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The Connection Between Florida’s Brownfields And Healthcare Facilities

Since its enactment in 1997, Florida’s Brownfields Redevelopment Program has successfully encouraged investment in urban areas where many brownfield sites are located. A form of brownfield redevelopment called Healthfields has played a significant role in the land redevelopment effort, seeking to remedy healthcare access in underserved communities.

One of the first Healthfield facilities in Florida is the Willa Carson Health and Wellness Center in Clearwater, Florida, which opened in 2001. The center operates on donations and grants, and its volunteer workforce provides free healthcare to the surrounding community.

Cobb Cole’s environmental law team has extensive knowledge of Florida’s land development and redevelopment projects, including its Brownfields Redevelopment Program. It can advise clients on the investigation, acquisition, cleanup, design, permitting, financing, and reuse of brownfield sites for healthcare facilities.

What is Brownfields Redevelopment?

Brownfields are typically previously developed sites that have been underused or abandoned due to the presence or perception of contamination. Florida’s Brownfields Redevelopment Act promotes the cleanup and reuse of the state’s brownfield sites. To foster economic growth and community revitalization, it provides:

  • Financial incentives. The state offers tax credits, job creation tax refunds, site rehabilitation funding, and sales tax credits.
  • Liability protections. Entities that are not responsible for the contamination but want to redevelop a brownfield site can receive protection from potential liability.
  • Streamlined processes. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provides technical support and oversight assistance to entities looking to invest in a brownfield site.

As incentives and regulations surrounding brownfield redevelopment in Florida evolve over time, it’s a good idea to consult an environmental law attorney to get the most recent and comprehensive information.

Benefits of Using Brownfields for Healthcare Facilities

Revitalizing brownfield sites creates numerous benefits for Florida communities. 

  1. Strategic location. Many brownfields are centrally located in neighborhoods that can benefit from easier access to healthcare. They also typically have good connections to local infrastructure, including utilities and roadways. In addition, they’re often near other community services like job centers, schools, transit, and housing. 
  2. Urban renewal. Converting abandoned or unused sites to healthcare campuses and property can address urban decay, providing multiple social and economic benefits. It also offers substantial opportunities for repurposing underutilized land, thereby reducing urban sprawl. A redeveloped brownfield can also increase the tax base, which, in turn, improves infrastructure, education, and other social amenities. 
  3. Sustainability. Brownfield redevelopment meets the three pillars of sustainable development in ways that surpass other development: environmentally by remediating environmental hazards, economically by generating development and employment, and socially by bringing new life to urban areas. It also saves on infrastructure expenses and prevents additional environmental degradation when building on greenfield sites. And because brownfields are usually in urban environments, people don’t need to use their cars to get to them.
  4. Crime reduction. Many, if not most, brownfield properties are abandoned, blighted, and depressed, meaning they often become high-crime areas. The EPA has published anecdotal surveys that indicate brownfield redevelopment could decrease crime by increasing property values and giving communities a safer place to live and work.
  5. Job creation. Government-supported brownfield programs go beyond incentivizing developers; they also create jobs. The EPA estimates that about nine jobs are created for every $100,000 the agency loans out for brownfield redevelopment, and the benefits don’t stop at the labor force used in remediation. The projects also create a path to providing new jobs at the completed facility for decades to come.

Challenges in Converting Brownfields into Healthcare Facilities

Converting brownfields into healthcare facilities does come with significant challenges.

  1. Potential contamination can pose health risks for vulnerable populations, so ensuring thorough and effective cleanup that complies with strict health and environmental standards is crucial.
  2. The remediation regulatory landscape is complex and includes potential liability for incomplete or mishandled cleanups.
  3. There’s often community opposition to the redevelopment, typically stemming from residual contamination concerns.

An attorney specializing in environmental law can help navigate these and other challenges, assisting with everything from obtaining necessary permits to liaising with regulatory bodies and ensuring the redevelopment process meets legal standards. They can also help mitigate potential legal risks, protecting developers and future occupants from unforeseen liabilities. Lastly, they can provide guidance on how to manage community outreach or public hearings during the redevelopment process.

Successful Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Into Healthcare Facilities

Brownfields to Healthfields redevelopment transforms previously contaminated sites into viable projects that improve access to healthcare for the communities. Along with the Willa Carson Health Resource Center, successful brownfield redevelopment projects in Florida include:

  • AdventHealth’s Port Orange Health Park delivers primary care, outpatient services, and an emergency room/department on an approximately 7-acre former truck stop.
  • The Pasco County Florida Lacoochee Community & Health Care Center is a 12,800-square-foot building offering premier healthcare and nutrition and job training programs.
  • The East Side Environmental Council/Duval Health Department provides increased access to affordable healthcare through St. Vincent’s mobile health outreach.

These and other successful brownfield redevelopment projects have addressed healthcare disparities in underserved communities, contributed to job creation for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, and tackled health, environmental, and economic challenges faced by underrepresented communities throughout Florida.

Future Potential of Brownfield Sites for Healthcare Infrastructure

Florida’s expansive industrial, commercial, and agricultural past means the state is home to thousands of brownfield sites, with more than 200 transformed into viable redevelopments. The vast majority of sites remain underutilized. But as the state’s population grows and demand for healthcare services rises, these sites represent a golden opportunity for redevelopers.

Their strategic locations make them ideal candidates for healthcare infrastructure and can help Florida achieve multiple goals, including:

  • Revitalizing blighted urban areas.
  • Providing more accessible healthcare to residents.
  • Promoting sustainable development practices that use existing infrastructure.

While brownfield remediation has historically been a costly and time-consuming process, the redevelopment process is slowly transforming, thanks in large part to the advent of innovative technologies. For instance, the use of institutional and engineering controls allows for the use of risk-based corrective action techniques to reach regulatory closure. Modular and prefabricated building techniques are reducing construction timelines, costs, and environmental impact. Lastly, the use of smart sensors and AI-powered monitoring systems ensures that residual brownfield contaminants are tracked, ensuring the safety of the healthcare facilities built on the sites.

By leveraging these and other advanced technologies, Florida developers can turn the state’s many brownfields into state-of-the-art healthcare centers, setting a benchmark for other developers, communities, and states to follow.

Environmental Law Services From Cobb Cole

Utilizing Florida’s brownfields for healthcare facilities is a win-win proposition environmentally, economically, and community health-wise. However, the path to brownfield transformation is strewn with legal complexities and redevelopment hurdles.

A qualified environmental law attorney has the expertise to navigate the brownfield redevelopment maze, ensuring remediation efforts comply with state and federal guidelines. They’re also skilled in advocating for developers and safeguarding their interests while negotiating with regulatory agencies. As community concerns about brownfield redevelopment arise, they can assist in public hearings, ensuring clear communication and transparency. An environmental law attorney bridges the gap between environmental responsibility and redevelopment goals, ensuring Florida’s brownfields are transformed sustainably, legally, and with the community’s interests at heart.

Cobb Cole environmental attorney Michael Sznapstajler specializes in representing clients with Brownfield redevelopment matters under Florida’s state program. A past president of the Florida Brownfields Association, he is well-positioned to assist clients with various negotiations, cleanup management, and other redevelopment matters.

For more information on the connection between Florida’s Brownfields Redevelopment Program and healthcare facilities or to learn more about investing in brownfield properties, contact Cobb Cole today or call partner Michael Sznapstajler at 386-323-9222.

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