A possible buyer for North Springs Center at 7300 Roswell Road is working on a pollution cleanup deal that could speed the 9-acre shopping center’s redevelopment, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.

The shopping center’s owner, North Springs Associates, has been working for a year to clear the property of chemicals leaked from a former dry cleaner, in preparation for a sale. In recent months, the center has been advertised with a $9.6 million asking price by Buckhead’s Major & Arroll real estate firm.

The former Prestige Cleaners in the North Springs Center at 7300 Roswell Road as it appeared during cleanup earlier this year. (Photo John Ruch)
The former Prestige Cleaners in the North Springs Center at 7300 Roswell Road as it appeared during cleanup earlier this year. (Photo John Ruch)

“It looks like they have a purchaser that’s interested in helping out with the cleanup,” said Kevin Collins, a unit coordinator in EPD’s Response and Remediation Program.

Collins said that on Oct. 4, EPD officials met with attorneys for North Springs Associates and the unnamed potential buyer to discuss entering the property into a state “brownfields” program. That program can provide the buyer of polluted property with limited financial and legal liability for the cleanup, keeping the seller mostly on the hook. That can help a sale—and cleanup—happen faster, Collins said.

North Springs Associates and the potential buyer filed an application for the brownfields program on Aug. 31, Collins said.

Peyton Nunez, the attorney for the potential buyer, declined to comment. Andrea Rimer, the attorney for North Springs Associates, did not respond to an email.

The potential buyer has not divulged its plans for the shopping center, according to Collins.

“They did not talk about what the future use may be,” even after EPD officials asked, he said.

Major & Arroll’s marketing flyer offers the property as a “redevelopment opportunity” and notes that its zoning allows for “apartments above or behind retail.” In April, some tenants remaining in the shopping center said there were rumors of redevelopment into apartments or condos.

Collins said that the environmental cleanup has to be good enough for “non-residential” uses, but that an owner is free to clean a site further to meet the higher residential standards.

The shopping center, located in the southwest corner of the intersection of Roswell and Dalrymple roads, dates to 1969, according to Fulton County property records. Big Lots, its most recent anchor store, closed earlier this year as North Springs Associates has prepared it for a redevelopment-oriented sale. The shopping center is now largely empty.

The hitch in a sale is the former Prestige Cleaners, a dry cleaner that operated at the center’s northern end from 1996 until its eviction on Sept. 30, 2015, according to state records. The cleaner leaked toxic dry cleaning solvents in the soil and groundwater, according to EPD.

According to EPD, North Springs Associates has removed contaminated soil, dug wells to monitor pollution gases, and injected chemicals into groundwater to neutralize the pollution.

Collins said that EPD is still awaiting the latest, full data on how successful those cleanup efforts have been so far. But, he said, the early reports show much of the potentially contaminated soil is removed and that the chemicals have not spread far from the site in the form of gas. In March, EPD ordered further testing about that gas-spreading possibility out of concern it could affect nearby homes.

The potential buyer has paid a $3,000 fee and filed an application for a “Prospective Purchaser Corrective Action Plan,” Collins said. If approved by EPD, the plan would give the new owner immunity for liability on groundwater pollution and third-party lawsuits related to the pollution, while still being responsible for completing the cleanup. As for the former dry cleaner company, Collins said that North Springs Associates is still investigating whether it has any insurance or other funds to help with the cleanup and has not found any so far.

The deal is possible under the state brownfield program, which is intended to encourage private cleanup of polluted sites via redevelopment. Without the program, Collins said, polluted sites can be too expensive for the original owner to clean up and too unattractive to sell, leading to them remaining vacant or unusable.

The brownfield program is “designed to take stressed properties that may be blights…and allow them to be redeveloped in ways beneficial to the community,” Collins said. He said the “classic example” of a brownfield success is the redevelopment of a former steel mill into Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta about a decade ago.

In the case of North Springs Center, EPD is reviewing the application while awaiting more cleanup data, and the potential buyer is doing its own investigation as well, Collins said.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.