Urban Infill

Infill development adds value to established neighborhoods by reusing structures already on the site, placing new buildings in existing communities, and developing underutilized parcels. In many instances, new development makes better use of the land by converting land that had low-intensity activity, such as parking lots or storage, to medium- or high-density housing. Potential infill sites can be vacant, developed below the level permitted by code, or can contain abandoned or obsolete buildings.

Infill projects reduce the need for driving, slow the development of greenfield sites such as prime agricultural land and open space, and reduce the need to invest in new infrastructure at the city or town perimeter. While infill development offers many benefits, suitable sites can be hard to find, the assembly of multiple small parcels can be time consuming, and the permitting and construction process is often more complicated. However, greenfield development often passes the costs of sewer, water, and road extension to taxpayers, and the provision of schools, fire protection, and emergency services to less dense areas is often more costly to local governments. Greenfield development also has higher environmental impacts, such as fragmenting wildlife habitat and exacerbating stormwater volume and water quality issues with new roads, driveways, and at-grade parking.

Many infill sites are classified as "brownfields"—parcels that are either contaminated by previous uses or carry the possibility of contamination and the associated legal concerns. Contamination on brownfields may be from waste dumping or from leaks of stored diesel fuel, gasoline, pesticides, or other chemicals into the soil or groundwater. Brownfield sites may also lack adequate infrastructure and transportation access. The presence of pollutants is identified through a Phase I environmental site assessment (ESA), and if needed, a Phase II ESA, which includes soil or water testing and lays out a plan for remediation consistent with applicable local, regional, state, and federal agencies. Even when contamination can be mitigated to meet state and federal standards, community groups may express concerns about the health effects of living on former brownfields. Federal and state brownfield grants, loans, and tax incentives can be used to offset some of the costs associated with assessment and remediation.

Another common type of infill parcel is "grayfields"—economically obsolescent retail or commercial areas that may not be contaminated but which require demolition or reuse of existing structures, rezoning, and upgrades to roads and utility capacity. Development of brownfield and grayfield parcels revitalizes urban neighborhoods by putting unused or underused parcels to more productive, community-beneficial uses.

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