Rose Hill Communications, Inc.—Specialists in Community Relations/Public Involvement, Community & Stakeholder Assessment, and Environmental, Risk, and Crisis Communication

 

Insights into Environmental Community Relations

Mini-Case Studies—Facility and Land Acquisitions

·        Case One—The Gentrifying Industrial Park

·        Case Two—$1  Million Down the Drain

·        Case Three—Lies, Public Outrage, and Upscale Residences

 

Community-Based Liabilities: When the Purchase of

Existing Facilities or Property Brings

Unexpected—and Potentially Costly—Public Baggage

 

            Environmental site assessments (ESAs) of existing facilities or properties are supposed to identify “recognized environmental conditions” that could, if they were to go undetected, expose purchasers to significant financial liabilities.   But while ESAs and other legal and financial reviews can flag many potential problems, community-based issues often go undetected—even though such issues can jeopardize a purchaser’s ability to operate a facility long-term or signal the likelihood that options for the development of property may be more limited than current zoning and land use documents suggest.

 


Community-based liabilities most often arise from:

 

·        Community displeasure with the way previous owners operated a facility and/or concerns about the effects, or perceived effects, a facility has had on the area.

·        Changes or contemplated changes in zoning or land use near the facility or property in question.

·        Changes in community attitudes toward industrial or commercial land uses.

 

Fortunately, the Community and Stakeholder Assessment Process can often identify such issues before a client makes a purchase.   The following mini-cases illustrate the concept of “community-based liabilities” and the costs that can accrue from ignoring them.

Case One—the Gentrifying Industrial Park

 

One of our chemical industry clients was considering the purchase of an existing facility.  On paper, the facility looked good.  A map of the area indicated that the facility was located in an industrial park and that the land behind it was owned by a railroad.  Thus, the facility appeared to be located in an appropriate area with no homes within at least a quarter of a mile, suggesting that the client could continue to operate there well into the future.   

The character of the surrounding area, and particularly, the lack of nearby residences, was important to our client because the facility it wanted to purchase and continue to operate manufactured large quantities of a chemical that was both an air toxic and ignitable. 

 

The client asked us to take a closer look at the area in which the facility was located.   As it turned out, this extra measure of due diligence was fortuitous.  Our document research, trip to the facility, and interviews of local officials revealed a far different picture of the area than the current land use maps and zoning documents showed.  Our findings included the following surprises:

 

1.                  The “industrial park” had—for lack of a better term—gentrified.  Not only had some of the larger buildings within a few blocks of the facility been converted into a multiplex movie theater, a kids’ party center with amenities such as laser tag, and outlet stores, but some of the smaller buildings in the park—buildings that were literally across the street from the facility—had been converted into such non-industrial uses as a kiddie gymnastics school and a daycare center.

 

2.                  Interviews of local officials revealed that the “railroad” property had recently been purchased by the brother of a state senator, and was being fast-tracked for the development of luxury town homes.   A railroad had indeed owned the property, but the land had never been used and was considered suitable for residential development.

 

Needless to say, our client took a pass on this particular facility and purchased another one where it could continue to operate well into the future without undue community concern.

 

 

Case Two—$1 Million down the Drain

 

            A construction company had plans to move one of its asphalt plants from one location to another, more suitable location in an industrial area located within the same municipality.   The company was commencing with the decommissioning and remediation of its original plant and site as it moved ahead with its plans to build the new facility.

 

            This particular company had, to its knowledge, enjoyed good relations with the municipality; however, as it proceeded through the approval process to construct the new asphalt plant, its managers soon realized that something was wrong.  After several meetings with municipal officials, it was clear that the municipality did not want a new asphalt plant built within its limits—even in an area zoned for industry.  After spending approximately $1 million preparing for the move, the company realized that the construction of the new asphalt plant wasn’t going to happen.

 

            We didn’t work on this particular case, which was unfortunate.  It is likely that a day or two of document research (e.g., of municipal planning and zoning documents, master plans, etc., and a review of local newspaper stories on environmental and industry issues), along with a handful of interviews with municipal planning staff members and other officials, would have revealed that the plans for the new asphalt plant were in peril.  Learning of this problem earlier in the process would have saved the construction company time and money and allowed its management to begin looking for a new site before remediation at the old site was underway.

Case Three—Lies, Public Outrage, and Upscale Residences

 

            A waste management company purchased an existing building within a small industrial park where it planned to operate a RCRA TSDF (Treatment, Storage, or Disposal Facility) to manage hazardous wastes.   Since the building was located in an industrial park in a rural area on the outskirts of a small town, the company didn’t anticipate any problems.  Permitting of the facility proved to be a nightmare, however.  Owners of “upscale” homes that had been built on re-zoned property nearby protested vigorously to the state environmental regulatory agency and brought political pressure to bear against the waste management company.  

 

A stakeholder and community assessment, which was conducted by a colleague of ours after attempts to obtain the permit were met with major resistance, revealed that the property on which the upscale homes were built had been re-zoned as a favor to a local politician.  The assessment further revealed that the people who bought the homes, which were constructed by another politically connected builder, had been told that the nearby industrial park was slated to be closed so it wouldn’t disturb their idyllic surroundings. 

 

The situation with the re-zoning and the false promises regarding the industrial park were well known to local officials and would almost certainly have turned up during an assessment—had the company thought to perform one before it purchased the building.

 

Unfortunately, the fact that the homeowners in the nearby residential development had been lied to about the closing of the industrial park wasn’t enough to overcome their opposition to the TSDF’s permit application.  After several long years of acrimonious public meetings, the waste management company decided to cut its losses and seek a new location.

 

(Postscript on this case:  By the time the waste management company decided to find a new location, some of its neighbors were so angry that they traveled to the town where the company had hoped to build its new facility.  These neighbors proceeded to whip up opposition against the company among the new town’s residents, creating another round of acrimony and proving that when serious conflicts gather steam, they can take on lives of their own.)

 

 

Rose Hill Communications, Inc. is the successor corporation to Equinox Environmental Consultants, Ltd. founded in 1993.  An Illinois corporation, we work throughout the U.S. providing assistance to private- and public-sector clients who must communicate with stakeholders regarding environmental, risk, and infrastructure issues.  In addition to our own staff, we work with other community relations/public involvement consultants throughout the U.S. and frequently make referrals to private- and public-sector organizations that are seeking assistance.

 

For more information on our Community and Stakeholder Assessment Process, and how it can provide high-quality information at a reasonable cost, please visit our website: www.rosehillcommunications.com or call us at (630) 510-9462.