State's Offer of Millions Attracting Brownfield Developers
By Brad Kane
July 16, 2012
At the corner of the New London Turnpike and Neipsic Road in Glastonbury, a contaminated industrial site will be green again.
The site formerly occupied by the cannery operations of Flanagan Industries will be cleaned up and turned in a mixed-use, 250 housing unit development — a project made possible by a $2 million loan from Connecticut's new brownfields program.
"It made more sense to do the project once the state had the brownfield program," said Mark Zimmerman, attorney for developer Flanagan's Landing Apartments, LLC. "It is meant to encourage developers to look at properties like this one."
The revitalization of Connecticut's more than 500 contaminated sites that are underutilized or vacant kicked into high gear a year ago when the state unleashed millions in redevelopment cash. The focus of the push is to return these brownfields to positive use.
Since the General Assembly passed the law in 2011 creating the Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development, the agency has handed out 16 loans totaling $23 million to private developers and 31 grants totaling $12.6 million to municipalities.
The brownfield office received another $25 million for a new hybrid loan and grant program running from July 1 to June 30, 2013. The program is open to municipalities and businesses, and all the loans are forgivable. The state started accepting applications this month for the first $12.5 million round of funding.
"Having a dedicated source of funding has created a huge interest," said Maya Loewenberg, permit ombudsman at the Department of Economic & Community Development. "We have ongoing calls about funding availability."
A Hartford group called Northeast Neighborhood Partners received a $1 million state loan in March to turn the Swift Factory on Love Lane in the city's northeast section into an affordable living and working space for teachers, artists and creative businesses.
Developer Common Ground, which owns the Hollander Foundation Center in Hartford, had received a $600,000 remediation grant from the city in 2010 to fix up the former M. Swift & Sons, Inc. factory. The redevelopment still relied on in-kind support to bring the brownfield redevelopment to fruition before the state's $1 million loan.
That was the obstacle most Connecticut brownfield redevelopments faced before last year. Municipalities had loans and grants available, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $59.9 million toward the cause since 1994; but the small amount of state support available left brownfields an uphill battle.
"We put a lot of money into clean water in this state, but not much of it went to brownfields, whereas most of it is in urban areas," said Sen. John Fonfara (D-Hartford). "I want to see clean rivers and clean water in this state, but I also don't want to see urban areas left with acre upon acre of unusable land."
Farmington manufacturer Edac Technologies Corp. received a $2 million brownfield loan in March to clean up the former GE manufacturing plant in Plainville into the new Edac headquarters.
Edac since has changed its mind about the Plainville property, electing to located its headquarters at the former Pratt & Whitney aerospace manufacturing site in Cheshire. Edac has accepted an offer on the Plainville property, and the new owner will receive the $2 million loan.
"It is someone who will redevelop the property," Edac spokesman Edward Nebb said.
In addition to providing funding, the legislature changed the laws so property owners that didn't cause the original environmental problem aren't responsible for cleaning up any contamination that leaked onto neighboring sites. Instead of treating developers as polluters, the new approach sees them as partners in a clean-up effort.
The renewed focus on brownfield remediation came as a way to preserve green space in Connecticut. By incentivizing developers to take old, rundown and contaminated sites and cleaning them up for new use, remediation prevents uncontaminated green spaces from turning into development. The program not only cleans up old pollution but thwarts new pollution.
"By preserving our green space, it really helps Connecticut," Loewenberg said.
The Flanagan's Landing mixed-use development in Glastonbury will use the existing structures on site to create a main building with housing units and a restaurant. In the open space on the property, the developer plans to put up more housing units.
The development will come after the contamination is excavated from the ground and relocated offsite, Zimmerman said. The housing units will start accepting occupants in 2014.
"The contamination isn't so bad that it can't be dealt with," Zimmerman said. "We have a lot we've got to deal with over the next year or so."
In addition to its loan and grant program, the Connecticut brownfield office is soliciting developers for a $20 million project to redevelop five state-owned brownfields in Groton, Waterbury, New Haven, Newtown and Norwich.
The sites, totaling more than 100 acres, will be sold to developers already cleaned up and pre-permitted for the agreed upon development. Preference will be given to proposals with the best economic viability, access to public transportation, and most consistent with the state's plans for conservation.
"It shows the multi-faceted approach we are taking to brownfields," DECD spokesman James Watson said.