1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: TommeY@aol.com
Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 15:37:38 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space"

Thanks for your comment, and I agree with your point.  When I made my 
original  comment, it was specifically directed at the initial question, 
which seemed to me to be narrower than the one currently being discussed -- 
the fact that "conservation" choices (especially open space) lead to a 
particular (economic) benefit for the nearby landowners.  Unlike "decisions 
about how to use brownlands" (which encompass a much broader list of issues 
and influences) the questions of open-space preservation (and creation) are 
almost entirely financial.  If the government forces non-agricultural 
open-space dedication, some compensation is nearly always required (anything 
from conditional land-use permits and development agreements to direct 
payments.)  Relatively rarely these days are government funds sufficient to 
purchase all the lands that are necessary to create the optimal mix of 
open-space and development.  In this context, various methods of encouraging 
self-interest (ie tax benefits, etc.) have been used to some good effect in 
the past (Williamson Act, etc. as well as the work of the Nature Conservancy 
in securing easements which, in effect, guarantee lower assessments for the 
burdened, lands, etc.)   To the extent that open-space dedication is an 
objective of value, then, consideration of this particular type of financial 
benefits is essential.  
	Connecting this discussion to brownlands, the group has moved to a 
related area, land-use choices in economically depressed areas.  (Here I am 
responding more generally to comments made under this subject heading in the 
last few days.)  There are numerous issue to be considered in this area, all 
of which are in some way connected with "environmental justice" (although not 
all come within the specific provisions of recent and proposed environmental 
justice legislation and other documents.)
	Certainly, where brownfields redevelopment is undertaken under 
traditional types of redevelopment authority (local governmental group 
acquires depressed lands and redevelops them), the particular issues that are 
now being discussed by the group are entirely relevant.  The tendency to give 
basketball courts and parks to low-income neighborhoods as some kind of 
"bread and circuses" with some generalized idea of pacification is both 
demeaning and antithetical to any real progress for these areas and their 
	That these options are offered as an ALTERNATIVE to development, 
however, I question, at least slightly, for several reasons.  First, the 
available activities for local redevelopment agencies are sometimes limited, 
and there can be real problems in finding and coming to terms with companies 
willing to take the initial steps into development of these regions.  Parks 
and basketball courts, at least, offer a direct benefit that is within the 
capability of local governmental groups to achieve.  Moreover, if maintained, 
its possible that such public areas may enhance the attractiveness of the 
region for future development (I don't know this, of course, it merely sounds 
possible to me.)  Finally, of course, if public moneys are available, and the 
choices are
(1) remediate contamination and convert the area to a park; or 
(2) use the money elsewhere,
I suspect most of us, in any socioeconomic situation would prefer the benefit 
of remediation (non-suspect water sources, less danger for our children, 
etc.) over the permanent maintenance of the status quo.  
	This brings us to the fact that, as far as I can tell, the programs 
for brownlands "redevelopment" are not intended solely for governmental 
action.  I was under the impression that brownfields program was designed to 
aid persons buried under unprofitably contaminated property, and 
hoping/needing to remedy and develop the site.  To some extent, these are 
private property (or property rights) problems, and decisions about the 
potential uses of these lands once sufficiently remedied, are bound by the 
same restrictions as other land use decisions, including the requirement of 
compensation to owners whose lands are rendered unusable by land-use choices. 
 Hence there is little incentive or financial ability for government to 
simply decide that such lands are to be "park and open space."  
	But, in both situations, I think a flat preference for either type of 
use (conservation or development) is probably inappropriate.  Governments can 
(and often do) require that some portion of the land (or other suitable land) 
be dedicated to public purposes in exchange for development permits and other 
government action necessary in order for commercial development to go 
forward.  And I expect that a significant number of brownlands redevelopment 
projects are designed to accord with area-wide planning, so that both needs 
(development and conservation/openspace) are addressed.  I see nothing wrong 
with conditioning develoopment on the dedication of a portion of the site for 
a park or other local benefit, even (or especially) in a low-income or 
depressed area.  Nor do I see these issues as mutually exclusive.  
	I can't resist tossing in 2 cents, on other point that is coming up 
in this discussion -- the extent of local control over development.  To some 
degree, I agree that local authorities, and through them the local 
constituencies, hold this power.  However, of course, there is a large body 
of law from the 60's and 70's that says that regional issues and needs cannot 
be neglected by local bodies in their land-related decision-making processes. 
 These laws and principles were originally developed to root out exclusive 
zoning practices and the development of "restricted communities", but their 
principles are more generally stated, and it would seem to have equal 
application here.  

Tomme R. Young
UN Legal Consultant on Environmental and Conservation Legislation

  Prev by Date: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space" -Reply
Next by Date: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space"
  Prev by Thread: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space" -Reply
Next by Thread: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space"

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index