Author: Laura J. Leonard, Mary Alice Blackstock
The Division of Waste Management’s extensive work to protect the environment and public health can be seen across North Carolina. Several sites along Peace Street in the heart of Raleigh near the Capital Boulevard Corridor are getting a facelift through the division’s environmental work, allowing them to be redeveloped to spur economic development.
Two division programs – the Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act (DSCA) Program and the Brownfields Program – have worked together with site developers to restore and revive an area along the northern gateway into downtown Raleigh. This included work that is ongoing with roadway realignment and overpass improvements at the Capital Boulevard and Peace Street exchanges.
“The proposed redevelopment will be a key component of Raleigh’s Capital Boulevard corridor improvement plan and the city’s plans for Peace Street area revitalization,” said John Gallagher, a consultant for the developer of the Brownfields site. “The project will also revitalize an underutilized, environmentally impaired area, and will help to increase vitality and safety of the urban core of Raleigh.”
Three brownfields projects right off Capital Boulevard highlight Peace Street’s facelift: Smokey Hollow, Peace Street and Smokey Hollow 2. Collectively, the three sites were formerly occupied by a variety of office buildings and commercial operations including automotive repair and gasoline stations, Rollins Economy Cleaners, a car wash and the former Finches Restaurant. After redevelopment, the area will be home to a Publix and mixed-use projects with residential, restaurant, retail and office spaces.
Brownfields sites are abandoned, idled or underused properties where the threat of environmental contamination has hindered their redevelopment. Through a brownfields agreement, prospective developers are encouraged to redevelop a site.
“The facelift will greatly change the downtown Raleigh’s northern skyline,” said Brownfields Program Manager Bruce Nicholson. “For nearly 22 years, the state’s Brownfields Program has helped renovate abandoned properties into thriving businesses that not only boost the state’s economy but also protects North Carolina’s precious natural resources. Reusing these downtown properties is a form of recycling that protects undeveloped land from continued sprawl.”
Since the first brownfields agreement in 1998, the program has generated more than $16 billion in economic investment through redeveloping sites in previously contaminated areas.
Of the three sites, the Peace Street project required more attention as the former Rollins Cleaners was situated on that location.
“Rollins Cleaners entered into the DSCA Program in 2013 because the program can assess and clean up dry-cleaning solvent contamination with minimal costs to the owner,” said DSCA Program Manager Delonda Alexander. “After an investigation identified a significant release of dry-cleaning solvent, DSCA staff performed assessment and remediation activities at the site.”
Coordination between the two state programs provided assurance to the prospective developer interested in redeveloping the property that environmental risks at the site would be managed appropriately. In 2018, the prospective developer purchased the property from the owner of the dry-cleaning property, which was the last property purchase in the collection of parcels that comprise the Peace Street brownfields property. The Peace Street brownfields agreement was prepared in early 2019, underwent a 30-day public comment period in May and June 2019, and was recorded on June 28, 2019.
One will continue to see cranes working on these three brownfields projects for a while. Construction began on the Smokey Hollow site in 2018 and is estimated to be complete by 2020. Remediation activities at the former Rollins Cleaners were completed in March 2019, and construction at the site is expected to begin in 2020 or 2021. Construction has commenced on the Smokey Hollow 2 project, which is located immediately south of the Smokey Hollow location.
“In 2012, the City of Raleigh saw the potential for a dramatic transformation of this area, leveraging a programmed bridge replacement project to undo a 1960s-era urban renewal plan and create a new walkable urban place with a restored street grid fronting a revitalized Peace Street,” said Ken Bowers, director of City Planning for the City of Raleigh. “Redevelopment in this area has exceeded our expectations, and brownfields remediation has been essential to making this vision a reality.”