Brownfield Development

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Greenfield Development

What is a Brownfield Site?

A brownfield site refers to land that was previously used for commercial, residential, or industrial purposes and is now abandoned, underutilized, environmentally contaminated, or slated for redevelopment. Examples of brownfield sites include former gas stations, dry cleaners, factories, warehouses, and other locations where hazardous substances or pollutants may be present.


What Creates a Brownfield Site?

There are several factors that can create a brownfield site, including:


  • Contamination from previous land use - Past commercial or industrial activities like metal plating, chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, etc. can release hazardous pollutants into the soil and groundwater. Even small family-owned dry cleaning and auto repair shops can contaminate sites over decades of operation.

  • Business relocation or closure - When companies go out of business, merge with other facilities, or move locations, their former property often sits vacant while environmental issues linger.

  • Urban flight and deindustrialization - The shift of factories and jobs away from cities to suburbs and overseas locations has left many vacant commercial and industrial urban properties with environmental legacies to address.  


How to Clean Up a Brownfield Site

Cleaning up and redeveloping a brownfield site is called remediation and rehabilitation. It's a complex process that involves:
  • Site assessment - Extensive environmental site assessment to identify the type, location, and extent of environmental contamination. Assessment usually involves analyzing soil, groundwater, surface water, air samples, and waste residue. Transect provides Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments in our marketplace, allowing for rapid brownfield assessment.

  • Health & safety planning - Developing protective measures for construction crews and future site users against exposure to hazardous materials during cleanup work.  

  • Containment & removal - Stopping the spread of pollution then removing contaminated media like soil, storage tanks, drums, groundwater, etc. Containment includes capping toxic areas with concrete, clean soil and synthetic barriers.

  • Treatment & disposal - Treating pollution onsite via methods like incineration, bioremediation, or stabilization. Offsite treatment such as hauling waste to a landfill or incinerator.  

  • Regulatory coordination – Navigating relevant environmental regulations and coordinating with federal and local government agencies overseeing site cleanup and closure.

  • Redevelopment – Taking steps to convert the remediated site into a community asset by rebuilding it into residential units, commercial facilities, green space, renewable energy sites etc.

The cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA’s brownfields program provides brownfields grants and technical assistance to tribes, communities, states, and others that are working to provide environmental remediation for these contaminated sites. The cleanup program is just one of many sustainability efforts that aid the U.S. in reaching its energy and infrastructure goals.

Difference Between Greenfield Development and Brownfield Development

Greenfield development refers to building on undeveloped land whereas brownfield development means redeveloping an existing property with real or perceived contamination. Here are some key differences:

  • Greenfield sites have no prior development or environmental impact from previous land use. Brownfields have existing structures, infrastructure, and potentially hazardous substances or waste materials to address before redevelopment.

  • Constructing new buildings and infrastructure on a greenfield site generally costs less than rehabilitating old structures and polluted areas on brownfields. However, brownfield projects can utilize existing foundations, power lines, water mains and save costs over building from scratch.

  • Local rezoning is usually needed when converting raw greenfield acreage into residential, commercial or industrial uses. Brownfields often already have appropriate existing zoning for the redevelopment process. 

  • Brownfield reuse helps prevent urban sprawl. Constructing greenfields can negatively impact open space and extend city boundaries further outward.


Brownfield Development




Benefits of Brownfield Redevelopment

Some benefits of brownfield redevelopment projects include:

  • Cleans up community eyesores and environmental headaches - Restores aesthetics and safety of neglected or dangerous sites.

  • Increasing property values - Returning vacant, blighted brownfields to productive use raises the value of real estate in the surrounding area.

  • Avoids urban sprawl - Reuses existing infrastructure versus developing raw greenfield sites. Encourages more compact, walkable development.

  • Creates jobs and tax revenues - The assessment, cleanup, and construction generate direct jobs and facilitate economic development. Reoccupied sites bring long term employment and municipal tax income.

  • Making smarter infrastructure investments - Leveraging existing roads, power grids, and sewer lines instead of building new ones allows property owners and other stakeholders to potentially spend less on developing their sites.

  • Improves environment & public health - Removes pollution sources and establishes cleaner soil, air, and water quality for communities.

  • Qualifies as an energy community for tax credits - Brownfields are considered energy communities under the Inflation Reduction Act, making redevelopment projects eligible for various federal tax credits. Transect's energy communities map identifies parcels that qualify. Additional information can be found in the Energy Communities eBook.

The redevelopment of brownfield sites poses many benefits for the environment and surrounding communities. The dangers once left on prior industrial properties can be managed, allowing for energy projects and new innovations to occupy the land.

Brownfield Redevelopment Risks

However, brownfields revitalization carries higher risks compared to building on untouched greenfields, including:

  • Discovering more pollution than anticipated – Further site assessments can uncover extensive contamination, asbestos, underground tanks, buried waste, etc. This can delay work and dramatically raise cleanup costs.

  • Environmental liability - Developers, lenders, and future owners can inherit responsibility for residual pollution or replacing ineffective old cleanups. To execute this process, involved parties must secure regulatory liability releases.

  • Remediation delays - Extensive site testing protocols, treating unique contaminants, negotiating agency oversight, securing liability protections, etc. can postpone projects.

  • Community opposition - Existing residential neighbors may oppose commercial or industrial redevelopment plans.

  • Insufficient cleanup funding – Government grants and tax incentives rarely cover all assessment and remediation expenses if contamination is higher than expected. Requires securing gap financing.

Brownfield development may require work to balance project objectives with efforts to limit environmental impacts. This delicate balance is why projects are subject to environmental permitting requirements. These regulations require experts to ensure compliance with environmental rulings while working toward development success.

Free Permitting Checklist

Practical Tips to Avoid Environmental Risk on all Your Projects

Download our environmental permitting checklist to get a step-by-step list of ways to protect your project from the 9 most common environmental risks.

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Brownfield Environmental Consultants


Role of Environmental Consultants in Brownfield Redevelopment

Environmental consultants or engineers provide the following essential services for successfully redeveloping brownfield properties:

  • Historical research on past site uses that can guide the investigation of likely pollutants.

  • Field exploration such as test pits, soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells to initially detect contamination.

  • Environmental site assessments thoroughly identify hazardous building materials and subsurface contamination. This is typically done by completing a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, which involves reviews of historic property use, regulatory records, site reconnaissance, interviews, and more to evaluate potential environmental risks.

  • Remedial planning that designs cost-effective solutions tailored to the site's unique pollution matrix.

  • Oversight of licensed contractors performing safe demolition, excavation, treatment system installation and other remediation.

  • Confirmation testing and reporting to regulators on meeting cleanup benchmarks and receiving liability releases necessary for redevelopment loans, equity, and ownership.

On average, it takes environmental consultants around 5 weeks to fully assess a brownfield site and provide a complete report of findings and recommendations. The typical cost for this service is around $4,000. However, the specific timeline and pricing can vary substantially depending on the size of the site, complexity of contamination issues, and scope of the consultant's investigation.


Software for Brownfield Developers

Site assessment platforms, such as Transect, are instrumental in identifying the right site for project development. This software provides environmental due diligence assessments by recognizing all environmental red flags and requirements for a project site in minutes. The platform generates a comprehensive report of these risks, the existing code, regulations, and environmental hurdles for a project location. Additionally, the tool identifies parcels of land that qualify as energy communities, informing developers if their brownfield site qualifies for additional tax credits. With this information, land developers can rapidly compare different brownfield and greenfield sites to determine the best spot for their latest project.

Free Permitting Checklist

Practical Tips to Avoid Environmental Risk on all Your Projects

Download our environmental permitting checklist to get a step-by-step list of ways to protect your project from the 9 most common environmental risks.

Download Your Checklist