Vacant properties on council’s radar

Keywords: Poll question,

The Cortez City Council is considering using the assistance of the Colorado Brownfields Foundation to look at vacant properties in need of attention and that could be used to house new businesses.

Mark Walker of the Colorado Brownfields Foundation, a non-profit organization out of Denver, addressed the council last Tuesday night about what it would take to move forward with such a project.

The foundation specializes in cleaning up, reinvesting and redeveloping brownfields, or sites where the reuse or redevelopment is complicated by the presence, or perceived presence, of environmental contaminants.

The goal of working with brownfields is to make them more presentable or to eliminate the possible contaminants, as well as to convince people wanting to start a business to reinvest in the building rather than looking elsewhere.

The advantage is making certain areas more aesthetically pleasing and attractive.

One example Walker mentioned is how a single methamphetamine lab can blight a whole neighborhood, and that it often costs more to tear down the building where the drug was produced than what the residence is actually worth.

City Manager Shane Hale said Tuesday’s meeting was informational to the council about brownfields and the possibilities.

“We would certainly like to work to make the buildings more attractive,” Hale said on Thursday, mentioning the idea would be to get properties more business-ready for people looking for a place to open a business.

Hale said new businesses now tend to migrate to places that were never developed before. Those places, called greenfields, are east of the downtown area near Walmart in Cortez.

The result, he said, is a devastated downtown with vacant buildings, and those empty buildings are prime targets for vandalism.

During Walker’s presentation, he showed buildings in Cortez that he thought fit the definition of brownfields. Several of these buildings, which included a few gas stations, had been closed and were boarded up.

Walker said not all brownfields are abandoned or large buildings.

The process of any such project, he said, begins with historical record research, sampling and a cleanup plan.

Walker said the process often takes years.

In the first year, the city would have to prioritize what it wants to do while trying to acquire assessment funds through grants or other avenues.

Phase 2, called “Bridging the Knowledge Gap,” involves beginning the planning and the cleanup plan while writing a grant for the Environmental Protection Agency cleanup.

Phase 3 would include implementing the cleanup plan.

“The perception is real,” Walker said when talking about what people think of closed buildings in disrepair and the possible contaminants. “I am trying to get you to think about your gateways.”

“How can the city be more proactive in turning a brownfield into a strong business (opportunity)?” Hale asked. “At this point we are trying to figure out what properties are a brownfield.”

Hale said the council would only get involved if items such as allocating funds, forming an intergovernmental agreement or looking into grant possibilities were on the table.

Making an inventory of brownfield properties in the city, he said, is a more administrative task which would not need council approval.