Thursday, August 12, 2010

Too Much Government -- and Not Enough . . .

Everyone wants our old buildings saved and given new life. . . . to preserve architectural heritage . . . to reuse the surrounding supporting public infrastructure of streets, sidewalks, water and sewer lines . . . to inhibit urban sprawl and avoid the costs and environmental degradation associated with sprawl.

Unfortunately when someone tries to save old buildings -- giving the public all the benefits listed above -- too often their government works against them.  This is what happened in a story that appeared in yesterday's OD: CharlesTown project in jeopardy.

Cancilla, a local attorney, purchased CharlesTown in late 2007, and planned to make it into a retail and residential development that would once again be an asset to the area.

But the state departments of Labor and Environmental Conservation halted demolition of buildings on the eastern end of the complex in early 2008 after they discovered the company doing the work didn’t have the necessary permits and hadn’t taken proper safety precautions, according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency report.

A subsequent investigation found not only asbestos in and around the buildings, but also toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The EPA ordered Cancilla to secure the site and is now looking to do the work itself, the developer said.
EPA's involvement is a troubling sign . . . You can be sure that when government does the work itself, it will be more expensive, and not necessarily of better quality (e.g. the now demolished State Office Building parking garage that did not even last 30 years).

This is where the role of government really needs to be thought out. Anyone purchasing an old building willingly accepts the costs of remodeling and bringing it up to modern standards. The costs are calculated into the purchase price offered.  However, if government is going to make the process of recycling old buildings unpredictable, buyers will not be able to perform the calculation and will be frightened away. And if the government makes the price too expensive, there will be NO redevelopment. 

Government needs to do a better job of making the building recycling process predictable and affordable.  If this is not done, the public will be stuck with a legacy of hazardous decaying structures ...  and have to sprawl further out on to green fields in the countryside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with Charlestown is unique unto itself. That is one incredibly toxic waste site worthy of extreme caution before allowing public use. With the local Mancusco convictions and other political skullduggery I am sure there is a fear by many that the cleanup would not be handled properly. This is a very poor choice for a site to be used by the public. I am waiting with anticipation of the announcement of how toxic the Harbor turns out to be. I think it is going to be major.