When dealing with contaminated properties in residential and commercial settings, many developers are leveraging the cleanup process not just to achieve site closure, but also to improve the property value. The trend in property remediation has gone from simply covering up the problem or blocking it off to a more organic and visually appealing way of dealing with contamination. From an environmental perspective, the main concern is to perform all of the actions required in the Remedial Action Plan. For owners and lenders, there is more of a long term benefit in improving the final appearance of the property and its perception within the community.

When performing a Property Condition Assessment or Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, there is always the possibility of uncovering adverse findings for the property owner. One of these common issues is contaminated soils that pose a potential threat to human health, resulting in the inability to develop residential or commercial properties on the site. Environmental engineers are often up against stringent regulations when performing the remediation of potential contaminants found during the environmental site assessment. (My colleague Ken Sisk will speak about some of the opportunities and risks associated with the redevelopment of contaminated land at the upcoming RTM conference: more about that here)

Innovative Approaches Pay Off

There are a variety of ways to remediate a contaminated site, including the construction of a capping system or segregation of the materials but they tend to be purely functional, not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Banks, lenders, and some agencies like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD and federal and state EPAs, may require that consultants come up with inventive solutions to meet both standards: cleaning up the site while also revitalizing the surroundings. Landscape architects and environmental engineers can work together to develop innovative environmental solutions within comprehensive regulatory parameters.

For a refinance, an owner may need to think outside the box to fulfill the requirements as part of a remedial work plan. The main challenge is to develop a plan that is economically viable to the owner without compromising the closing of the loan. An organization like HUD may not be receptive to a proposal of installing lots of concrete and curbing to contain ‘contaminated’ areas within a residential property. Instead, a more comprehensive site development plan that not only satisfies regulations but provides aesthetically pleasing landscape solutions may be required.

In lieu of satisfying the minimum requirements of a particular restoration project one may opt for a more naturalistic approach by incorporating regenerative landscapes such as meadows , gardens, and woodlands. These sustainable solutions create viable ecosystems that will beautify and increase property values. A diverse range of landscape solutions such as ornamental fencing, concrete, asphalt, clean fill, and natural vegetative elements can be utilized in place of conventional capping or chain link options.

By employing these inventive techniques, environmental engineers and landscape architects are able to work in concert to ensure the requirements of the loan are met and that the owner gains an increased aesthetic and financial value to the property.