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EPA, Georgia EPD encourage Tucker Development Authority to pursue brownfield revitalization

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EPA, Georgia EPD encourage Tucker Development Authority to pursue brownfield revitalization

L to R, Tucker City Council member Anne Lerner, DDA board member Kermit Hairston, DDA board member Honey Van De Kreke, DDA board chair Brian Chambers, DDA Vice Chair Crayton Langford, DDA board member Bruce Penn. Photo by Sara Amis

Tucker, GA — The Tucker Downtown Development Authority devoted its March 6 meeting mostly to gathering information and laying groundwork for the future, including discussions of best practices for real estate purchases, a planned facade grant program, a brief update on Tucker’s new economic development plan, and a presentation on brownfield revitalization.

Project Manager Camilla Warren from the Environmental Protection Agency and Brownfield Coordinator Shannon Ridley from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division described their agencies’ respective brownfield programs.

“Brownfield” is a term used to describe a former industrial site where future use may be affected by real or perceived environmental contamination. Smaller sites, such as abandoned gas stations and large manufacturing complexes, are considered brownfield candidates.

Warren pointed out that the Atlanta Beltline, Pullman Yard, and Ponce City Market are all brownfield revitalization projects.

EPA Region 4, which includes the entire southeast, was awarded $3 million from the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  The money is used to do targeted brownfield assessments (TBA) to provide detailed information about a site.

Any piece of property that is abandoned and has been used in the past for activities that could possibly create contamination is eligible for a TBA. The assessment will determine whether contamination is present.

Warren emphasized that the goal was to encourage revitalization, not find culprits. “It’s voluntary technical assistance, not regulatory. If we find a problem, we’ll deal with it, but you [as the city] are not the owner,” Warren said.

Phase 1 of an environmental site assessment is a report based on historical information about previous uses of land. Phase 2 is sending out teams to evaluate sites based on the initial report and collect soil and water samples.

The result will be a very detailed report, including maps and lab analysis. “All the information you could ever want but don’t want to pay for,” Warren said.

As an example of what can be done with that information, Warren showed photos of an old gas station on Columbia Drive in Decatur that is now a park with a rain garden. The park is owned by a non-profit and maintained by the Friends School.

Warren said that the EPA does not do cleanups, but will offer a list of cleanup options and cost estimates. Warren said that Decide DeKalb Development Authority has a budget for cleanup projects and other grant sources are available as well.

Ridley said that Georgia’s Brownfields Program is designed to provide incentives to purchasers of contaminated property in order to encourage redevelopment. Incentives include liability protection; the new owner is not liable to the state for groundwater cleanup or to third party claims for damages from prior contamination. Tax incentives are available to offset cleanup costs.

The new owner must not have a close personal or business relationship to the entity that created the contamination, and the protections and tax incentives are transferable but cannot be transferred to entities responsible for contamination.

The program requires a corrective action plan or an initial compliance report, and the new owner must apply before purchasing the property or within 30 days.

The Georgia EPD issues a certification letter, which the owner can then take to the local taxing authority. Typically, taxes are frozen at the value of the property when it was purchased, until costs of cleanup are recouped.

“I’ll tell you that in the city of Atlanta, they are recouping the costs in a year because the value of the property goes up that quickly,” said Ridley.

Ridley said that the EPD’s program like the EPA’s is voluntary and brownfield purchasers are viewed as partners. The goal of the EPD’s program is to provide incentives for lots of types of redevelopment, from greenspace to industrial reuse.

In other business:

— Tucker’s Deputy City Manager John McHenry presented a set of best practices for the DDA when purchasing property, including working through a broker in order to avoid either pressuring a buyer or having the price increase because the city is the purchaser.

DDA Board Chair Brian Chambers raised the question of how the city should select brokers for real estate purchases, saying that for the sake of fairness, he doesn’t want to rely on the personal networks of the board members.

Vice Chair Crayton Lankford suggested creating a group of on-call brokers similar to the group of engineers that the city already has.

The board discussed the possibility of a formal RFQ process. Chambers suggested offering a consultation fee because brokers typically only make money if a deal happens and the city often requires legwork that may not result in a purchase.

McHenry said that once there is a contract for purchase and funding is sought, a plan for development of the property must be included in a presentation to the city council.

Tucker City Council member Anne Lerner said she appreciated that a plan must be included, because people often want the city to buy property without a clear idea of what they want done with it.

“I get concerned when people think that the city buying a piece of property is the magic bullet,” Lerner said.

— A proposed facade grant program is still being developed. Grants will match 50% of projects, up to $5,000 for minor projects and $10,000 for large ones.

The area where businesses will be eligible for the grants is focused on Tucker’s downtown.  The program is intended to stimulate investment on Main Street and Tucker’s downtown core.

— McHenry offered a brief update on Tucker’s new strategic economic development plan, created by KB Advisory Group. The plan will be presented at the next Tucker City Council meeting March 13.

— The board agreed to hold a DDA law refresher training and a field trip to learn about Duluth’s downtown redevelopment program.

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