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Op-Ed: Pushing Out Brownfield Blight, and Bringing In Jobs

Forest Hills' Assemblyman on the importance of improving blighted areas.

Andrew Hevesi serves in the New York State Assembly, representing Forest Hills.

It can sometimes be a challenge to see how legislation affects the very areas and landscapes that surround us every day. However, I have recently introduced a bill into the New York State Assembly that could assist in transforming vacant, blighted lots in New York City into useful urban space and visually pleasing developments.

Brownfields, the term used by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), are any real property where redevelopment could be complicated by the presence of potentially hazardous material. In other words, a brownfield property is a blighted abandoned zone in community. These properties, which are prevalent in New York City, constitute wasted space that can and should undergo transformative redevelopment for the benefit of our communities. 

The New York City Office of Environmental Remediation has been highly successful. Since its conception, a total of 22 projects have been approved. This translates into remediation of a total of 35 lots throughout the five boroughs and will enable 1.25 million square feet of new development, including 260 new affordable housing units. A further positive result of these developments is the creation of more than 1,000 new permanent jobs and 2,500 construction jobs. The economic benefits to the city and state include more than $63 million in NYC income tax revenue, $148 million in NYC property tax revenue and $110M NYS income tax revenue, with other revenue generation still being calculated.

As a result of the extraordinary success of the NYC Brownfield Cleanup Program, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally recognized the city program, citing its effects of revitalizing neighborhoods, creating jobs, building affordable housing, and developing open space primarily in low-income neighborhoods. This last component of the NYC program, the focus on remediation in poor and disadvantaged communities and a commitment to economic and environmental justice, is clearly shown in the track record of site choice by the Office of Environmental Remediation.

Currently, the New York City Brownfield Cleanup Program is able to provide liability protections for developers that comply with the shared city and state cleanup regulations through an existing Memorandum of Agreement with the DEC. However, the city can not provide full state liability release. I have introduced legislation that will allow the New York City Office of Environmental Remediation to provide full liability protections to developers in the program.  

The ability of city developers to receive liability protection will be a significant contribution to encouraging further expansion of this program. It will continue to revitalize more land in the areas of the five boroughs that need it most. Finally, the growth of this program provides something that is so important during this time: the creation of jobs. It is my hope that this legislation will help foster developer interest in this program, leading our economy and community further along on the road to recovery.

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