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Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit Modules - Brownfields

Learn about the Smart Growth/Smart Energy Brownfields module.


Brownfields reuse is the redevelopment of contaminated properties into revitalized productive uses. Redeveloping brownfield sites promotes a smart growth agenda by revitalizing blighted urban areas, supporting local economic growth, and advancing environmental health. Brownfield projects can be a complicated and often involve four steps: site inventory, site cleanup, marketing the property, and funding strategies. Several incentives are available to developers and municipalities including national, state, and regional funding programs.


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is committed to the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield properties as a way to stimulate the economy and promote environmental protection goals. Fostering the cleanup and re-use of contaminated properties is a priority for the state.

Source: Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Lawrence, MA - Groundwork Lawrence
Source: Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Lawrence, MA - Groundwork Lawrence

While there is no formal definition of the term "brownfields" in Massachusetts, these properties often have certain characteristics in common:

  • They are frequently abandoned or for sale or lease
  • They typically have been used for commercial or industrial purposes
  • They may have been reported to MassDEP because contamination has been found
  • They may not have been assessed due to fear of unknown contamination conditions.

Parties who conduct site assessment or cleanup at any property in Massachusetts must do so under the state's cleanup law, Chapter 21E, and cleanup regulations, the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). Parties undertaking site assessment and cleanup activities in Massachusetts must hire a Licensed Site Professional (LSP). Brownfield sites require the same level of investigation and remediation as any other site in the MCP system. However, the MCP process allows property owners to take planned future reuses into account when performing a cleanup.

Redevelopment of a brownfield site can be a significant undertaking for a municipality, but it can have an even more significant pay-off in the end. These projects often benefit from pre-planning on the part of the municipality, which may include a brownfield site inventory of the community, a review of existing bylaws or ordinances, and some advance visioning for the area in which a brownfield site is located. It may require a public-private partnership to bring it to fruition, and will benefit from public outreach and involvement. Municipalities can work to foster these relationships with the neighborhoods in which brownfields are located and with potential investors and developers.

Things to Consider Before Selecting a Brownfield Redevelopment Project:

There are a number of questions that should be considered early in the process of selecting a brownfield site for potential redevelopment:

  • Acquiring Title - Who holds title to the property and how will that title be conveyed? Are there any encumbrances on the deed, such as liens held by state, federal, or local agencies?
  • Size - Is the property size appropriate to accommodate the proposed redevelopment? Is it adjacent to properties that could be assembled to provide a larger redevelopment parcel?
  • Transportation Access - Is the property within proximity of public transportation or within walking or biking distance to services and jobs?
  • Historical Districts/Empowerment Zones - Is the property within a historical district or a special economic empowerment zone (such as a state approved Economic Target Area (ETA))? Is there funding available to support the restoration and development of those areas?
  • Public Benefit - Will the redevelopment of the property provide a public benefit? Is it part of a larger revitalization project, such as a downtown redevelopment project? Can additional financial or technical support be leveraged?
  • Cost - Have the project costs and benefits, including public and environmental benefits, been calculated and balanced against all available financial support?
  • Contamination - Has any environmental information been generated for the site, or surrounding properties? To what degree has the nature and extent of contamination at the site been characterized? What are the costs for bringing the site to a permanent solution and how long will that take?
  • Liability - What is the liability of the municipality that owns a brownfield if an assessment finds contamination? What is the liability of the private owner? What is the liability of a municipality that acquires a property for failure to pay taxes or other mechanism? How can the municipality limit its liability? Are there partners that may be interested in sharing the liability as part of a redevelopment venture?

Consider hiring a team that can help you through the redevelopment process. This team should include a Licensed Site Professional (LSP) who can help you comply with the state cleanup law, M.G.L. c.21E, state cleanup regulations, and the Massachusetts Contingency Plan. The team also should include an environmental attorney that can help you understand your liability under M.G.L c. 21E.

Benefits of Brownfields Redevelopment:

The redevelopment of brownfield sites can provide many benefits to a community including:

  • Revitalization of blighted urban areas.
  • Reduction in sprawl and development of "greenfield" sites. Redeveloping and reusing abandoned or underutilized property reduces demand to build on undeveloped property.
  • Creation of new jobs. The reuse of abandoned or underutilized property provides an opportunity for new businesses to locate, for existing businesses to expand, and a new customer base for sites that incorporate residential uses.
  • Healthy neighborhoods. A neighborhood that is no longer exposed to contamination reduces health risks and improves overall environmental quality.
  • Environmental benefits and open space. A brownfield located in a densely settled neighborhood can be redeveloped to create open space or a park, providing needed green space and recreational opportunities in dense urban communities. Urban low impact development practices can be installed to improve water quality in adjacent rivers, recharge runoff to groundwater, and increase energy efficiency (e.g. green roof) thereby reducing smog and the urban heat island effect.
  • Environmental justice. Given that brownfields are often located in low-income communities and communities of minorities, remediation and redevelopment of these sites improves environmental quality and public health and creates new opportunities for environmental assets such as parks and urban forestry.
  • Economic development.
  • Expand the local tax base.

Guide to Redevelopment

This guide is geared toward municipalities looking to cleanup and redevelop publicly-owned properties as well as encourage the redevelopment of privately owned land. The information provided can also help non-municipal entities gain insight into the brownfield redevelopment process.

Pre-Planning Tools:
There are several planning tools that a municipality can use to begin to prepare for potential redevelopment of brownfields in the community.

Start a Municipal Brownfields Program
This program usually falls under the jurisdiction of a municipality's Planning or Economic Development Office. In some communities where brownfields are a significant issue, senior municipal officials may be involved. Some communities may opt to convene a Brownfields Redevelopment Board or a Redevelopment Authority to assist with the program. This program may carry out the steps described below, and the board or commission can help to disburse grant funding, prioritize redevelopment projects, select consultants, participate in visioning and planning processes, and act as a conduit for public outreach and participation.

Foster Public/Private Partnerships
Public/private partnerships are formed when a municipality communicates with a potential investor or landowner and the public to develop a vision for redevelopment of a site. This allows all parties to understand the needs and goals of the others, and to have a level of confidence that the project will result in something beneficial to all parties. Working with the municipal Economic Development, Planning or Redevelopment office and any local or regional Economic or Redevelopment Corporation, as well as state and federal agencies, brownfields redevelopment can be framed as a very positive investment opportunity for private entities.

Perform a Brownfields Site Inventory
Creating a brownfields site inventory and prioritization scheme can be very helpful in "kick-starting" the redevelopment process. A good starting point is to determine a list of known contaminated sites using MassDEP's Waste Site/Reportable Release Inventory. This database can be queried by town and is accessible online at the MassDEP website. The Waste Site/Reportable Release Inventory is not a list of brownfield sites (it does not differentiate between a brownfield and non-brownfield site), however, this tool can be useful in determining the cleanup status of a site that a town has already identified as vacant or underutilized. This list can be further narrowed down using the compliance status classification field for each site. For example, the Town of Framingham prioritized its inventory by eliminating sites that had a remediation strategy in place or that did not require remediation at this time.

An inventory should include the following types of information:

  • Site location
  • Any known environmental assessment
  • Site photographs (aerial photographs are very useful)
  • Brief site history, including prior uses of the site
  • Size of the parcel(s)
  • Ownership (public versus private ownership should be noted)
  • Current zoning district(s)
  • Description of current site condition: building(s) or vacant land
  • Status of tax payment on the land

The inventory should be accompanied by a location map, in a Geographic Information System (GIS) database if possible, so that the locations of the brownfield sites can be identified and evaluated in the context of their surroundings.

It is important to include corporate properties in the brownfields inventory. After having let contaminated or underutilized properties sit vacant, many corporations are starting to focus attention on their portfolios of underutilized properties. In addition, many corporate properties are in Economic Opportunity Areas designated within Economic Target Areas (ETAs). This would allow owners of those properties to receive benefits including Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), as well as programs specific to Massachusetts such as the Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP).

In recent years, many corporations have become more willing to work with municipalities to bring about redevelopment, and public/private partnerships are becoming a more common mechanism for redevelopment. Redevelopment of brownfield sites is becoming more attractive to corporations, and allows corporations to both manage their long-term environmental liabilities and realize financial gain from sale or lease of the redeveloped property.

Review and Update Zoning:

Reviewing and revising the municipal zoning is often necessary in order to administer a successful brownfields redevelopment program. Zoning districts designated decades ago may no longer be relevant to the new economy in the area or the vision for redevelopment, and could be hindering the potential redevelopment of a property. In addition, in the absence of a clear vision or master plan for a brownfield site, the cleanup goal for a brownfield site maybe set unnecessarily too high or too low based on the existing zoning. For example:

  • A brownfield site in a residential district could be required to cleanup to residential standards, when it could actually be reused within the context of the surrounding neighborhood for some other use that would normally require less cleanup, such as a parking lot, due to a lower risk of exposure. The existing zoning in this case makes the brownfield redevelopment significantly more expensive and less attractive. 
  • A  brownfield located within an old industrial zone may be better used for mixed residential and commercial space, and may require a higher cleanup goal than that of continued industrial uses within the industrial zone.

In other areas, existing zoning may not allow for mixed use, which may be the perfect reuse for certain properties such as an old mill building site or waterfront parcel. Examples of this include:

  • The Town of Bellingham revised their zoning code to allow for the conversion of a vacant, abandoned brownfield mill site into a mix of multi-family and senior housing. 
  • The  Town of Amesbury developed an overlay zoning district in their downtown mill complex along the Powow River to allow for artists' lofts to be created where people could live and work in the same unit. This area was formerly a brownfield site and the Town secured a grant from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission's Brownfield Program to perform an initial assessment.

If zoning in an area of town with brownfields appears to be outdated and out of context with the economic development goals of the municipality, it should be reviewed and updated to accurately reflect the desired use of existing brownfield sites.

Taking Tax Title of Lands:

In some instances, the municipality may consider taking tax title of a brownfield property in which the owner is severely delinquent in paying taxes. This may help to move the redevelopment forward and allow the municipality to advance and facilitate the necessary planning process. This can be a lengthy and difficult approach due to absentee owners, but legal counsel can advise if and when this is a reasonable option.

Step 1. Site Assessment

The first step in redeveloping a brownfield site is performing an assessment to determine the extent of environmental contamination. A project site with contamination at concentrations above a minimum set of standards must follow the assessment and cleanup process established in Code of Massachusetts Regulations 310 CMR 40.0000, the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). The MCP facilitates a process in which the site's current and/or likely future uses, and potential risks to human health and the environment are taken into account in determining the level of cleanup that will be required.

The MCP uses a phased approach to assess and cleanup contamination. The first phases in the MCP process (Phase I and Phase II) involve the characterization of the site. These assessments require that consultants review historical information related to the site and to adjacent sites. Soil and groundwater is also tested during this phase of work to determine the nature and extent of contamination.

The initial investigation will also serve as the basis for evaluating potential future uses of the property. In the past, liability concerns discouraged many parties from getting involved in brownfields transactions. The Massachusetts Brownfields Act of 1998 addressed these concerns by developing liability endpoints and exemptions for certain non-causally responsible parties who may get involved in these projects.

The following parties have protection directly under the statute provided they meet specific requirements specified in M.G.L. c.21E:

  • Eligible persons (including non-causally responsible owners and operators)
  • Downgradient property owners
  • Eligible Tenants
  • Municipalities that have taken property for back taxes and act diligently to divest
  • Redevelopment authorities and community development corporations
  • Secured lenders and charitable trusts

Parties who want to determine if they are eligible for liability protection under c.21E should hire an attorney experienced in state environmental law to ensure that specific requirements of the statute are met.

Certain parties may apply for a Brownfields Covenant Not To Sue (CNTS) in some situations when they are not eligible for liability protection directly under the statute. A CNTS is an individually tailored agreement between the Commonwealth (through the Office of the Attorney General) and a developer of a contaminated property that offers liability relief from Commonwealth and third party claims for response action costs, contribution, property damages, and natural resource damages. Parties entering into a CNTS agreement make a commitment to cleanup and redevelop of the site.

Step 2. Site Cleanup

The site cleanup process must be performed in accordance with a systematic approach outlined in the MCP. The MCP requires that a Licensed Site Professional (LSP) oversee the assessment and cleanup of the site. Cleanup of a site can be tailored to meet the needs and uses expected at the site after redevelopment. In some cases, the extent and type of contamination may dictate the level of remediation necessary, and the end uses that are feasible for the site's redevelopment.

A municipality or entity that engages in site cleanup should work with the community and the public to gauge the potential and likely uses of the property after redevelopment. Under the MCP, there are two routes that can be taken in the remediation process:

  1. Cleanup a site to meet certain contaminant-specific numerical standards
  2. Follow a cumulative risk-based approach that evaluates site specific conditions and incorporates the risk associated with potential future uses of the property.

In some cases it may make sense to remediate the site to standards that are suitable for any type of reuse. However, in other cases, it may be worth evaluating the likely or potential uses of the site against the level and type of residual contamination on the site. For instance, the redevelopment of a site into a downtown parking garage will likely require a different level of cleanup than a site that would be used for a community children's center or residential apartments.

Depending on the type and level of contamination, and the level to which that contamination can be remediated, an LSP may determine that it is necessary to place an Activity and Use Limitation (AUL) on the site. An AUL is a notice recorded on the property deed that restricts the future use of the site to limit the potential exposure pathways and to limit the potential exposure to adults and/or children. An AUL provides notice to future owners or others holding an interest in a property that there are limits on the use of the property and that any proposed change in use of the property requires further assessment and/or cleanup.

An experienced LSP can help guide a community or property owner through the process of site cleanup. The remediation requires close attention to the permitting process and reporting requirements in addition to required expertise to design and implement effective cleanup plans.

Where can I find a Licensed Site Professional (LSP)?

You can find an LSP using the online search engine at the website for the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Hazardous Waste Site Cleanup Professionals.

Where can I check the progress of a cleanup project?

MassDEP maintains an online searchable database of waste sites and reportable releases. Site information is updated as assessment and cleanup occurs, and is available online.

Where can I find a list of properties (or map) with Activity and Use Limitations?

Sites with Activity and Use Limitations can also be queried in the above-referenced DEP online database. A map of AUL sites can also be accessed using MassGIS's online data viewer OLIVER. One data layer shows all the AUL sites in the state.

Where can I read more about the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP)?

The MCP can be accessed on the Massachusetts DEP website.

How can I enlist public participation in the site cleanup process?

The MCP includes several provisions for public involvement during the assessment and cleanup of a site. Typically, the municipality (the Town Administrator or Health Agent) in which the property is located is notified of certain response actions related to the site. Under the MCP, citizens can become involved during response actions by designating a project as a Public Involvement Plan (PIP) site. Through the PIP process, the person conducting response actions must notify citizens of certain remediation milestones and response activities. Files on all sites reported to MassDEP can be reviewed by the public in MassDEP regional offices.

Step 3. Marketing the Property

Marketing a brownfield site for redevelopment requires the municipality to have a clear understanding of the conditions and limitations of the site, a plan for how the site can best be used to benefit the community as well as a developer, and a clear representation of the site conditions and opportunities. A developer, whether a private, public, or non-profit entity, will want to have minimal uncertainty about the site conditions, the community's goals, and the options available for redevelopment. They also want limited liability associated with the contamination at the site.

The marketing process is critical to the successful redevelopment of a brownfield site. All projects benefit from a well developed vision and an organized effort to present that vision to prospective investors. For larger projects, the town or city may consider a detailed marketing campaign and website to solicit responses from interested developers. Municipal websites that provide valuable examples of brownfields programs include:

Environmental Justice and Brownfields

If a municipality owns the property or is involved in the redevelopment plan, it is extremely important to involve the public in the redevelopment planning for the brownfield site. Often times the brownfield is located in an Environmental Justice (EJ) area, and the redevelopment will likely provide a great opportunity for the community. In these areas, it is important to use innovative outreach techniques to ensure that residents with limited access to events and information are involved.

Procurement Process or Less Formal Discussions

Marketing the redevelopment of a brownfield site, particularly larger sites or sites located in specific development areas identified in a municipality's Master Plan or other official planning documents, can be done through a procurement process. The municipality can prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) or a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). RFP's may be more appropriate for larger sites with:

  • obvious market value,
  • a clear highest and best use,
  • a property located in a key location,
  • and when the development plan is clearly articulated in municipal planning documents and can be translated to the RFP.

A RFQ may be more appropriate in situations where:

  • the exact project concept is not clearly planned or known,
  • the property value itself is questionable,
  • additional incentives may be needed to draw interest,
  • and/or when a community wants to open the door to new creative concepts.

This allows the community to select a qualified developer and then work with the developer to create a workable development plan. Other options such as cooperation and discussions among potential developers, the public, and municipal planning staff can create effective and thoughtful projects for sites that may have unique conditions or community needs.

A municipality may consider creating a team of staff and/or volunteers to work together to develop a concept for the redevelopment of the property, brainstorm the potential barriers and/or incentives, and market the property to potential developers. This redevelopment team may include:

  • planning staff
  • community development staff
  • legal counsel
  • a member of the municipal council or select board
  • members of the public
  • planning consultants and/or legal counsel (a consultant can assist residents in developing a concept plan for the property if the community is interested in having more control over the type of project at the site)

Understand the Factors that Affect Property Value

  • Location – What community is the site located in, is the site near public transportation, and is the site near key access roads? Is the site in proximity to a town center or retail and services?
  • Local Demographics – What is the population density nearby, what is the buying power of the local population? Is there a labor force nearby?
  • Functionality and Uses of the Site – Is the site a compilation of unique parcels, what is its highest and best use, what is the community's preferred use?
  • Market Conditions – What is the local supply and demand for property?
  • Liabilities – What are the financial, legal, and environmental liabilities remaining with the site?

Listing a Brownfield Redevelopment Property

A listing sheet should be prepared for the property with an indication or representation of the expected or preferred development on the property. The listing sheet should include the following key information:

  • Map of property location (aerial photograph and/or road map are most useful)
  • Example layout or conceptual site design to provide an idea of the type of use expected or preferred
  • Description of proximity to transportation hubs, key roadways, railways, economic centers, port areas, or other local attractions
  • Zoning and building information, including lot dimensions, setbacks, conceptual building size, and height
  • Brief identification or description of neighboring property occupants or neighborhood character
  • Photo and description of any potential for phased development and any known occupants/buyers if the property is more than one parcel or unit;
  • Improvements and utilities
  • Taxes
  • Purchase price, if available
  • Incentives/requirements for energy efficiency, low impact development, water conservation, affordable housing, etc.
  • All other development incentives, including any tax abatements, funding, or other innovative programs
  • Contact information

Community Outreach and Involvement

It is important to undertake an inclusive community outreach and education process related to a brownfield redevelopment. Many people may not have a complete understanding of what a brownfield is, of the level of assessment and remediation performed at a site, and of how that relates to the end use. It is also prudent to involve the public in the decision making of potential end uses for a brownfield site. Providing information and including the public at all stages of the redevelopment process will more likely result in a successful project.

Marketing Methods

  • Create a webpage to describe the property and potential project concepts.
  • Take advantage of local real estate brokers that have local market knowledge, local contacts, and experience in creating marketing materials. They can also help to facilitate negotiations and bring potential buyers to the table for discussions.
  • Advertise property with an effective listing sheet, as well as through local newspapers, spotlight advertising in brownfields reports and relevant industry reports, and online real estate magazines and listings.
  • Be prepared to answer questions, use incentives to negotiate, and provide an idea of the likely regulatory process that will be required for development of the property.

Step 4. Incentives and Funding for Brownfields

Taking ownership of a brownfield site provides a higher potential risk for a developer or a municipality than a "greenfield." Ensuring the economic viability of a project in an economically depressed area, where brownfields are often located, is another potential challenge. The limitations on the use of the site, extent of contamination, and perception of danger that must be overcome on many brownfield sites require additional effort on the part of the developer and the municipality for a successful project. To engage a landowner or developer in a brownfield redevelopment, the project may require incentives on the part of the municipality, the state, and the federal government. These incentives may be in the form of tax credits, liability relief, financial assistance, and potentially innovative zoning and planning techniques at the local level.

The use of many of the other Smart Growth / Smart Energy Techniques in this Toolkit can help to create incentives for brownfields redevelopment:

State Brownfields program incentives are available to buyers, and sometimes sellers, of contaminated property provided there is a commitment to cleanup and redevelopment. Brownfield properties are often located where there is existing infrastructure, workforce, and other amenities. State incentives can help parties identify risk, limit liability, and fund the cleanup of brownfield sites enabling their reuse for industry, housing, parks, and other purposes.

Federal Brownfields funding programs are also available to both landowners and communities for assessment and cleanup.

Regional Brownfields programs may be available through regional planning or economic development agencies. They can often help groups of communities to access state and federal funding jointly. These regional agencies can be particularly helpful for municipalities that may not have sufficient staff or staff with enough experience in brownfields redevelopment and funding programs.

State, federal and other grants and funding programs are presented below. They are coded to indicate which steps in the redevelopment process can be funded through each program. Codes are as follows:

  • A = Assessment
  • C = Cleanup
  • M = Marketing
  • F = Funding for Redevelopment
  • P = Planning, zoning, and other pre-planning tools

State Programs:

Brownfield Redevelopment Fund (BRF)  (A, C)
The Massachusetts Brownfields Act established the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund (BRF) that provides loans for site assessment and cleanup to public and private sector parties. Available funding includes:

  • Site assessment loans of up to $100,000;
  • Cleanup loans of up to $500,000; and
  • Cleanup and site assessment loans of up to $2 million for projects designated as "Priority Projects."

To qualify for this program, the project has to be located in an Economically Distressed Area (EDA), and the applicant must be an eligible person. MassDevelopment administers the BRF.

Massachusetts Business Development Corporation (MBDC) (M, F)
administers the state's Brownfields Redevelopment Access to Capital (BRAC) program. Mass BRAC offers a unique structure that utilizes environmental insurance to safeguard parties involved in redevelopment from the risk of environmental liabilities associated with brownfields. The affordable and effective protection offered to lenders and developers/borrowers helps to ensure:

  • Investment capital,
  • Profitable projects,
  • Project completion, and
  • Commercially viable properties and revitalized communities.

Of note, MBDC's Remediation Loan Program can be used to finance remediation, regulatory compliance, site preparation and entitlement, demolition, construction, mortgage financing, and various soft costs.

Brownfields Tax Credit for Rehabilitation of Contaminated Property (P, A, F)
Taxpayers are allowed a credit against their tax liability for the costs incurred to rehabilitate contaminated property owned or leased for business purposes and located within an economically distressed area.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (P, A, C)
In addition to administering state cleanup laws and regulations, the MassDEP Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup takes an active role in promoting brownfields redevelopment projects in a variety of ways. MassDEP offers the following assistance:

  • Technical assistance through single points of contact that have been established in Boston and in each MassDEP regional office;
  • Information on the cleanup process, funding, and, in some instances, site-specific information, is available to assist parties undertaking these projects;
  • Certification of eligibility for the Brownfields Federal Tax Deduction Program; and
  • Limited assessment and cleanup funding for municipalities and nonprofit entities.

Flexibility on cleanup timelines is available through the Special Project Designation, a provision in MassDEP's waste site cleanup regulations that provides flexibility for brownfields and other public projects.

Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
The Massachusetts DHCD is the administering agency for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) State Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The Program serves cities and towns with populations under 50,000. It funds activities that will benefit low and moderate income persons, prevent slum and blight, or respond to urgent/critical community needs. There are three components that can be used for brownfields projects.

  • Community Development Funds (A, C, F, P): Provides grants to municipalities for planning, pre-development studies, property acquisition, site assessment, cleanup, demolition, and other activities.
  • Mini-Entitlement Program (A, C, F, P): Provides grants to municipalities designated as "Mini-Entitlements" for activities including planning, pre-development studies, property acquisition, site assessment, cleanup and demolition.
  • Economic Development Fund (A, C, F, P): Provides grants to municipalities to support job creation. Eligible activities include: planning, pre-development studies, property acquisition, site assessment, cleanup, demolition, and other activities. Businesses can be eligible for loans or grants through municipalities for real estate acquisition, and other related activities.

DHCD also administers other programs that can be used for brownfields projects.

  • Community Development Action Grant (CDAG) (F): Provides funding for publicly owned or managed projects that will have a significant impact on the economic condition of a city or town, including activities that will leverage significant private investment and generate or retain long term employment, as well as projects that will significantly improve the conditions of low and moderate income persons through the support of workforce housing production and/or the preservation of public housing. Any city or town in the Commonwealth is eligible to apply to DHCD for CDAG funds. CDAG can be used in a variety of ways, including installation, improvement, construction, repair, rehabilitation, or reconstruction of publicly owned or managed buildings or other structures, facades, streets, roadways, thoroughfares, sidewalks, rail spurs, utility distribution systems, and water and sewer lines, for site preparation and improvements, demolition of existing structures, and relocation assistance. Applications for the program are accepted and reviewed, and awards made on a rolling basis. A community may submit one individual application and/or one joint application per fiscal year funding round. CDAG awards are limited to a maximum of $1 million per project.
  • Priority Development Fund - Planning Assistance Grants (M, P): Provides grants up to $50,000 to assist municipalities with planning, zoning, education, and outreach leading to housing production. Many communities use these funds to hire consultants to prepare plans in an effort to spark the development of housing. Priority is given to strategies that encourage housing production in city or town centers, on brownfields or underutilized commercial or industrial land, or as part of a transit-oriented development.

Underground Storage Tank (UST) Program (C): Offers limited funding to cities and towns for activities related to leaking USTs, closure of fuel storage tanks, and other activities.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) (F): Provides subsidized interest (2%) 20-year term loans for projects that protect or improve water quality. Any Massachusetts municipality may apply and compete for this financing during the annual solicitation period which normally runs from June through mid-August. Brownfields cleanup projects are eligible for SRF financing, provided that the municipal proponent can demonstrate an anticipated water quality benefit to the work.

Office of the Attorney General (A, C, M): Oversees the state's Brownfields Covenant Program. The Brownfields Act of 1998 amended Chapter 21E by establishing significant liability relief to spur the redevelopment of brownfields sites, while ensuring that the Commonwealth's environmental standards are met. One tool provided to the Office of the Attorney General helps to handle some of the more difficult sites. At sites where liability concerns are preventing redevelopment, the Attorney General can enter into a Brownfields Covenant Not to Sue Agreement that exempts a developer from certain liability in exchange for a commitment to cleanup a site and to undertake a project that adds to the economic or physical revitalization of the community.

Massachusetts Opportunity Relocation and Expansion (MORE) Program (C, F): Located in the Executive Office of Economic Development, MORE offers competitive grants to municipalities that partner with private developers to improve infrastructure for projects that stimulate job creation. Although site assessment cannot be funded through MORE, site cleanup and preparation work tied to infrastructure improvements are eligible for funding.

Smart Growth / Smart Energy Programs: Various Massachusetts state agencies offer incentive programs that may be used directly or indirectly for brownfields redevelopment projects that support smart growth / smart energy. These include:

  • Smart Growth / Smart Energy Technical Assistance Grants (C): Grants of up to $30,000 per community are available to implement land use practices that are smart growth consistent. New zoning, subdivision regulations, or land use studies are typical activities funded.
  • Priority Development Fund - Planning Assistance Grants (C): Provide up to $50,000 to assist municipalities with planning, zoning, and education and outreach leading to new housing production. Communities can use these grants to hire consultants to create plans for downtowns, underutilized sites, and transit station areas.
  • LAND/PARC Grant Programs (formerly Self-Help/Urban Self-Help) (F): LAND grants provide financial assistance to city and town conservation commissions to acquire critical open space. The open space must be used for conservation or passive recreation purposes. PARC grants are awarded to cities and towns to acquire, develop or renovate park and outdoor recreation facilities.
  • Public Works and Economic Development (PWED) (F): Promotes economic development through improvements to streets, sidewalks, and other specified infrastructure. Eligible activities include design, construction, and/or reconstruction of existing and/or newly relocated streets, sidewalks, and related infrastructure.
  • Community Development Action Grant (CDAG) (F): Stimulates economic development activities that will leverage private investment, create jobs and help blighted neighborhoods. Eligible activities include installation, improvement, construction, alteration, and rehabilitation of publicly-owned and managed properties such as building facades, streets, sidewalks, rail spurs, and water and sewer lines.
  • TOD Infrastructure & Housing Support Program ("TOD Bond Program") (F): Offers capital grants to design and build four types of projects within one quarter mile of a transit station: housing, parking, pedestrian improvements, and bicycle facilities. Twenty-five percent of the units in any housing project must be affordable. Applicants must be public entities but may involve public-private partnerships.

Federal Programs:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers funding to public entities for assessing and cleaning up brownfields sites. Assistance is available through the following grant and loan programs:

  • Brownfields Assessment Demonstration Pilot Program (A): Provides up to $200,000 for site assessment.
  • Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund Program (C): Provides up to $1,000,000 for cleanup.
  • Brownfields Cleanup Grant Program (C): Provides up to $200,000 for cleanup.
  • Brownfields Job Training Program (F): Provides up to $200,000 for job training activities related to brownfields.
  • Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (F): Provides up to $100,000 funding for redevelopment related activities at federal Superfund sites.

EPA's New England Regional Office offers additional site assessment assistance under the Brownfields Targeted Site Assessment Program (A). The EPA regional website also features several success stories of Massachusetts projects that have received EPA assistance.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides federal funding for community development activities, including brownfields assessment and cleanup, through the following programs:

  • Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) (A, C, F): Provides an annual grant to municipalities with populations over 50,000 or identified central cities of metropolitan areas ("entitlement communities"). These funds are awarded on a formula basis and may be used for brownfields-related activities such as site assessment, cleanup, demolition, rehabilitation, and construction. Non-entitlement communities may access these funds through their states (see DHCD).
  • Section 108 Loan Program (M, F): Provides entitlement communities receiving CDBG funds through HUD with up to five times their annual CDBG allocation in guaranteed loans for brownfields redevelopment activities. Non-entitlement communities submit joint applications with their states (see DHCD).
  • "Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) (M, F): Provides competitive grant funding to communities for activities related to the redevelopment of brownfields sites.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (A, C, F) offers funding for developments and redevelopments in rural areas. Many of USDA's programs can be used for site assessment and remediation. Assistance is available through the following grant and loan programs: Rural Housing Programs, Rural Business and Cooperative Programs, Community Facilities Programs, and Water and Wastewater Programs.

Examples of Brownfield Restoration

Visioning: Northampton, MA

The City of Northampton has been working toward a long-term vision for the redevelopment of an old dry stream bed as a recreation corridor lined with redeveloped buildings since as early as the 1970's. The City secured a grant from the Attorney General's Brownfields Grant Program and the EPA Brownfields Pilot Program to develop a Mill River Corridor Redevelopment Plan, which provides an overall vision and detailed implementation plan for the redevelopment and revitalization of the corridor. This plan provides a good example of incorporating brownfield redevelopment into a larger economic revitalization vision for an area.

Allen Street Community Gardens, Somerville, MA

The Allen Street Community Gardens are situated on a lot (roughly 4800 sq ft.) that had been a vacant eyesore, subject to illegal dumping for more than 40 years. The community gardens at #30 Allen St. represents an effort by the City to carve out a piece of productive and enjoyable green space, using an urban in-fill approach, in the heart of what is the most densely developed neighborhood in Sommerville.

The community garden parcel was assessed, cleaned up, and redeveloped between 2002 and 2007 under the City's brownfield redevelopment program, which used a combination of EPA brownfields grant funds, state funds, and HUD/CDBG funds to assess and remediate vinyl chloride and other typical urban soil contaminants that were present on the site. Remediation was achieved by removing the top 4 feet of soils and replacing them with clean fill and new surface features including a passive park with a sitting area, and series of raised beds for vegetable and flower gardening. The EPA/HUD supported cleanup was performed in the Spring of 2007 and the garden construction was completed in July. The garden plots are overseen by Groundwork Somerville, a local non-profit.

Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority

The Steamship Authority purchased the former Hathaway-Braley Wharf in Fairhaven, MA in 2000 with the intention of redeveloping this blighted brownfield property into a vessel maintenance facility. Previous uses included a railroad depot by the Old Colony Railroad Company, an Iron Foundry, and a bulk fuel oil storage facility. The Steamship Authority conducted comprehensive site assessments, followed by soil and groundwater remediation measures to comply with the MCP regulations, and has replaced and/or refurbished all of the buildings on the property for vessel maintenance purposes.