LPM Staff

Beautify the brownfields

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Less than four miles south of Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks and site of the recent MLB All-Star game, is the Del Rio Landfill. On a Google map, it shows up as the Rio Salado Industrial Recreation Park. That’s because it’s actually a “closed and capped” municipal landfill – although not capped too tightly. Not long ago, leachate was making its way through the liner when neighboring property owners reported an unfamiliar stench, this according to The Forrestal Group, an environmental appraisal company. 

But now the landfill, or brownfield, is a high priority for an ongoing redevelopment plan called the Del Rio Area Brownfields Planning Project. So is the vacant land east of the Rio Salado Audubon Center, and a sand/gravel/landfill site at the southwest corner of Central Avenue and the Salt River.

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program, the city of Phoenix has received funding to bring together staff and members of the community, including an advisory board of 11 local business owners and residents, to “vision” and plan what they’d like to see happen in this stretch of semi-blighted land.

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The 160-acre Del Rio landfill, not far from the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center on Central Avenue, takes up about 25 percent of the Del Rio Area, a 2.5-square-mile stretch east to west from 16th Street to 7th Avenue, and north to south from Rio Salado to Broadway Road. 

Phoenix was one of 23 entities to receive an EPA grant to come up with a plan to clean up brownfields, areas of previously developed property that can’t be redeveloped without cleaning up pollutants, contaminants or hazardous substances present or potentially present – like old tires, discarded petroleum tanks and construction debris. As stated on the EPA’s website, “reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands.”

The Del Rio Area Planning Project is in the throes of holding visioning workshops and bilingual sessions with the community to develop a cohesive reuse plan for the brownfields. The goal of the project is to create a plan for redevelopment, direct the assessment and cleanup of sites, and identify available resources to help with redevelopment, including recreational destinations for residents, access to mass transit and better commercial and business opportunities. The project is depending on public participation and input from citizens who live and/or work in Del Rio and surrounding areas. 

Rosanne Albright is the brownfields project manager in the Phoenix Office of Environmental Programs, and hopes to come up with a plan that will lead to more grants for the actual redevelopment. “Because this is a new pilot program from EPA,” says Albright, “we hope that our successful preparation of this plan will help us in obtaining future funding from EPA and other federal resources …”

About 3,700 people live in the Del Rio Area, where more than 85 percent of residents are minorities. It’s a somewhat ignored part of the city, although the Audubon Center is a solid example of what can be done to improve the quality of life along the riverbanks. It doesn’t help that 80 percent of the land is zoned for heavy industry; recreational facilities for area residents are in short supply. 

“If they really want to redevelop the area, a park would be nice, but we need to generate money and jobs,” says Margarita Singh-Smith, a member of the project advisory board and long-time resident of the Del Rio Area. She recognizes her neighborhood is a depressed area, but she also sees great potential for it, considering its geographic location. It’s close to Sky Harbor, South Mountain Park and downtown Phoenix, including the Arizona Science Center and the aforementioned Chase Field. 

“We’re not South Phoenix anymore – that’s an old stigma,” says Singh-Smith. “We’re Central Phoenix.” Singh-Smith is dreaming big: she’d like to see someone of Oprah Winfrey’s caliber (and wealth) build an amusement park in that parcel of land just south of Rio Salado. “There’s got to be a way to make it work,” she says. “We need to reach out to people who want to see something happen here.”

The next community visioning workshop will be held on Tuesday, August 16 at 6 p.m. at the Rio Salado Audubon Center, 3131 S. Central Avenue. To reserve a seat, call 602-256-5669 or email trudy.merrill@phoenix.gov. For more information about this project, go to phoenix.gov/greenphoenix/land/brownfields/delrio.

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