City seeks enrollment

Published 11:20 am Saturday, July 19, 2008

By Staff
in program
Brownfields plan could spur local development
Contributing Editor
The City of Washington is submitting an application to a state agency so it can participate in that agency’s brownfields program.
The city wants to participate in the program, administered by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, so it can proceed with its plans to sell the Hamilton Beach/Impressions property to the Beaufort County Committee of 100. The Committee of 100, as a prospective developer, has submitted an application to participate in the brownfields program, according to a memorandum from City Manager James C. Smith to Mayor Judy Meier Jennette and the City Council.
During its meeting Monday, the council authorized Smith to sign documents related to the city’s application to participate in the brownfields program. It also appropriate $5,500 to cover fees associated with applying for inclusion in the brownfields program.
In August 2007, the city offered to sell the most of the former Hamilton Beach-Proctor Silex property to the Committee of 100 for $1 million. The property now houses Impressions Marketing Group, which manufactures display cases for the retail trade.
Approximately 10 years ago, environmental contamination was discovered on the property.
Under that plan, the city keeps two tracts. One tract, on the eastern end of the property, is about 7.69 acres. The other tract, on the southwestern corner of the property, is about 1.81 acres.
The remaining tract, which would be sold, contains about 28.57 acres upon which the manufacturing facility and other improvements are located.
The contaminated area is located under the 28.57-acre tract, and it appears to extend, to some degree, under the 7.69-acre tract, according to the memorandum.
The city must submit an application to participate in the brownfields program if it wants the 7.69-acre tract to be included in the program.
The brownfields program helps facilitate redevelopment of contaminated land by alleviating liability for prospective developers, thereby simplifying the process of obtaining loans for redevelopment projects, according to the memorandum.
Councilman Archie Jennings, during a brief interview Friday, said by participating in the brownfields program, the Committee of 100 “gets a full assessment and a determination of the full extent of contamination.” The city, with its participation in the program, will get a “clean bill of health” in regard to the property it retains, he said.
Jennings said the city suggested to the Committee of 100 that it pursue participation in the brownfields program for “an extra layer of protection” against liability if it redevelops the property.
If the city’s application is approved, the city and DENR will work together to develop a brownfields agreement specific to the property in question. Under such an agreement, a developer agrees to perform actions that DENR deems necessary to make the property suitable for the proposed reuse of the property, according to the memorandum. In exchange, DENR agrees to limit the liability of the prospective developer to those actions required in the agreement.
A 30-day public-comment period is part of the agreement process.
The city attorney believes the city will be reimbursed by Hamilton Beach for the $5,500 fee as a result of ongoing negotiations between the city and Hamilton Beach, according to the memorandum.
In 2007 when the council discussed selling the property to the Committee of 100, Jennings said it would be better for the Committee of 100 to make improvements to the property so Impressions can expand rather than the city making them.
With the committee repairing the building and able to lend money to Impressions to help it expand, the committee can better utilize that property to keep jobs in the county, Jennings said then. The city, by law, is not allowed to lend money to a business. The councilman said the committee, a nonprofit organization that works closely with the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission to bring economic-development projects to the county, is better able to “make the most of what essentially is a relic.”