By Steve Dwyer
Brownfield stakeholders have learned to leverage the unique characteristics of brownfield properties contaminated with petroleum—such as former gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities—and convert them into beneficial new uses.
Many of these characteristics, including property size, location and prior use, give petroleum brownfields special appeal and flexibility. Just one attractive use of petroleum brownfields is considering them an interim reuses while planning for a permanent, long-term reuse.
Historically, the footprint of these sites has proven attractive through its flexibility in being considered across several practical end uses. That’s because most occupy relatively small parcels of land that are typically located along major roadways or intersections in neighborhoods. Small properties can be used for neighborhood amenities, including pocket parks (small urban parks frequently created on a single parcel), restaurants, senior housing, community centers, and more.
Properties can also be combined with other parcels to enable larger projects redevelopment strategy. Most of these redevelopment projects achieved success by:
- Developing a strong vision for reuse;
- Engaging the community to explore a property’s reuse potential;
- Understanding and applying available financial and technical assistance resources; and
- Building strong partnerships among the project team, community members and regulatory agencies throughout the entire life of the project.
Of the estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S., approximately one-half are thought to be impacted by petroleum, much of it from leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at former gas stations. These sites blight the surrounding neighborhoods and threaten human health and the environment as petroleum contaminates groundwater.
Petroleum brownfields, such as old abandoned gas stations, are being cleaned up and reused to the benefit of communities across the country. EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) and Brownfields Program jointly focus on the cleanup and reuse of petroleum-contaminated sites. The Brownfields Program awards brownfields grants for the assessment and cleanup of petroleum brownfields (e.g., those determined to be relatively low-risk priority).
There was a time when a former retail fueling site would be re-imagined as the same reuse for future—tanks were in the ground and developers could not see doing the heavy lifting, including potential litigation, to convert them to non-fuel end use. A former fueling station was bound to become a future one as well. These times have changed with the advent of innovative cleanup practices helping change minds.
Take New York City: Dating back to 2017, NYC gas stations, targeted as development sites, saw 30 fueling stations disappear, which left only 50 open to the public in Manhattan—a number that is dwindling as bids for land grow, according to The New York Times. Numbers have not been updated but that number is sure to be even lower three years later.
Brooklyn also experienced the dwindling of retail fueling stations. In a 2017 report, the borough noted that a growing number of retail gas stations were anticipated to be lost in the coming two to three years, including fuel stops in Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Sunset Park.