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North Miami considers whether to invest in ‘brownfields’

 

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The next North Miami City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 at City Hall, 776 NE 125th St.


pbuteau@MiamiHerald.com

As North Miami administrators strive to make the city more attractive for new businesses, the City Council must decide whether to designate several pieces of property as “brownfield areas.”

Although there are financial benefits to land developers and municipalities for brownfield designations, according to an environmental law consultant, each site designation would come with a $25,000 price tag.

A brownfield site is property that the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of is complicated because of the presence of dangerous material, pollutants or contaminants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Florida statutes grant local governments authority to label property as brownfields.

The North Miami resolution was presented at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting but delayed until the next meeting to iron out the details — such as whether to pay the consultant for multiple designations up front, or if the council needs to approve each application first.

The benefits could be up to $500,000 for developers and employers at each designated site, said the consultant, Michael Goldstein, of the Goldstein Environmental Law Firm.

The money would be in the form of tax credits, tax refunds or grants.

"That’s where the rubber meets the road," Goldstein said.

And the chance of North Miami’s businesses receiving them are “very good.”

The proposed North Miami sites are Rucks Park, Claude Pepper Park and Biscayne Landing. Meaning the city would pay the Goldstein firm $75,000 in total for the three sites. That money was not budgeted for in the 2013-2014 city budget.

However, at the meeting City Manager Stephen Johnson said Oleta Partners, the Biscayne Landing developers, want to figure out the timing of their application. Biscayne Landing was scratched off as a possible brownfield site.

“They are interested, it’s not that they’re not,” Johnson said at the meeting. “They just want to straegize the timing of it.”

And the county has its own plans for Claude Pepper Park so that was removed also.

If the City Council moves forward with the idea, Rucks Park would be the only property to receive the designation for now.

Despite its name, Rucks is not actually a park with slides or swings. But it is “environmentally challenged,” as one city official put it during the meeting.

Rucks Park, which the Community Redevelopment Agency previously owned before they returned it to North Miami because of the environmental challenges, was a wastewater facility. The site is contaminated with ammonia, arsenic, herbicides and fecal matter.

"Rucks Park is absolutely right for this," said Councilwoman Carol Keys during the meeting.

The city has $5 million from Miami-Dade County for the Rucks Park’s cleanup.

Environmental cleanup of sites with the brownfield designation is one of three ways in which the city can benefit from the designation, according to Goldstein who has 22 years of experience in practicing environmental law. The other two ways are: money in the form of grants for the cleanup, and converting money spent through grants into tax credits which the city can sell and return to its budget.

Employers benefit through tax refunds. Every employer that meets certain criteria on a brownfield site receive a “significant” tax refund from the state, Goldstein said.

The state provides employers a $2,500 tax refund for every full-time job that they create at a location built on a brownfield site.

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