October 22, 2021

Panel to discuss options for brownfields

A steering committee will meet next month to discuss a program to develop the 42 brownfields in a $585,000 program to clear the path for revitalizing the southeast portion of Cortland.

Colleen Nelson, a project manager and planner at Cortland-based Thoma Development Consultants, said the committee, made up of consulting groups, will meet to discuss which sites will be studied and redeveloped first.

In May, consultants met with city residents to discuss option for the 450-acre Brownfield Opportunity Area. The idea is to create a plan to develop new uses for land within the area. The committee will: identify sites; determine whether they are contaminated, vacant or underused; create a plan to redevelop them; and implement those plans.

The 450-acre area has the remnants of several old factories, a waste chemical disposal facility, railroad facilities and other brownfields, surrounded by residential neighbors developed over a century and a half to house workers for those employers. The plans would suggest more than ways to clean up whatever sites are contaminated; they would create a vision for a neighborhood that would draw development.

Nelson said the consultants are looking to start with a handful. “There are four to five sites we did have in mind,” she said recently.

When most people hear the word “brownfield,” they assume contamination, but that’s not always the case. In May, Emma Phillips, a consultant with C&S Cos., said it can also be vacant or underutilized sites within the 450 acres. “It doesn’t have to be contaminated,” she said.

Nelson said following the meeting in May that consultants went back each to do a different task — a housing study, a market study, a transportation analysis and even graphics and designs. “Ultimately the plan is to implement,” Nelson said.

Completion of the planning stage is planned for the end of the year, Nelson said.
Different ideas presented by city residents included a solar-power facility at the 5-acre Noss Industrial Park site, an indoor youth center, a BMX track — or maybe just clean the place up.

In April, the city received $200,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add to an existing $385,000 to aid for redeveloping former industrial sites.

As part of the plan, the city is now in phase two, or the nomination study, for the Brownfield Opportunity Area. The phase considers how feasible public comments are on what to do with brownfield, vacant or underutilized properties.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation began work with the city to plan a $161,000 cleanup for Noss Industrial Park. The 5-acre site is densely wooded and has the former Rosen Brothers property on the eastern side, a former waste chemical disposal facility. It once was home to the Wickwire Brothers Inc. wire factory from about 1866 to 1970, which included a nail mill, netting mill, glass cloth weave mill and several storage buildings, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

When buildings were demolished, rubble was reportedly bulldozed into basements and was used to fill excavations, depressions and large trenches; some concrete floor slabs, foundation walls and footings at or below ground level were reportedly not removed, according to the DEC.