When it comes to Brownfield redevelopment, a multi-disciplinary approach that leverages civil engineering know-how alongside creative environmental strategies will add value and deliver a better designed project.

As construction activity continues to pick up, more developers are focusing their efforts on leveraging opportunities offered by infill development.  Infill development is widely seen as a solution to urban sprawl, accommodating urban growth and revitalizing neighborhoods.  But using underutilized land, also known as Brownfield sites, for residential and commercial development brings unique challenges: many such projects are on sites with long histories and a high potential for environmental impacts, and innovative remediation techniques are needed to adequately manage risks. 

In order to achieve the best return on investment, Brownfield developers must not only manage liability risks but should also utilize smart design to revitalize and improve value of the site. To do this successfully, smooth interplay between environmental and civil engineering efforts is required.

Brownfields: the Risks and Opportunities

Environmental Issues

Brownfield redevelopment carries specific environmental risk and liability concerns.  In order to confidently take on an impacted site, environmental risk must be adequately managed and mitigated. Depending on historical onsite operations most Brownfield sites will require site demolition, remediation or restoration activities.  A site-specific geophysical study, including the collection of soil and soil gas samples, will delineate the extent of contamination and determine the clean-up efforts.  A multidisciplinary approach is often needed to achieve full site closure:  in three recent cases, Partner’s Land Surveying team played an instrumental role by delineating the boundary of contaminated areas prior to a cap being put in place; creating a detailed topographic survey of contaminated material piles; and quantifying the amount of contaminated materials removed.

Regulations and Incentives

Legislation pertinent to the cleanup of Brownfield sites is extensive (on both a Federal and State level) and in order to manage liability risks developers must understand the various regulatory forces that apply to a particular project.  

To encourage the restoration of Brownfield sites, numerous financial initiatives are available to offset the costs of assessments and cleanup (see this EPA guide for more information about available tax breaks for example).  Engaging a knowledgeable consultant who can manage the grant application process, acquire all relevant permits, and ensure that the demolition, excavation and disposal process, as well as all land development activities conform to applicable Federal, state, and local regulations and criteria will help developers mitigate risk and maximize ROI.   

Site Civil Engineering

Once cleaned up, Brownfield sites offer great opportunity to improve property value through smart land development, such as sustainable design or innovative landscaping.  Again, a multidisciplinary approach that leverages civil expertise will deliver the best results.  In a recent example, Partner’s land development team was able to secure HUD refinancing for a contaminated property:  an environmental investigation performed by Partner determined that historic contamination was present and a remedial work action plan was required.  HUD rejected the owner’s idea of installing a chain link fence around lawn areas, instead requesting a more “aesthetically pleasing” solution.  Working within a very tight time-frame and budgetary constraints so as not to compromise the deal, Partner’s landscape architects worked with the owner to develop a creative solution that provided a combination of fencing and cap solutions such as concrete asphalt and clean fill.  This plan was economically viable to the owner, and satisfied HUD refinancing requirements.

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Improve Value, Close Deals and Capture Market Opportunities

Engaging a consultant with in-house capability to address all challenges relating to Brownfield redevelopment – from due diligence, to environmental remediation, to the design and construction phases – and with an understanding of how environmental and civil issues affect each other will improve value, help close deals and capture market opportunities.

A multidisciplinary firm will be able to synchronize efforts and provide better solutions.  The ability to share data and information collected between internal teams can provide further time and cost-savings for the client.  I will be discussing how environmental remediation and site civil efforts should align in Brownfields development at the upcoming Sustainable Property Transactions RTM Conference in Philadelphia on October 7-9 this year.  To find out more or register for the conference see here .