When Laura Tobin looks at a vacant property that was once used for commercial, manufacturing or industrial businesses, she doesn’t see a blighted piece of land – she sees an opportunity for environmentally responsible urban growth and renewal.
“If we can understand the environmental liability associated with a property, and strategize how that liability can be addressed as part of the potential redevelopment, it changes the perceived hurdle into an opportunity,” Tobin said.
Tobin, area manager for the Denver water & environment office of WSP USA, and her team provide services in such areas as due diligence, site investigation, remediation, compliance, and industrial hygiene.
But her greatest interest comes in helping clients with the redevelopment of former commercial properties affected by contamination, commonly known as brownfields. She has worked extensively at sites where soil and groundwater have been adversely affected by a variety of contaminants, including volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and petroleum hydrocarbons.
“Brownfields redevelopment is about more than just the environmental clean-up,” Tobin said. “It is also about placemaking and economic development. Many contaminated brownfield sites, especially in urban areas, sat idle for decades because the cost of cleaning these sites was very uncertain.”
She said the cost of the clean-up was often greater than the land would be worth after remediation, but tax incentives are making these properties more attractive, and are getting a fresh look.
“These brownfields were often in prime in-fill locations, close to transportation and urban centers,” Tobin said. “Today, redevelopers have a tremendous opportunity to qualify for lucrative tax credits and the financial incentives of a lower purchase price due to environmental liability.”