It’s taken three years or so, but the fruits of Derek Teini’s and the city of Laramie’s labors are finally starting to blossom on the West Side.
In 2017, the city was given a $300,000 Brownfield Assessment Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is given to cities to help assess and clean potential environmental hazards that might be in the way of developing abandoned or undeveloped land. In a project that has since been named the Laramie West Side Revitalization Project, parts of the area that are rundown or in need of a facelift can get some much needed TLC.
Overall there were “no major showstoppers” as far as hazards or potential roadblocks to development were concerned, Teini, the city of Laramie’s planning manager, said. It is an encouraging sign for future growth opportunities. Over the next year or two, he expects concrete plans to be put into play by potential developers and property owners.
The city held a presentation Wednesday at the Lincoln Community Center for the public to see the findings of the surveys. It was also a chance for residents to share their thoughts on what they would like to see eventually developed in the community.
A brownfield is defined as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” per the EPA.
All of the areas being surveyed for potential development are private properties, not city owned; they can then be turned into housing or businesses.
“The main reason (we wanted the grant) was because of the perception of issues within the West Side. Through that, what we do is we engage private property owners to allow us onto their property and to do … environmental studies,” Teini said. “Those studies allow us to identify if there are issues on the property, and then also really helps them dig in and provide that information either to develop their property or to sell their property. The whole goal for the city is to really allow these property owners one leg up and maybe to doing something with their property.”
Sarah Reese, the city’s administrator for economic and community initiatives, said that 40 acres of property in the West Side have undergone phase one and phase two environmental assessments.
“We wanted to make sure there weren’t any environmental concerns that would prevent development in the neighborhood,” Reese said. “We could assure that whatever development occurred here was right for the neighborhood.”
One of the challenges over the last three years has been the presentation of the project. It is important to let the community know the purpose of the revitalization is not to say the West Side is in bad shape or an eyesore. Instead, it is to encourage strategic growth in one of the oldest parts of the city and state.
“It wasn’t a blackeye on the neighborhood. It was, ‘How do we support the neighborhood?’” Teini said. “With this, we hope to see development. But especially on the West Side, we recognize the development being compatible with the neighborhood and this kind of up and coming area is important.”
The West Side of Laramie is a somewhat isolated part of the city, as it is separated by the Union Pacific Railroad. But it has a distinct flavor and appeal to it that its residents want to see preserved regardless of how the land is built up. It has an arts and culture scene; it takes pride in being a bit eccentric, Teini said.
It is a difficult balance, to be sure. But it is one that can help the West Side advance while also keeping its unique charm intact.
“The West Side is the geographic heart of our community, and I think it’s a cultural heart of our community. And for those reasons, we felt like it deserved a little special attention. It is a really special place,” Reese said. “They want to maintain their authenticity, they want to maintain their unique vibe. They do not want to become Anytown, USA.”