City works towards redevelopment, launches brownfield program

T-R PHOTO BY SUSANNA MEYER The City of Marshalltown’s brownfield program will focus on identifying and assessing brownfield properties, which are classified as difficult to redevelop due to the presence or suspected presence of environmental hazards. Michelle Spohnheimer, the Marshalltown housing and community development director, said they will be prioritizing the downtown area, pictured, and the Highway 14 corridor.

The City of Marshalltown has launched the brownfields program to jump start the redevelopment of what could be seen as risky properties for potential buyers.

A brownfield is a property that can be difficult to redevelop or use due to the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

Mel Pins — the executive officer of the Brownfield Redevelopment Program Solid Waste and Contaminated Sites Section at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — said individuals may shy away from brownfield properties for a number of reasons, and sometimes it isn’t even due to confirmed environmental concerns.

“Those potential hazards are hindering interest by others in redeveloping them. In other words, ‘I don’t want to touch that with a ten-foot pole whether it’s contaminated or not,'” Pins said. “Think of an old petroleum bulk plant, a long-closed gas station or even an old building on Main Street full of asbestos. It’s easier to avoid a problem or a potential problem than it is to deal with it.”

To combat brownfield properties in Marshalltown, the city will utilize a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform Phase I and Phase II Environmental Assessments on eligible properties within the city limits.

Marshalltown Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer said a Phase I Environmental Assessment mostly entails looking into the background of a property by researching what it was used for and any potential hazards that might be in the area. Phase II Environmental Assessments are more hands-on as samples are taken to check for lead, asbestos or any other hazards.

“A lot of properties have the potential to be considered a brownfield site especially when you think of older buildings and things like lead-based paint and asbestos,” Spohnheimer said. “It’s important to think about what the impacts are when we think about redevelopment of a site or renovations of a site. What are the things that are potentially going to cause some extra concern that we need to make sure we’re addressing?”

Spohnheimer said the city will be prioritizing areas that they have already been working towards redeveloping such as the downtown area and the Highway 14 corridor, which were heavily affected by the tornado in 2018 and the derecho in 2020.

“We’re looking at a lot of the city properties that we have and have taken possession of over the recent years due to the disasters. Those are kind of our first priority ones that we’re already working on,” she said.

While those properties are at the top of the list, Spohnheimer encouraged the general public to fill out a request for services form if they know of a building that fits the criteria for a brownfield. It doesn’t guarantee that the property will be assessed, but all will be considered.

The city has chosen Impact7G to conduct the assessments, and, in Spohnheimer’s opinion, getting them done is the first step to redevelopment.

“You kind of have to find what you’re working with, so you know how to plan for future redevelopment. You know, any redeveloper coming in is going to be concerned like, ‘What are those potential risks?'” she said. “So, if we know in advance that we can say we have checked for a, b and c and these things exist or do not exist, then it’s just one less risk to a developer in thinking about how to make a project come together.”

For additional information on the brownfields program or to fill out a request for services form, visit https://www.marshalltown-ia.gov/729/Brownfields-Program.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or



Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today