Environmental Challenges of Urban Real Estate: Building on Old Landfills

Urban areas like Dallas and Fort Worth have a range of environmental concerns that may hamper deal-making for real estate professionals.  Whitehead E. S. specializes in real estate deals on contaminated properties such as filling stations, dry cleaners, and even properties located on old closed landfills. In Dallas, land west of IH-35 was historically used for sand and gravel mining, which was then filled in with soil, demolition debris such as wood, concrete, and asphalt, and in some cases municipal solid waste (MSW; trash). Key indicators that the property was constructed on an old landfill are surface subsidence (undulating topography), exposed debris especially after rain events, trash, and household debris on the surface or shallow soil, parking lot and building cracks, and historical aerial photographs showing sand and gravel mining or unusual surface disturbances. Typically, the presence of a landfill or waste disposal on the property is identified in the Phase I ESA. As the organic wastes in the landfill decompose they emit landfill gases such as methane. The problem with methane is that it can accumulate in building structures and present an explosive hazard.    

In Texas, rules and regulations for development on old landfills are provided under Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Title 30 Chapter 330,  Subchapter T, and is typically referred to as Subchapter T Rules. Subchapter T Rules apply to all developments over closed landfills except for single-family or multi-family homes that are not part of a residential subdivision.  A closed landfill means that it is a permitted landfill with an active permit, permitted landfill with a revoked permit, any landfill on the Council of Governments (COG) closed landfill inventory, and not permitted dumping areas. Development on a closed landfill will require one of the following: authorization for non-enclosed structures such as parking lots playgrounds, and golf courses, registration for enclosed structures built prior to September 1, 1993, and a permit for enclosed structures if built after this date.  The level of effort for a Subchapter T property varies significantly from authorization to a permit and may require the following tasks: soil testing, engineer’s certification, continuous gas monitoring, foundation plans (methane barriers and abatement), and public meeting (permit only).  The Subchapter T form determines whether an application, registration or permit is submitted to the TCEQ for review and approval. 

For more information on Subchapter T guidance with development on a closed landfill, contact Michael Whitehead at 214-335-3246 or the TCEQ MSW Permit Section in Austin. 



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