Mason Run: "New Urbanism" Takes Residential Brownfield Redevelopment Back to the Future!

815 East Elm Avenue , Monroe, Michigan

"Mason Run represents a continuing trend across the nation for well-conceived residential development on brownfield properties. The developer's sheer determination, exhibited through the nearly 10 years necessary to bring the project to fruition, highlights that combining creativity with the tools available through state voluntary cleanup programs will yield tremendous returns on the sustainable development scale across the United States."

Todd S. Davis
CEO Hemisphere Development LLC.

Soil and Materials Engineers, Inc.

1. Did the project increase job opportunities in the community, or communities, surrounding the site?

Although Mason Run will not provide long term employment, it's providing steady construction employment for approximately 60 construction workers for the 10 to 12 years of development. The development brings residents who will attract employers. It's projected to result in creation of an additional 110 long-term jobs in the community.

2. Did the project help to decrease local crime rates or to improve human health and safety?

The abandoned 300,000 square-foot plant and ancillary buildings constituted a serious and imminent threat to public safety and welfare. The site was contaminated primarily with hazardous substances (PCB, arsenic, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and others) and some commingled residual petroleum from historic underground fuel tanks removed by CPC. Children, teenagers, or others often illegally occupied the buildings as a place to play or conduct illegal activities. At the time of acquisition, the legal tools available to the City to force the bankrupt owner to mitigate the threats to public health and safety were very limited and costly, and therefore, practically non-existent; therefore, the City acquired title to the property. Shortly after purchasing the site for a nominal amount, the City demolished the above-grade structures to mitigate that threat to health and safety. The response actions to prepare the site for development mitigated potential surface and hidden subsurface environmental impacts that threatened human health and the environment. Environmental response actions also removed the negative aesthetic impacts from the many acres of cinder/ash fill that inhibited vegetative growth and produced black dust on windy days.

3. What was most challenging about your project?

The sheer scale of preparing the property for residential redevelopment presented the greatest challenge to the project team. The cost of site preparation was the greatest obstacle to Mason Run's existence. Remediating over 140,000 cubic yards of contaminated cinder/ash fill covering approximately 42 acres of the site, localized areas of chemically impacted soil, and impacted fill and residual industrial contamination in and around the basements and other structures did not pose a significant technical challenge; neither did the presence of over 110,000 cubic yards of fill and concrete in the 350,000 square feet of buried basements, pits, footings, foundations, and other structures that had to be removed before homes could be constructed. The primary challenge was logistics, and the primary obstacle was money. A secondary challenge was to design the most sustainable approaches possible for addressing the site preparation challenges.

The initial cost estimate for preparing the site was approximately $9 million to $10 million. Removal of over 140,000 cubic yards of coal ash was deemed necessary to facilitate residential redevelopment of the site. One of the challenges to managing the cinder/ash fill was a requirement to maintain the existing site grade for utility placement. This meant that the two feet of cinder/ash fill would have to be replaced with clean fill after removal and verification that remediation achieved unlimited residential use criteria. The traditional approach of removing and disposing the cinder/ash fill in a landfill and replacing it with clean fill was too costly to make the project economically viable. Furthermore, it was not considered a sustainable solution, since it would use landfill space and require importation of off-site resources, namely 140,000 cubic yards of clean soil.

The project team designed and negotiated with the MDEQ the technical and regulatory specifications for an alternate, sustainable, "on-site" solution whereby clean soil was excavated from beneath the road ROWs and parks, and the cinder/ash fill then was removed from the residential lots and encapsulated as inert fill beneath pavement or clean fill in these areas. The native soil removed from the ROWs and parks then was used to replace the impacted coal ash fill removed from residential lots. As mentioned previously, this approach saved over $2.5 million in response costs and made the project economically viable.

The ultimate site cleanup costs were determined to be approximately $7.4 million. This represented costs that had to be incurred before land could be transferred to the developer and homes could be built. The project team developed a creative financing program based on Michigan's Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act (Public Act 381 of 1996, as amended), which provides for tax increment financing (TIF) of brownfield redevelopment costs. The team designed a six-phase approach for redeveloping the site, which addressed issues of product absorption, generation of sufficient incremental taxes to securely finance completed cleanup activities, and provide sufficient time to secure brownfield financing (loans) to bridge the gap between incurring the cleanup costs and realizing the tax increment revenues from completed homes. The project team secured a $1 million state grant and $6.4 million in federal, state and local loans. The project financing program is described in more detail below.

4. Did the project receive any loans, grants or financial assistance from any pusblic or private organizations?

Financing of the CPC Northside Plant site redevelopment relied on external and developer financing of environmental response costs; developer equity financing of land, infrastructure, and home construction costs; and City of Monroe financing of some infrastructure cost in the last phase of development. The success of Mason Run depended on a creative, but complex, brownfield redevelopment financing program to fund environmental response actions needed to prepare the former CPC paper mill site for redevelopment. The foundation of the program, its fundamental sources of money, was comprised of grants, developer's equity, and tax increment financing (TIF), with the latter providing 75% of the money. Since the Michigan brownfield TIF program involves reimbursement of incurred expenses when incremental taxes are received, successful use of this program requires a source(s) of "bridge financing" (loans) to provide up-front cash to finance the cleanup activities until the taxes are collected, which for Mason Run may be up to 15 years. Complicating this issue is the fact that the City of Monroe would be responsible for repaying the bridge loans and had to be comfortable that the development would be successful in generating the needed incremental taxes before committing to those obligations. Furthermore, acquisition of such a large amount of brownfield financing would require evidence of project feasibility. The solution was to tackle the site in phases. The six phases of the Mason Run development and associated environmental response actions and cash flow financing are summarized below:

5. Could you describe the collaboration that occurred among multiple parties to enable the project?

Any brownfield redevelopment project on the scale of Mason Run requires multiple layers of collaboration and regulatory agency cooperation. For Mason Run, this cooperation extended to regulatory issues related to creative site remediation approaches and financial issues related to cleanup funding.

Since the City of Monroe and Crosswinds had formed a strong public-private partnership for the Mason Run project, the needs of both parties were considered in each phase and element of project financing. Since the City owned the former CPC property, and Crosswinds only wanted to take title of land where remediation to unlimited residential use criteria had been approved by the MDEQ, the City would need to acquire all environmental response financing and be responsible for the cleanup activities. The Monroe Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MBRA) was determined by be EPA and MDEQ to be a sufficiently independent governmental unit to receive loans and disbursements from the grants awarded by the two agencies. Therefore, the MBRA assumed the role of remediation and financial manager for the project. In turn, Crosswinds served as Construction Manager for the MBRA, performing the bidding, contractor selection, and contractor management tasks for remediation of the site. This creative approach proved very effective because Crosswinds was in the best position to coordinate site remediation and home construction activities, and had a direct stake in ensuring that schedules were met, and it had an indirect financial stake in ensuring that response actions were completed in the most cost-effective manner, thus stretching the brownfield redevelopment funds as far as possible. In summary, Crosswinds goals were aligned with the MBRA's and the City's.

Developing and implementing the creative, sustainable, cinder/ash remediation approach previously described required the cooperative efforts of two divisions of the MDEQ. Establishing the regulatory framework for first remediating (removing) contaminated cinder/ash fill from the surface of the site, then reclassifying the remediation wastes as inert fill for reuse under roads and parks in the development required the cooperative efforts of both the Waste Management Division (WMD) and Environmental Response Division (ERD) of the MDEQ. Together, representatives of the two divisions determined that the proposed approach could be implemented under Michigan's Environmental Remediation Regulations (Part 201) and Michigan's Solid Waste Management Rules (Part 115), then worked together to establish protocols and approval processes for implementation. The cinder/ash fill first was characterized as required under Part 115 to demonstrate it could be classified as "inert for site-specific reuse." Then engineering criteria for safe reuse of the material under roads and parks were developed with input from the MDEQ-ERD to ensure that pathways for human contact and migration of leached contaminants were blocked. The need for, and language for, deed covenants preventing other uses of those areas also were cooperatively developed.

The MDEQ-WMD issued a formal inertness determination in 2000, allowing the cinder/ash fill to be used under roads and parks throughout the portions of Mason Run developed on the former CPC property. The MDEQ-ERD received, reviewed, and approved Remedial Action Plans and Closure Reports for each phase of the environmental remediation. The Closure Reports demonstrated that for each phase, the residential property transferred to the developer for home construction was successfully remediated to unlimited residential use cleanup criteria.

Designing the financing mechanisms for the environmental response actions needed to prepare the former CPC site for residential redevelopment, followed by acquisition of funding, required the continuing cooperative efforts of the City of Monroe, MDEQ and U.S. EPA Region 5. Throughout the funding acquisition effort, the cooperative efforts of all three entities were continually monitoring the available sources and statuses of local, state and federal brownfield redevelopment funding programs, and continually adjusting the funding strategies to determine the best combination and leverage of funds.

Managing and tracking the brownfield redevelopment financing was also a key role of SME and this required meticulous coordination and communication among the key team members to complete each phase within budget. The amount of money for each phase was fixed and could not exceed the phase budget, even when unexpected circumstances were encountered. Weekly site meetings were held to project upcoming work to be accomplished and costs to be incurred, which were then compared to remaining budget. This management approach resulted in Phases 1-5 being completed at a total cost that was $12,000 under the combined $6.6 million budget.

The community was also very involved in the project. In 1999, the City and Crosswinds Communities held a multi-day series of public charettes to collect public input about all aspects of the content, layout, design, etc. of the proposed Mason Run Development. Community involvement also has been a mainstay of the City's Brownfield redevelopment programs. Public comment was solicited and a public hearing was held before creation of the MBRA. The public was afforded additional opportunities to comment when the CPC property was included in the MBRA's Brownfield Plan and when amendments were made. The Brownfield Plan and plan amendment approval processes also included public sessions of both the MBRA and City Council. Public announcements, solicitations of comments, and public sessions of both the MBRA and City Council were part of the application processes for the state Brownfield redevelopment loans and grant and the previous RLF Grant obtained for the Mason Run project. A public repository for documents pertinent to environmental response actions at the Mason Run site was established at the Monroe Public Library. Ongoing community involvement efforts will include public meetings of the MBRA (at least quarterly) where project progress will be reported and discussed in an open forum.

6. What type of innovative designs and energy-efficient technologies were implemented?

Mason Run is an innovative development not only for its sustainable redevelopment of a former industrial site, but also because it creates a new neighborhood, which maintains the character of the city and nearby existing neighborhoods, near the urban core of the City of Monroe.

For decades, suburban lifestyle was synonymous with the American Dream. Ward and June Cleaver and Ozzy and Harriet Nelson were TV icons for the millions of families who moved to the suburbs to own their own houses with lawns and driveways, but precious few sidewalks. Today, a new architectural and city planning movement is looking to provide an alternative to the suburban house-car-strip mall model. The philosophy behind "New Urbanism" is that communities should be built around mixed-use neighborhoods, with housing, jobs, stores and services within walking distance.

New Urbanism, sometimes called neotraditionalism or traditional neighborhood design, is a reaction to sprawl and looks to the urban neighborhoods and small towns that existed before World War II as a model for the future. A recent editorial in the New York Times refers to New Urbanism as "the most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era." The traditional towns and villages that we admire so much today did not happen by chance; but rather were created by skilled planners using time-tested, European and American techniques and precedents. The architectural character and variety resulted from builders using architectural pattern books to design and build sophisticated houses.

Though existing master plans and zoning laws can make it difficult to develop neighborhoods where a loaf of bread and a library are just a walk away, the governing departments within the City of Monroe worked together to successfully overcome that obstacle. Mason Run is the only project of its size in the region that has been designed and constructed in the New Urbanism tradition.

For the Mason Run development, Urban Design Associates (UDA) created a Pattern Book that established site design and development requirements. It consisted of standards for lot and house designs, including setbacks, and basic architectural characteristics such as massing, roof pitch, facade proportions and key elements like windows, doors, eaves and porches. It is organized into sections that address Community, Architectural and Landscape Patterns. In this way, as Mason Run has been built over time in phases, it maintains a wonderful consistency, as well as a rich architectural variety.

The design process for Mason Run began with research of houses located in Monroe as well as other traditional towns that create their public spaces. The City and Crosswinds held public meetings early-on to collect public input about all aspects of the content, layout, design, etc. House types were photographed and documented and their architectural style identified. The predominant architectural styles found in Monroe and selected for the Mason Run development include Colonial Revival, Victorian, and Craftsman. This palette of architectural styles has limitless variations and creates the eclectic character of Monroe's best neighborhoods. Specialists at UDA were then commissioned to provide detailed design criteria. The dimensions and qualities of neighborhood streets and public spaces were drawn in a series of cross sections showing the relationship between house facades and street space. A series of prototype houses were designed and planned to create the appropriate front facade and building massing.

Modeled after Monroe's best historic neighborhoods, Mason Run will eventually be home to as many as 1,600 residents, several neighborhood parks, and a meandering, tree-lined boulevard following the path of the original Mason Run Creek. Mason Run was designed using the best Monroe and Southeast Michigan urban and architectural precedents, including:

  • pedestrian scale neighborhoods;
  • a variety of housing types and sizes within a block (large next to small - with predominately modest houses);
  • a variety of architectural styles and details;
  • tree-lined streets with wide planting strips and shallow setbacks;
  • common setbacks (typically 15 to 25 feet from the property line);
  • narrow streets with parking on one or both sides;
  • park-like streetscapes (yards flow into one another);
  • a variety of parks, boulevards and open spaces that create distinctive residential addresses;
  • first floors raised three to four steps above grade;
  • a variety of front porches and porticoes; and
  • garages located behind houses.

Over 10% of the land in the development has been set aside for landscaped parkland and greenspace for residents and the Monroe community. The distribution of parks throughout the development provides easy access and fosters community interactions, which will enhance their use.

The on-site encapsulation and reuse of 140,000 cubic years of cinder ash material saved 500,000 miles of travel that would have been needed to transport the material to a licensed landfill and replace it with clean fill material. This saved approximately 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel from being used and related carbon emissions.

Mason Run is a successful New Urbanism development that performs a difficult balancing act by maintaining the integrity of a walkable human-scale neighborhood while offering modern residential "product" and amenities. Its design is a creative solution to rebuilding a brownfield site into a charming, vibrant community!

Mason Run is also part of a larger, innovative City of Monroe multi-use brownfield redevelopment program targeted at Paper Mill Row. The CPC Northside Plant was the westernmost of three large paper mills that operated along East Elm Avenue between 1918 and 1995, all of which were closed and abandoned in the decade between 1985 and 1995. The City has aggressively initiated multiple programs to recover, restore, and reuse these sites, which occupy land along 4,000 feet of the north bank of the River Raisin. The City has redeveloped the middle plant site into a community recreation complex including an ice arena and city park (Riviere aux Raisin Park). The City, through the Port of Monroe, has recently gained title to the riverfront portion the eastern-most plant site, which is a famous War of 1812 battlefield. The site has been designated as a National Historic Battlefield and is in the process of being transferred to the National Park Service where it will be developed into an historic interpretive center.

7. What recyclable materials were used to classify this as a 'green' development?

The Mason Run project team worked diligently to make Mason Run an exemplary sustainable brownfield redevelopment. What could be greener than the transformation of a 50-acre abandoned paper mill site into a thriving 500-home community? During the project, our team designed a solution to swap 140,000 cubic yards of cinder/ash fill for clean soil from beneath roads and parks in the development. This resource-conserving approach successfully remediated the future home sites, safely encapsulated the impacted material, and provided replacement clean fill.

During remediation and removal of the filled basements, only those soils and other materials that could not be reused, recycled, or reclaimed were disposed. Removal actions were sustainably designed to maximize recovery and reuse/recycling of concrete, steel, and other media. Over 50,000 tons of concrete and steel from the plant basements, other structures, and utilities have been recycled.

Mason Run is an example of New Urbanism applied as intended - the redevelopment of urban sites to reflect existing urban architecture and community. This style of development is ecologically friendly, and reduces pressures for suburban residential sprawl.

In addition, the existing municipal infrastructure, including streets, sewers and water mains were wholly adequate to service the Mason Run development. The City did need to expend resources providing or upgrading the road, water or sewer infrastructure to support Mason Run. The capacities of existing franchise utilities, such as electricity and natural gas, also were adequate to support the development without significant expansions or upgrades. The ability to create a development like Mason Run without large infrastructure expenditures is one of the hallmarks of green, sustainable brownfield redevelopment.

By its plan and nature as an urban redevelopment, Mason Run promotes transportation choices. It is located less than one mile from downtown Monroe, thus fostering access by foot or bicycle. It is on the Macomb Route of the City mass transit (bus) system, providing direct access to Mason Run residents. The development is located on the hike/bike trail currently under development between downtown and Sterling State Park. This trail will ultimately connect to a much larger system of greenway and river trails under development throughout southeast Michigan.

Relevance and Transferability of Elements to Other Communities.
Mason Run serves as a benchmark for other communities considering similar neighborhood redevelopment projects. Mason Run has garnered regional and national visibility among municipalities. The project team is capitalizing on the creative, sustainable remediation and development design approaches that make the neighborhood a noteworthy accomplishment to generate public and media interest and economic development visibility. The project is being used by the City to demonstrate that owners of industrial, commercial and brownfield properties can economically redevelop those properties rather than abandoning them. It is also being used to encourage developers to partner with municipalities to create economically viable new uses for old brownfield sites. The project has received multiple awards for redevelopment excellence, including a 2008 Economic Development Excellence Award from the International Economic Development Council, an Environmental Excellence Award from the Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals, an IMPACT Award in the Redevelopment Category for CREW-Detroit and the case study was presented at the national Brownfields 2008 conference.

Soil and Materials Engineers, Inc.,
43980 Plymouth Oaks Blvd., Plymouth, Michigan

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