Environmentally friendly development practices are the trend, enhancing the quality of life in our communities. But what is “green”? What is “sustainable”? There is no simple answer and it depends on context, but parks and recreation employees and policymakers should take notice of several developments in the environmental arena that could provide significant economic advantages to going “green”. Some Colorado parks and recreation departments have already started identifying and prioritizing environmentally friendly practices in locating and maintaining public parks and green space. This article focuses on “sustainable redevelopment” and opportunities for parks and recreation departments to potentially obtain funding to maximize green space.

Sustainable redevelopment involves revitalizing areas that have been, or are perceived to have been, tainted by prior industry or development –such as “Brownfields”. A Brownfield is a property where redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence or perceived presence of a hazardous substance, making the reuse or redevelopment of the property problematic from an economic or public health perspective. Examples of Brownfield sites include former industrial sites, gas stations, dry cleaners, junkyards and landfills. Federal and state Brownfields programs illustrate and promote the concept of sustainable redevelopment and offer incentives to improve the environment and revitalize our communities by limiting blight. The State of Colorado has implemented programs to cleanup and reinvest in Brownfields for the economic or recreational benefit of the community.

Federal & Colorado Brownfields Programs

Through programs such as revolving loan fund grants and cleanup grants, the US EPA has partnered with states and cities to transform Brownfields into parks and green space. In Sacramento, California, for example, the EPA gave a $200,000 grant to the Capitol Area Development Authority, who partnered with the City of Sacramento Parks and Recreation Department to clean up a contaminated community garden scheduled for conversion into residential use. In addition to the removal of the contamination, the community garden was restored to include compost bins, orchards, public art, new entrances, decorative shrubs and bocce ball courts and transferred to the city as part of its Community Garden Program.

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has implemented Brownfield programs to assist both public and private property owners in facilitating cleanups as well as providing relief from regulatory enforcement. For example, the Colorado Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Coalition, which received a Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund grant from the federal government in 1999, has distributed aid to numerous Colorado cities to transform and revitalize former Brownfields. The City of Englewood has utilized a combination of federal and state grants and loans to redevelop a former landfill into what is now part of Centennial Park. The City of Aurora utilized funds to redevelop another former landfill into affordable housing and what is now Kingsborough Park.

These localities have leveraged the resources of federal and state governments to increase the number of parks, and improve existing parks. Colorado parks and recreation departments should be aware of two exciting funding opportunities currently in the works – the Colorado Brownfield Contaminated Land Income Tax Credit and the Petroleum Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund.

Colorado Tax Credit

Colorado Senator Cheri Jahn introduced the Brownfield Contaminated Land Income Tax Credit, currently Senate Bill 73, to re-authorize the state income tax credit in effect between 2000 and 2010 for taxpayers who conduct environmental remediation on property proposed for redevelopment. Importantly for parks and recreation departments who do not pay taxes but may incur expenses remediating properties for redevelopment, the bill allows counties, home rule counties, cities, towns or home rule cities (“Qualified Entities”) to transfer, or sell, some of those expenses to taxpayers, who may then claim the amounts as an income tax credit.

Eligible properties must be located within Colorado and be issued a certificate by CDPHE approving the Qualified Entity’s voluntary cleanup plan for the site. The transferable expense amount cannot exceed 40% of the first $750,000 expended on the project and 30% of the next $750,000 expended on the project. There is a cap on the transferable expense at $1.5 million. A Qualified Entity may transfer a prorated portion of the expense amount to multiple transferees. If passed, this tax credit could prove instrumental in providing funding for city parks and recreation departments that identify areas for redevelopment. As of March 26, 2014 the bill had passed the Senate Finance Committee and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Insiders say that if it passes through appropriations, then it is likely to move through the Senate and to the House.

Petroleum Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund

Cities and counties looking to develop a park or green space on a site where a petroleum underground storage tank exists, or once existed, will soon be able to apply for reimbursement from the Petroleum Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund. Essentially, property owners may receive reimbursement for costs associated with certain activities. This includes (1) up to $2,000 for petroleum underground storage tank removal, (2) up to $20,000 with a 10% deductible for a site assessment to determine if contamination from petroleum storage tanks is present, (3) up to $30,000 with a 10% deductible for a site characterization if petroleum is discovered on the property and/or (4) up to the lesser of 50% of the cleanup cost or $500,000 for the cleanup of such contamination with a 50% deductible.

The application process is simple. Eligible applicants must (1) show that the applicant is the current owner of the property, (2) provide evidence that petroleum storage tanks exist or existed on the property, (3) show that the applicant is not eligible for the existing Petroleum Tank Cleanup Fund , and (4) show that the applicant has a sustainable plan for redevelopment or reuse of the property. The application will be reviewed by the advisory committee. The advisory committee focuses on whether the applicant demonstrates (1) a plan that will reduce environmental risks, (2) the financial means to meet the deductibles and (3) the planned redevelopment generates a positive economic and/or social impact on the community. This Fund could prove to be a tremendous resource for parks and recreation departments looking to transform former gas station or other petroleum storage sites to public green spaces. Park and recreation districts should consider all of the resources available to help their department obtain and maximize green spaces. Go green!

Rebecca L. Almon is an environmental attorney at Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, PC. She represents public, private and governmental entities in all aspects of environmental regulations and with respect to remediation and mitigation pursuant to CERCLA, Brownfields development and state voluntary cleanup programs. She can be reached at ralmon@irelandstapleton.com.

This article is intended as a general discussion and information on the topic covered and is not to be construed as rendering legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should consult an attorney. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.