urban garden” ensconced on a former railroad bed in Long Island City, and launched almost a decade ago. In that period, Lopez helped transform the green space into a bona fide community centerpiece that’s the fabric of LIC. 

    States Senkevitch: “Gil explained his vision for brownfield remediation and the role of the garden. He wanted to partner with community people, and over the course of 10 years so much has been accomplished—hosting interns to learn composting, establishing synergistic partnerships, engaging with students, and so much more.” 

    This complemented The Fortune Society well, as the community-based organization strives to strengthen the fabric of communities through education and advocacy to create a fair, humane and rehabilitative correctional system—and also trains their jobseekers in the skills needed to succeed in environmental careers.

    These attributes—and others—are done as a common thread pervades the urban garden: That is, to build civic and neighborhood pride, offering LIC residents something to be proud of and to become invested in. 

    Multitude of Benefits 

    Establishing itself as a non-for-profit entity provided leverage for Lopez to generate funding and power up its engines. Today, the green space is armed with a multitude of returns: It serves as an instruction incubator for many New York City K-12 students; a job provider noted for hiring many individuals, including those who have been released from correctional facilities and crave a second chance; a vital destination for folks to compost food and other waste so waste material doesn’t see the light of landfills.   

    Lopez, who moved to New York City in 2010, mastered permaculture design concepts in landscape architecture school, establishing a keen interest in productive landscapes. In 2011, he along with a group of LIC neighbors established the guerilla garden concept on a set of abandoned railroad tracks—a shuttered line at the Montauk Cutoff and owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He negotiated with MTA to secure a garden license agreement for the property around the time his outfit secured non-profit status. Previously, there hadn’t been a framework for leasing the property, but the not-for-profit stamp helped put everything in motion.  

    The footprint required environmental remediation, as one could imagine on a former railroad property laced with cadmium, arsenic and other trace material. Work commenced to clear, clean, design and utilize the lot. Lopez identified trace materials on the property and established a remediation course that encompassed removal, capping, in-Situ remediation and more techniques to address the pollution—also underpinned by a green and sustainable cleanup mentality. (The efforts have been heralded in a number of forums—recently featured in the Natural Farmer publication.)

    All efforts occurred with a wave of historical inspiration driving Lopez, unwavering to recognize the local pioneers of urban and community gardens tracing to the 1970s. “Their names are not recorded in our history but they championed the community garden concept, and I stand on the shoulders of these giants that came before me,” Lopez says. 

    He singled out Hattie Carthan, who worked tirelessly from her Hattie Carthan Food Projects in Central Brooklyn, an educational herb farm to promote use of herbs for holistic individual, communal and environmental health—all within the principle of fostering food justice. 

    Another was the First Community Garden in New York City helmed by Liz Christy, a local resident who with a group of gardening activists were known as the “Green Guerillas.” They planted window boxes, vacant lots with seed bombs and tree pits in the area. 

    The coalition saw the large rubble-strewn lot as a potential garden, and petitioned the city to find a way to gain official use of the land. In 1974, the site was approved for rental as the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden. Not long after, the Green Guerillas were running workshops and planting experimental plots to learn how a wide range of plants could be grown in hostile conditions. The garden became a site for many plant giveaways, where plants grown on-site, donated from nurseries and local gardeners, were bestowed to aid new gardens all over the City. 

    New Normal 

    Senkevitch of NYCBP recalls how Lopez’s ranch was armed from the outset with a multi-dimension vision that transcended brownfield remediation, because this vision was about the long play: Potential uses of sites and imagining what they could be and establishing the ranch as a model for other community garden ventures. “Gil’s company went from being a volunteer-centric entity to non-profit so it could get access to loans, grants, establish a board of directors,” she says.  

    The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way he has gone about business. In regular times, Lopez hosted “Terrific Tuesday” events, sharing pot luck dinners and scheduling spring planting events in April.  

    His composting effort is a prolific one to be reckoned with, as it deploys seven different composting systems. But with the COVID-19 health crisis hitting hard in March, the dynamic shifted. The NYC Compost Project was geared to provide mega-composting capability for residents and more, handling and dispersing large amounts of material. 

    But since March, that service was interrupted. Stepping into to try and fill the void was Lopez’ operation, which suddenly became “inundated with composted volume. It’s hard to handle this deluge of demand,” he says.  

    Historically the non-for-profit designation also provided his outfit with an opportunity to better partner with schools: until the pandemic hit it was known to host field trips of 40 to 50 students from local schools, where they toured the farm to see demonstrations on composting and were introduced to the idea of what makes a successful community garden. 

    “We are education-focused, and hosted school groups to teach them about food. Now we have had to rethink how to do that in a different way, remotely,” he says. 

    Lopez remarks that there’s a keen distinction between the concept of “urban agriculture” and “urban/community garden.” With his involvement in championing the latter model, urban gardens are about reclaiming space, but urban agriculture might place an emphasis on pure agriculture and output—a more rigid approach. It capitalizes on using the space but does not pay a living wage and might even export foods, he explains. 

    As he sums up his journey, which—as Robert Frost so eloquently wrote, has many miles before he sleeps—Lopez states the obvious: “I am part of the working class. Over the years, there has been a slow creep to the community garden paradigm.”

    Gil Lopez is seeing to it that the paradigm reaches a higher level, if not the pinnacle. 

  • 11 May 2020 11:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The NYC Brownfield Partnership is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Big Apple Brownfield Awards. Click here to download the pdf file with all the details on the winning projects.

  • 7 Jan 2020 11:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Big Apple Brownfield Awards (BABAs) promote excellence in brownfield redevelopment by honoring successful brownfield projects in New York City. To nominate your project for the 2020 BABAs, please click here. The deadline for submitting an application is Friday, February 14, 2020.

  • 7 Jan 2020 11:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer

    In the fall, the New York City Council passed a $1.7 billion plan to expand protected bike lanes as part of an effort to overhaul the city’s streetscape.

    The plan aims to create a comprehensive reimagining of how roads can best serve all New Yorkers navigating them. Spearheaded by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and recently backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, this follows a sharp spike in cyclist deaths this year—25 so far, a two-decade peak, and more than double the 10 recorded in 2018. 

    Overhauling the city streetscape and fostering a plan to promote bike transportation has a brownfield redevelopment connection, all within transportation-oriented developments, or TODs. Beyond the safety aspects, the legislation seeks to overhaul how New Yorkers bike, bus and walk through the five boroughs by requiring the city to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over a five-year period. It also calls for one million square feet of new pedestrian space within the first two years, along with new signaling technology and accessibility upgrades throughout the city.

    Under the bill, the city’s Department of Transportation is required to release a plan every five years to make street safety improvements and to prioritize public transit. The city must also hit annual targets, conduct public education on the effort and issue a report on any changes to the plan each February. The first master plan is due December 2021, with the second slated for 2026. The latter is set to complete the city’s bike lane network—something transportation advocates have long demanded.

    Using a broad lens, a TOD-oriented blueprint within the urban infill is continuing to gather momentum each year across many major metro areas as a growing number of people, from millennials to boomers, transition to city living—boomers after downsizing homes and millennials often to be closer to work. It’s all part of the “live-work-play” dynamic. 

    TODs have much upside: They are an environmental boon as it reduces the carbon footprint as fewer people are inclined to drive because it means easier navigation within the grid across bike, light rail, electric scooter and walking. People drive less when TODs are executed to the letter and it also sparks the local economy. As people get to places quicker, which include local businesses, they can spend additional disposable income and spark the local economy.  

    A growing number of developers, many brownfield professionals, are initiating mixed-used projects that start with perhaps an anchor multi-unit living complex that’s built minus enclosed or open-air parking. That’s the point: Build out the project to attract folks who are expressly seeking NOT to drive because they developed a propensity for alt-transportation. 

    New York City lawmakers that support this ambitious plan emphasize that the effort is not a push toward eliminating cars from the city, but instead is a shift away from car-centric design with safety improvements geared toward improving quality of life and safety on city streets for all.

    Far from everyone is on board with the legislation, and several city lawmakers complained in late October about how the bill lacks community engagement for the changes that are coming to New Yorkers’ neighborhoods. 

    The de Blasio administration has completed 100 miles of protected bike lane since 2014, and in August the mayor unveiled a $58.4 million “Green Wave” plan that seeks to build safe cycling infrastructure and promote biking. The master streets plan takes the effort further with a more aggressive push toward making streets friendly to pedestrians and public transit.

    This is all a testament to TOD-oriented projects, which seem to fly under the radar from a brownfield redevelopment standpoint. But they are powerful catalyst for habit-changing and to stimulate economic, environmental and social change. 

    This month, we’ll take a closer look at the same brand of under-the-radar brownfields—the power of urban garden programs and the bandwidth it might have for greater expansion in New York City and beyond. Stay tuned. 

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