Properties along Ulmerton Road considered for brownfield designation

LARGO — It's been used in Clearwater to win $4.3 million in state and federal grants for more than 70 private sector projects. It's been used in St. Petersburg for a controversial $240,000 tax credit for Walmart. It could have been used in New Port Richey, but residents worried it would hurt property values.

It's the brownfield designation, a status that has been a boon for business in some cities and a source of controversy in others.

Economic development officials from Largo and Pinellas County have their eyes on Ulmerton Road for the next local brownfield area, and at a meeting next week they'll explain why they think a new brownfield will prompt more businesses to open up in and around Largo.

While the brownfield program has caused debate in other cities, officials aren't expecting that here.

Brownfield areas are contaminated, or perceived to be, and the designation opens up potential state and federal money for cleanup and redevelopment. Potential perks include $2,500 tax refund per job created for businesses, sales tax credits on building materials for affordable housing developers and state loan guarantees.

There are 13 brownfield areas in Pinellas County, ranging in size from a swath of 6,400 acres in downtown St. Petersburg to a three-acre tract in Belleair. The "Ulmerton Road Opportunity Corridor" would be the county's 14th brownfield area, and it would cover about 4 square miles between Seminole Boulevard on the west and Roosevelt Boulevard on the east, an industrial/commercial area with some empty buildings and vacant land.

"This designation really helps," said Teresa Brydon, Largo economic development manager. "It gives us as well as the commercial property owners an extra tool in the toolbox for development."

Brownfields don't necessarily have contaminated land. There are many older buildings along Ulmerton, though, and Brydon cited the common use of lead paint and asbestos years ago as potentially warranting cleanup.

Much of downtown Largo — about 900 acres — was designated brownfield in 2008. Even with the incentives, there hasn't been much development there. Brydon blames the poor economy.

"Development is slowly taking place," she said. "There just haven't been that many opportunities."

New Port Richey officials considered making most of their city a brownfield area last year, but residents and real estate agents complained the program's pollution connotations would hurt property values.

Brydon and Cindy Margiotta, a manager with Pinellas County Economic Development, don't expect a similar outcry over the proposed Ulmertown brownfield. They took care to exclude most residential areas along Ulmerton, and property owners who don't want to be part of a brownfield can opt out.

The proposed brownfield includes properties in both Largo and unincorporated Pinellas County, so the two governments are working together. The county's economic development staff will host a meeting June 21 at the St. Petersburg College EpiCenter, 13805 58th St. N in Clearwater. The 5:30 p.m. meeting will allow staff to gather input from the public.

Largo's City Commission is scheduled to vote on a resolution in support of the brownfield July 3. The County Commission is scheduled to vote on it Aug. 7.

Neither vote is expected to draw as much protest as St. Petersburg City Council's decision earlier this month to support a $240,000 tax credit for Walmart, the corporate parent of a Sam's Club built in an area Walmart argued should be classified as brownfield. Representatives of smaller businesses and community groups argued against the tax credit, but Brydon agreed with the council.

"Hooray for them," Brydon said. "They made the right decision. That was a contaminated site, and no one else was going to go in and clean it up."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Properties along Ulmerton Road considered for brownfield designation 06/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 6:35pm]

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