Dauphin County Commissioners hope $400K in EPA grants spur redevelopment

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Hundreds of thousands of federal dollars will soon start flowing into Dauphin County, commissioners planned to announce Thursday during their annual State of the County address.

The county calls the grant money the first step to redeveloping certain vacant properties. There’s no guarantee that money will lead to new projects, but those who stand to benefit hope it helps move their priorities forward.

“This has been about a 10-year project,” Steelton borough manager Doug Brown said, standing in the empty lot across from the municipal building on Front Street.

It’s a collection of properties spanning seven acres and about two city blocks. “We’re calling it the Renaissance Row of North Front Street,” Brown said.

The land is what’s considered a brownfield property, a former commercial or industrial site that might need environmental cleanup before new construction can start.

The Steelton land is made up of former gas stations and auto repair shops. The borough removed large underground storage tanks to make the area more attractive to developers.

Brown also said they’ve done required environmental assessments in past years, but they need to be updated before development can happen. That’s where the new federal money can come into play.

County commissioners just got $400,000 in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency — one of four counties in the state to receive such monies — to provide assessments to as many of about 100 priority brownfields they’ve identified around the county.

Commissioner Mike Pries met ABC27 in Hummelstown to show off an example of a successful brownfield redevelopment project. The Verde apartments, built on the former site of vegetable packaging plant Verdelli Farms, received different redevelopment grants.

At $3,000-$5,000, an environmental assessment is the cheap part of turning old to new, Jamie Brubaker, said.

As president of Lawson Development and Construction, Brubaker developed the ongoing $20 million apartment project. He said what the assessments uncover is where the real costs come from.

“On the site, we had probably $300,000-400,000 of demolition, tank removal, remediation,” he said.

These new grants don’t pay for any of that — and they don’t guarantee redevelopment will follow the environmental study. But Brubaker said it at least gives developers an idea of what they’re getting into and what other grants they can get.

Pries said it’s step one in redeveloping brownfields.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “what we’re looking to do is get these projects on the map in front of potential developers to allow them to see what could be.”

That’s a big incentive for commissioners. Redeveloping property puts a lot more value — and a lot more revenue — on tax rolls of school districts, municipalities, and the county itself.

Even though the grants won’t provide significant financial help to a developer hoping to offset increased costs associated with redevelopment, in Steelton, Brown said every little bit helps.

“Steelton Borough’s a struggling town and anything to incentivize a developer to come in and close on the deal, we’re going to take advantage of,” he said.

The county has three years to do the assessments; they want to include as many of those hundred-or-so priority projects as they can.

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