By Hannah E. Jones
After 60 years as a gas station, 890 Columbia Drive got a new lease on life — opening as the East Decatur Greenway in 2019. A similar success story can be told for Pullman Yards, a longtime industrial site that now features restaurants and art exhibits. To encourage similar projects, Decide DeKalb released a tool earlier this month to help other abandoned, contaminated sites have a new purpose.
The new Geographical Information System (GIS) tool identifies nearby vacant properties that have been abandoned due to pollution from past industrial use. These plots are referred to as “brownfields,” a site where development and reuse are impacted by environmental contamination. For example, a property that used to have a dry cleaning facility.
According to Decide DeKalb President Dorian DeBarr, the tool is intended for “developers, investors and folks that just care about their communities.” The team sees the tool as a way to encourage local brownfield remediation efforts while also driving DeKalb’s economic development.
“How do we attract investors? How do we attract businesses? We have to let them know what we have,” DeBarr said. “This is part of giving them, on a silver plate, what we have in terms of brownfield remediation sites that we’d like to see redeveloped and turned into a higher and better use.”
The GIS tool was created in collaboration with Decide DeKalb — the primary arm of economic development and job growth within the county — and Commissioner Robert Patrick, presiding officer of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners. Patrick allocated $30,000 in Commission District 1 funds to the initiative.
The county also offers financial assistance for cleaning up these sites. Through the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, developers are eligible for funding that helps cover the costs of removing contaminated soil, petroleum and hazardous waste from these abandoned properties. In the past five years, the EPA has awarded Decide DeKalb with $4.2 million to oversee this remediation work.
The GIS tool is especially valuable, DeBarr explained, because it offers a comprehensive look at brownfield properties throughout the county. This is a first for DeKalb.
“Tools like [the one] we just launched aren’t readily available in the region,” he said. “We’re a leader in that space. We created this tool so that we can identify the opportunities we have throughout DeKalb County.”
DeBarr and the team predict that the new system will help harness more of DeKalb’s potential by helping bring new life to sites that might otherwise sit contaminated and unused.
“DeKalb County is already primed for great economic development. Our location, communities and people are fantastic,” DeBarr said. “What this does is add to our value as a county. When you’re talking about being mindful of sustainability and remediating brownfield sites that make for a better community, that just adds to our assets as a county.”