This second post in the series discussing brownfield redevelopment in Ohio will provide an overview of the extent and nature of Ohio’s brownfield problem. First, the post will discuss Ohio’s progress in spurring brownfield versus greenfield redevelopment. Second, the post will provide an overview of public information regarding the number of brownfields in Ohio
Urban Sprawl in Ohio
One issue discussed in Part 1 of this series was how failure to re-utilize urban core properties significantly contributes to the issue of urban sprawl. The negatives of urban sprawl are well documented: decay of inner urban areas, increase infrastructure costs, more traffic (and associated air pollution) and greater impact to wetlands and streams as development moves to greenfields.
How is Ohio doing with regard to urban sprawl? Not well based upon an analysis performed in 2014 by Smart Growth America. Here are the rankings of some of Ohio’s largest cities:
- Cleveland 153
- Cleveland 138
- Toledo 117
- Dayton 116
- Canton 93
- Akron 111
- Cincinnati 166
Cincinnati Urban Sprawl Trends
A study performed by Smart Growth America of the Cincinnati region showed that during the time period of 1196-2005 the trends on brownfield versus greenfield redevelopment were as follows:
- Thirty (30) businesses that expanded operations moved from transit accessible areas to areas without transit (i.e. out of the urban core);
- Eight (8) business expanded within the urban core
This is a clear demonstration of the trends that the costs to redevelop brownfields pushes many businesses to expand or relocate to the suburbs contributing to Ohio’s urban sprawl issues.
Cleveland Urban Sprawl Trends
Some times a picture (or in this case a graphic) is worth a thousand words. Here is a graphic that shows developed land in Cuyahoga County from 1948 to 2002:
It is worth noting that there may be a major shift in these trends due to the millennials preference for downtown living. A recent study showed that 7 city centers outperformed their surrounding metros in the 2002-07 period, 21 outperformed the periphery in 2007-2011. Certainly, that trend is evident right here in Cleveland where residential occupancy is above 97.8% with major new downtown residential developments planned.
The major shift in living preferences creates a golden opportunity to accelerate brownfield redevelopment.
How many Brownfields are in Ohio?
Ohio does not maintain a registry that provides a good inventory of all brownfield sites. The most extensive registry maintained by Ohio EPA was referred to as the "Master’s Site List." However, after a property owner challenged its listing on the MSL, it was determined Ohio EPA did not have the legal authority to maintain the list. Ohio EPA stopped maintaining the list in 1999.
Currently, Ohio EPA maintains the Ohio Brownfield Inventory, but listing of properties is voluntary. Typically, properties are listed in order to qualify for some brownfield redevelopment incentives. Therefore, the registry does not provide a good estimate of the actual number of brownfields.
Public information is limited on brownfields. A review of local studies and information from local officials and U.S. EPA reveal the following statistics which provide some insight into the extent of the brownfield problem in Ohio:
- 119 brownfields in Lucas County (1996 estimate);
- An estimated 62% of real estate transactions in Lucas County are encumbered by environmental issues;
- An estimated 25% of transactions in Toledo were abandoned due to environmental issues with an average job lost of 20 jobs per lost transaction;
- An estimated 4,623 acres of brownfields are in Cuyahoga County;
- 350 brownfields in Cleveland with an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 condemned structures
- 40,000 acres or 14% of Cuyahoga County’s land was industrial at some point (Estimate by the Cuyahoga Planning Commission)
Statewide estimates on brownfields:
- 417 Ohio sites are currently identified on CERCLIS (sites on or being evaluated for Superfund Listing)
- Over 5,000 RCRA sites listed on US EPA RCRAInfo data base
- 4,000 to 6,000 brownfield sites in Ohio (as estimated by the Government Accounting Office)
- U.S. EPA has a higher estimate- Over 10,000 brownfield sites have been inventoried by local governments according to testimony from Joe Dufficy (U.S. EPA) before Congress in 2005
Importance of Better Information on Brownfields
A strong case can be made that Ohio needs tools to create a better inventory of brownfields. It’s current system of waiting for volunteers looking for incentives to list sites results in very limited information.
A better inventory helps to inform public policy as well as better track progress in addressing brownfields. Also, better information provides more public information regarding sites that have issues.
Some may argue that there should be a mandatory law requiring all brownfield sites to be listed. However, there are many issues with this concept. Such mandatory laws discourage brownfield redevelopment or even gathering data regarding contamination on property. This is the exact opposite of what Ohio needs to do if it wants to encourage more brownfield redevelopment.
A mandatory law exists in New Jersey and my colleagues familiar with the New Jersey market state it acts as a strong deterrent to gathering data regarding contamination as well as transactions.
A better system is one that offers strong incentives to voluntarily disclose information regarding conditions of property. The final post in this series will discuss Michigan’s Baseline Environmental Assessment program which has been highly successful in gathering public information regarding the condition of contaminated property in the state while at the same time spurring brownfield redevelopment.