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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, May 24, 2018 3 weeks ago

Ocoee considers designating 725-acre area as brownfields

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The designation would help fund the clean-up of parcels that might be contaminated with pollutants or hazardous substances.
by: Danielle Hendrix Black Tie Editor

Nearly 725 acres in the city of Ocoee soon could be undergoing remediation, rehabilitation or economic redevelopment, if commissioners approve a resolution to create the Ocoee Downtown Brownfield Area.

The brownfields program is overseen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Designated brownfield sites are properties on which potential expansion, redevelopment or reuse could be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.

Currently, there are more than 450,000 brownfields nationwide, and cleaning them up and reinvesting in them “increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land and both improves and protects the environment,” according to the EPA. 

A brownfield area is one designated by a local government and contains one or more sites, some of which may or may not be contaminated. Incentives include bonus refunds for job creation, a loan-guarantee program and sales/use tax exemption. 

In Florida’s program, there are also voluntary cleanup tax credits, and grants available through the EPA for cleanup, assessment, revolving loan funds, job training and coalitions. While Florida’s brownfields program is incentive-based, the federal program is grant-based.

On Tuesday, May 15, Ocoee City Planner Mike Rumer presented commissioners with the idea of designating a brownfield area in the city as a way to “eliminate blight and raise property values.”

“It provides a lot of financial and tax incentives and ways the city can help future development of these properties that are sown in the geographic area,” Rumer told commissioners. “There’s specific tools we can use as a local government in this geographic area. This is another way to kind of show developers … that we have the geographical area that is open to these state incentives.”

According to city documents, the brownfield designation would “allow for accelerated environmental assessment and, if necessary, remediation of the three properties identified in the area and to allow access to job-related bonus monies, thereby encouraging job creation.” The brownfield area would be called the Ocoee Special Economic Enhancement District.

The proposed area in Ocoee comprises 687 parcels over about 938 boundary acres; however, the parcel acreage only includes about 725 acres. Story Road from State Road 429 to Bluford Avenue acts as the southernmost border, and the area stretches north just past Crown Point Cross. Much of the proposed area consists of the Ocoee Business District, with a few subdivisions to the east.

If the resolution is approved by commissioners at the June 19 meeting, the proposed area would be designated officially as a brownfield. 

Some local homeowners whose properties have been drawn into the proposed brownfield area were unsure of the potential stigma that being in a brownfield designation would have on their property values. However, Littlejohn & Co. Project Manager John Jones, who presented the information on brownfield areas, said property owners could opt out of the program.

According to the EPA, a 2017 study concluded cleaning up brownfield properties led to residential property value increases of 5% to 15.2% within 1.29 miles of the sites.

“This affords the city staff the opportunity to provide incentives in the geographical area, such as the waiving of some impact fees that does not have to be supplemented from the general fund,” Rumer said. “We feel that these opportunities are the best for residents and they offer the best incentives.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Black Tie Editor for all three of Observer Media Group's print publications in Orange County. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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