Long Island Brownfields Survey: Understanding Redevelopment

♦ In 2011, Sustainable Long Island conducted a survey of brownfields stakeholders in an effort to develop a comprehensive understanding of the general perception of brownfields redevelopment on Long Island. The survey was designed to provide insight into what works and what is challenging about current brownfields laws and redevelopment programs in New York and how the process can be improved. The summary below provides a synopsis of the survey results, an overview of the state of the brownfields redevelopment process according to respondents, and recommendations for how to improve it in order to address and balance the needs of Long Islanders.

Overall survey respondents, who largely represent government agencies and working on brownfields sites smaller than 25 acres, feel that while important, brownfields redevelopment in New York is impeded by liability issues, the lack of funding for demolition and clean-up, challenges with land assembly, as well as community concerns and environmental regulations. Furthermore, the survey finds that the application, approval and redevelopment processes are hindered by complexities of regulations and standards, disjointed municipalities and land use control, and a lack of funding.

New York’s brownfields program and law are important because of the funding available for planning, liability protection provided, and the tax credits available. Respondents feel that the brownfields program is important because it provides a built-in way for community participation, education and engagement and allows community members to apply pressure for sites to be cleaned up and redeveloped.  Conversely, respondents feel that the process is too lengthy and time consuming, with complex regulations that are often poorly enforced cause delays in the process and the program is too subject to political turnover and discontinuity.  All in all, the majority of respondents would like the New York State brownfields program to be more streamlined and efficient. It was suggested that in order to advocate and promote brownfield redevelopment, it must be acknowledged that some brownfield sites may be returned to open space and develop a more streamlined set of regulations and reduce regulatory delays, perhaps guidelines for regulations that apply to each type of brownfield project. Furthermore, respondents believe that we must showcase and market success stories to promote the benefits of brownfield redevelopment.

Methodology:

  • Survey distributed via email (with link to an online survey) and fax to a broad cross-section of brownfields officials and stakeholders including municipal and government employees, elected officials, developers, legal professionals, engineers, and others across Long Island
  • Results reviewed and analyzed by Sustainable Long Island staff

Organizations and individuals that responded to the survey represent a cross-section of sectors, including not-for-profit, private sector, engineering, legal/environmental, real estate construction, planning and government

Importance of New York State brownfield law

According to respondents, the two most important aspects of the New York State Brownfield law are: planning monies (Brownfield Opportunity Area), liability protection and redevelopment tax credits. 50% of survey respondents feel that BOA and planning monies are the most important aspect of New York’s brownfields redevelopment.

Impediments to Redevelopment

The survey shows that the top five impediments to brownfields redevelopment on Long Island, according to respondents, are (listed in order, from most to fewest votes):

  • Liability issues
  • Need for demolition money
  • Land Assembly, or insufficient size of sites
  • Cleanup funds
  • Community concerns, and Environmental regulations (tied)

When asked to rank impediments on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the most significant impediment and 5 is the least, the survey reveals slightly different results. Market conditions become the top impediment and while liability issues are still a challenge, they are tied with cleanup funds for the fifth ranking. The top 5 ranked impediments are listed with their average score:

  • Market conditions (1.8)
  • Need for environmental assessment (2.5)
  • Environmental regulations (2.7)
  • Inadequate infrastructure (2.7)
  • Cleanup funds (2.8)
  • Liability issues (2.8)

When asked what criteria to use in determining the order of brownfields redevelopment projects, respondents overwhelmingly indicated the importance of health, community needs, and environmental impact over cost, location, and profitability.

Overall respondents feel that the brownfields redevelopment process is challenging because of regulations and funding. Respondents are looking for simplified processes, concise and predictable standards and requirements, and more funding. Recommendations for improving the process include:

  • Simplifying the regulations
  • Provide funding to assess all brownfields
  • Continue dialogue with municipalities that have local land use control
  • Change SEQRA
  • Ensure standards & criteria for environmental audit are concise and that remediation requirements are determined in predictable & timely manner
  • Identify funding for all phases

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