Byl continues key role in advising state on environment, brownfields


Warner Norcross and Judd’s John Byl speaking about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

John V. Byl’s recent recognition by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as a Leader in the Law almost seems an understatement of his place both as an attorney and as a participant in state government.
The Warner Norcross and Judd partner is indeed “THE go-to lawyer for businesses that want to secure brownfield, TIF [Tax Increment Financing] and related financing to redevelop properties,” as his Michigan Lawyers Weekly nomination claimed.

The State of Michigan has recognized his leadership for years. Byl was responsible for writing portions of the Part 201 environmental cleanup law, as well as other environmental legislation and rule-making language in the past. Last December Byl, along with Warner Norcross’s Governmental Affairs Attorney Troy Cumings, saw important brownfield incentive legislation they had developed signed into law.
The Michigan Community Revitalization legislation they drafted replaces the MEGA (Michigan Economic Growth Authority), Brownfield and Historic tax credits, which were all associated with the Michigan Business Tax, now no longer in existence.

The Community Revitalization program guidelines state, “The program may provide community revitalization incentives in the form of a grant, loan, other economic assistance, or any combination, for eligible investments in Michigan...”

“The emphasis is to promote urban revitalization, make cities exciting places,” Byl says.

Now Byl is finishing up service on the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Collaborative Stakeholder Initiative (CSI), on which he played an instrumental role in the Brownfield Redevelopment group.
DEQ Director Dan Wyant, assisted by the acting head of the Remediation  Division and former environmental consultant Anne Couture, convened stakeholders in various “issue groupings.” These include, in addition to Brownfield Redevelopment: Cleanup Criteria; Due Care Obligations; Free Product/Source Removal/Csat (Chemical Security Assessment Tool); Groundwater Surface Water Interface; Part 201 Rules; and Vapor Intrusion.

The CSI participants fast-tracked deliberations and recommendations to meet two goals. The first was to  “foster an improved climate of trust, cultural understanding and cooperation among stakeholders and state agency staff,” and the second to “set the stage for swift and durable implementation of seven key issue groupings that affect progress in Michigan's cleanup and redevelopment program.”

Byl will give a presentation on his experience, as well as the full CSI report, to the Grand Rapids Bar Environmental Law Section on March 29. (See Coming Events page 2).

There were ten stakeholders on the Brownfield Redevelopment issues group including Byl, who in addition to Warner, Norcross and Judd represented the Michigan Chapter of the National Brownfield Association. He is the president of the chapter and vice-president of the association’s national board.

Some of the other participants represented state government agencies and departments other than DEQ, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Out of that process came several recommendations on the brownfield incentive process, including elimination of the “sunset” provision in the current brownfield Tax Increment Financing law, rather than its repeated extension.

The issues group also recommended that the TIF reimbursements apply to a broader range of development activities, for example, parking structures which cost so much more to build in dense areas versus surface parking lots.

Other potential reimbursable activities would include the sustainability  practices of geothermal energy production and stormwater management systems, including green roofs.

The recommendations also included ways to make TIF implementation easier on local governments. Byl is continuing to work on developing legislation to embody the recommendations.

Though his service on these governmental initiatives is through “donated hours,” it dovetails nicely with the bulk of his legal work.“I help clients get access to financial incentives to assist them in completing projects on challenged sites,” he says. He is currently the co-chair of Warner Norcross’s Economics Incentives Group.

He does brownfield incentive work in many Michigan cities in addition to Grand Rapids, including substantial projects in Kalamazoo, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Wixom.

Byl also helps clients with traditional environmental concerns, including enforcement and assistance with the permitting process.

One of the criteria Michigan Lawyers Weekly requires for its Leader in the Law designation is that the attorney “display passion on behalf of clients and the legal community.” Byl has that covered, and waxes enthusiastic in his considered, low-key way about all that brownfield incentives have contributed to making Grand Rapids “vibrant.” He observes that that can also be “attributed to a lot of local entrepreneurs who are willing to take on risks that many are not. Plus, Grand Rapids is a good city to work with; they try to facilitate redevelopment.

“Brownfield redevelopment in Michigan has been terrific for cities,” he continues, noting that the higher costs of developing in downtown areas would otherwise make it prohibitive.

Byl lectures and writes widely to share his passion and expertise, and has served is the past chair of the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan and the past chair of the West Michigan Air and Waste Management Association.

No stranger to recognition from within the legal profession and outside, Byl has earned top Grand Rapids honors in both Best Lawyers in America and Michigan Super Lawyers, and was named one of the Top 100 Michigan Super Lawyers in 2008, as well as a Kinney Award in Business and Economics.

The CSI report is available at