While land recycling has great economic and environmental benefits, without the right tools, skills, and knowledge, reusing land can produce certain challenges. Obstacles to redevelopment may include lack of funding and increased scrutiny. These can particularly impede projects on brownfields, which carry the stigma of contamination. Because of these concerns, the perceived ease of developing on open land, or greenfields, is alluring to many.
Every developer knows that in real estate only three things matter: location, location, location. Because idled and underused infill sites are often located in distressed urban areas concerns arise about crime, safety, and access to quality education and services. These and other market factors frequently pull development to open land near traditionally desirable communities and away from urban infill sites.
Although recent changes in federal law provide some liability relief to new purchasers of contaminated properties, the law is very complicated and many state laws still have strict liability covering real property. Thus, in many cases, any current or past property owner can potentially be legally and financially liable regardless of who is responsible for contamination. This liability web continues to throw a chill on many brownfield projects even in the presence of regulatory reforms designed to encourage redevelopment. A common belief among many brownfield owners is that it is less risky and cheaper to abandon or "mothball" a facility than to conduct a site assessment that could trigger large cleanup costs and potential liability.
Assessing whether or not a site is contaminated can be a costly process that deters land reuse. Potential purchasers are often unwilling or unable to risk an investment in a site assessment for a property that may require cleanup they cannot afford. Even if a site has been purchased, concerns over cleanup costs may further stall redevelopment. Uncertainty over time, cost or a high price for cleanup leaves many brownfield sites in development limbo.
The process of redeveloping an infill site, particularly a brownfield, can be complicated and confusing. The current morass of vague, overlapping and sometimes conflicting requirements at the federal, state, and local levels often intimidates developers. Making sense of legal and regulatory requirements may be daunting and discouraging. Guidance from lawyers and consultants is often needed to guide a project through the legal and regulatory framework.
Obtaining private front-end financing for brownfield cleanup can be a difficult process. Since financing is more readably available for development on greenfields, infill and brownfield sites are often passed over.
Brownfields and infill sites must compete with attractive, undeveloped suburban and rural land, also called greenfields. When considering the real or perceived risks and costs of land recycling, a greenfield development may seem more economically sensible as the immediate costs are typically less than developing on an infill or brownfield site. However, it is important to consider the long-term economic gain of land recycling and the added social and environmental rewards of sustainable development.