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North Miami seeks state aid to clean up park site

The North Miami City Council voted last week to give special designation to an unused park site as the city plans to develop it for recreational and potential housing use.

The council voted Sept. 23 to designate the Rucks Park site, at Northeast Fifth Avenue between 137th and 139th streets, as a “brownfield” area, which would give the city potential financial benefits as it cleans up the park’s soil for future use. The city’s planning commission initially approved the plan Sept. 2, but the discussion started in January as the city considered the merits of the brownfield tag.

A brownfield area is a piece of land whose redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence of environmental contamination or dangerous materials. Florida law gives local governments the authority to designate areas as brownfields.

In Rucks Park’s case, the contamination includes arsenic, pesticides and ammonia, according to the Miami-Dade County Regulatory and Economic Resources Department. The land was home to a sewage-treatment plant for about 20 years.

Michael Goldstein, of the Goldstein Environmental Law Firm, has helped the city navigate the process, and said that since the city will have to treat the soil at Rucks Park either way, the brownfield tag will help.

“All this does is create a more sound and more beneficial regulatory environment and allows you to collect more tax dollars,” Goldstein said at the planning committee meeting.

The designation, which costs the city $35,000, gives North Miami liability protection once the cleanup begins, and opens the way to tax credits, tax refunds and grants through the cleanup process. The city is eligible for state aid equal to 50 percent of every dollar spent on cleanup, and a 25 percent bonus when the cleanup is approved by Miami-Dade County.

For example, Goldstein said, if the city spends $100,000 on cleanup, it could receive $75,000 in state income tax credits that could later be sold and put back into the city’s general fund. Although Florida does not have a personal income tax, it does have a corporate income tax.

“This allows local governments to recapture taxpayer monies to be reused in the general revenue fund,” Goldstein said in a telephone interview.

The bonuses can go as high as $500,000 annually. Future employers at the site could also be eligible for a $2,500 tax refund for every full-time job created in the brownfield area.

City officials also considered designating Claude Pepper Park and the Biscayne Landing site, at Northeast 151st Street and Biscayne Bay, as brownfield areas.

The city’s community redevelopment agency had planned to use the Rucks Park site to bring more than 130 affordable-housing units to the area. The plans were in place as early as 2004, but funding issues and a lawsuit from the former construction company, Urban Residential Development Group, stalled development of the 6.3-acre space.

The plan is to use some of the land as a park and “recreation open space,” and potentially use the rest as workforce housing or as an urgent-care center. The next step for the city is waiting on the response to a site assessment report addendum and then submitting the brownfield site rehabilitation agreement. Once the assessment is approved, the city can submit a remedial action plan for the site.

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