Locals fight to keep warehouses out of their neighborhoods

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/Cindy Shebley
Apr 11, 2022

Amazon.com in mid-March canceled plans to open a four-story warehouse in Churchill, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, after local residents complained about the potential for excessive pollution and traffic.

“I think it’s a classic ‘David slayed Goliath’ story, right here in small Churchill borough,” Jennifer Korona-Huffman, of Churchill Future, the opposition group, told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4. “Our community is safe for now. We don’t have to deal with the negative environmental fallout from a project such as that mega warehouse that was slated to be built here in our residential community.”

Churchill Future filed an appeal following approval of the $300 million project by the Churchill Borough Council in late December after more than 60 hours of hearings. The 2.9 million square-foot distribution center was expected to support an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 jobs and generate $11.7 million in annual tax revenue.

Amazon said in the statement, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that its decision to withdraw was “based on our operational needs” rather than opposition pressures.

A Wall Street Journal article said similar protests have erupted over planned distribution center projects outside Madison, WI, as well as in Southern California and eastern Pennsylvania as many such facilities are opening in residential areas.

While the protests in most cases have failed to derail the projects due to the promised job creation and economic benefits, related litigation and public relations can drive up costs and any resultant new taxes, regulations or moratoriums on further construction to appease opponents can limit the projects’ potential.

The industry is in the midst of a building boom of major and micro-warehouses to support e-commerce’s rapid growth and expectations of speedy delivery. Complaints have cited the increased traffic, the impact of heavy-duty trucks on local roads, air quality issues from idling vans, noises from unloading, and construction’s harm to wildlife and the environment.

Tom Ahern, a partner at the Wellesley Hills, MA-based corporate public affairs firm Five Corners Strategies told the Journal that, while residents warmly welcome the Amazon van pulling into their driveway with their coveted item, “everybody wants to make sure that the warehouse from which it’s coming is one town over.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will local opposition be a minor or major hurdle towards building the warehousing and infrastructure necessary to support e-commerce’s growth? What are the most common negative side-effects from distribution centers on communities and how can they be reduced?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Small communities that think of themselves as quaint and unique are going to resist these mini-warehouses and most often will win. "
"One idea could be to build units that provide local businesses with small storefronts at discounted rents and to operate the back end as their warehouse."
"Local government and councils need to take some of the blame here."

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18 Comments on "Locals fight to keep warehouses out of their neighborhoods"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Small communities that think of themselves as quaint and unique are going to resist these mini-warehouses and most often will win. They control their local boards and know what they want. They will be concerned about changing the visual character of their community and the additional automobile traffic that may come with the distribution facilities — unless the carriers can learn to hide these facilities under a faux façade and minimize truck traffic.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

Yes, the warehouses should be in residential areas but be built in a mixed-use way to truly achieve last-mile fulfillment. However this isn’t the blocky/ugly building and truck idling facility of a typical warehouse. In order to be as close as possible to the last mile, new thinking is necessary. Mixed-use buildings and embracing the local area is the best way to get closest. So, Amazon warehouse in a basement and three levels and a Top Golf on top? Why not?

Carole Meagher
Guest
5 months 24 days ago

Exactly. Why do you think Amazon bought Whole Foods? It wasn’t to get into the organic grocery industry. It was WF’s real estate and supply chain logistics that put Amazon delivery as close as possible to their customers.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

In order to support fast delivery, Amazon wants to be proximate to the residential areas it delivers to. However there are externalities associated with big warehouses, including elevated traffic levels. It’s really up to each community to decide what’s right for them. The ironic thing, however, is that some of the people who object will also enjoy the speedy delivery that Amazon provides.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Classic NIMBY (not in my back yard) thinking. Because of course I want all of the benefits and none of the costs or inconveniences. Having said that, congestion and pollution are very real detractors, and businesses aiming for proximity to dense populations are going to have to balance those factors.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Local opposition to growing e-commerce operations is reminiscent of the “Keep Walmart Away” movement. Yet coming out of the COVID-19-fueled e-commerce scramble, major U.S. retailers are now dedicating significant money, time, and energy to developing delivery-focused alternates to traditional stores. Opposition efforts are counter to the consumer desire for faster and better delivery. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Any Plan B locations where the tax base voices win out over the NIMBYs will be, by definition, less efficient for Amazon. Of course this is nothing new to Walmart. They went through this decades ago as they were saturating the country with new locations.

Building MFCs is a different story. There is a huge difference between a 3 million square-foot Amazon distribution center and an MFC. Beyond the size, there’s location. MFCs are ideal for adding same-day distribution capabilities in urban areas. Amazon is clever. If they have too many rejected locations for their massive DCs, maybe they’ll figure out a way to scale down in order to divide and conquer.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Small city enclaves want the bennies of delivery but don’t want the ugly warehouses within their city limits. They also never want to see retail stores leave the community, but COVID-19 closed many locations in these communities. There could be a win-win solution. Suburbs and cozy enclaves always have a few of these big box retail stores that are ripe for re-gentrification. Though these properties are not outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, they can be retrofitted with the necessary equipment. I’ve seen this work with several companies. Moreover, communities should experience an increase in jobs, tax base and business vibrancy — all positives.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

Amazon tried (and failed) to open a big distribution center on the edge of my neighborhood last year. This isn’t a NIMBY issue. Quality of life trumps getting yet another package that won’t save your life an hour earlier. Be wary of what it seems people want (unsustainable fast delivery), because when those same people shine the light on the impact of making that possible (like a 24-hour, non-stop traffic, noise creating distribution center), suddenly getting your “toothpaste” delivered in an hour just isn’t that important.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

This isn’t limited to just small communities. We already saw a similar situation in NYC with Amazon’s pull out from the Long Island City HQ plan. Amazon has a PR problem with worker benefits and will continue to face these challenges in more active and “woke” communities regardless of their population size.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

There is nothing new about NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) protesters fighting commercial developments, especially warehouses that bring extra heavy-duty truck traffic and e-commerce operations with a very large number of smaller vans. From a pure commercial point of view, these are better located in commercial districts because land prices are lower. But there is a trade-off between property costs and the distance from the customer for deliveries. Staffing is now an added factor. If you can be closer to your labor market then there is a better chance you have for securing valuable and increasingly short staff. Local government and councils need to take some of the blame here. They clearly are not connected to their community if they pass a proposal that is so against the local interests.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It’s simple. Be a good neighbor. Amazon and any other business needs to be aware of what they do in the neighborhoods they want to do business in. I get that Amazon needs to be close to their customers, and I’m sure they will find a way to do so, be it a well placed warehouse, drone delivery, etc. Work with the local governments to ensure most everyone is happy (there are some who will always resist no matter how good it might be for the area). It needs to be a win-win for the community and for Amazon.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Planning needs to be done thoughtfully. I want to have 60-minute delivery for my orders, I also get testy waiting 10 minutes to turn left into my office park because I’m waiting for what seems like an endless stream of Amazon vans to roll out of the distribution center at exactly 7:30 AM. (real example). For cities, balancing infrastructure is a critical capability. Smaller towns probably haven’t had to worry much about that, but that’s clearly changing. My thought: having a regional approach to planning where to put these facilities could go a long way toward balancing consumers’ needs with efficient logistics.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The town I grew up in was almost 100 percent residential, except for a large industrial park that included the Nabisco bakery and a Kodak film processing plant. The industry in the park added greatly to the tax base and employment in the town. What was once an agricultural community 12 miles from NYC became a thriving residential, middle-class town.

I am not familiar with Churchill. I can’t make a pro or con for their situation. But one I did know about was the Amazon HQ2 project for a downtrodden part of Queens. It was chased away and with it, all the benefits in employment, education, and tax base it offered.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Is this necessary to support e-commerce growth? Seems to have done just fine without invading neighborhoods with operations which shouldn’t be there.

Amazon is a thug of a company when it comes to things like real estate. To see this we need only watch their lawsuit against Northstar and against former employees in the Virginia courts. The abuse of power driven by Amazon’s real estate groups are becoming quite evident.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Delivery in 60 minutes or less, or no warehouse nearby. Pick one.

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust

Communities want it all; convenience of services, thriving businesses to reduce taxes and charming spacious landscapes. It is inevitable that Amazon and delivery operations will need to build micro warehouses closer to dense communities in order to provide quick fulfillment. I think it is inevitable that these centers will come into communities or at least right at the outskirts. The challenge is on the companies to build aesthetically pleasing buildings that fit within the town/neighborhood. They also need to find locations that have access to main thoroughfares so they don’t have to depend on local side streets. One idea could be to build units that provide local businesses with small storefronts at discounted rents and to operate the back end as their warehouse. This would provide a benefit to the town as well as to their businesses.

cfdesigns
Guest
Having been on the ground opposing the mega-warehouse here in Churchill, I would like to speak to a few points raised. Many do not realize the scope of these distribution centers and just how damaging to local residents health and small town infrastructure they can be. These are not vans and cars, these are 1,360 18 wheeler tractor trailer trips per day, on roads (narrow and winding) built for local traffic. Imagine, if you will, having a 24/7 truck depot 20 feet from your front door. Our local preservation, traffic and sewage agencies have been critical of how such a massive operation would impact our small borough. Some have not even signed off on being able to service such a facility — and yet our borough voted 5-2 to allow it. This is not a case of NIMBY, this is a case of not in ANYONE’S residential backyard. More appropriate, and heck, common sense land usage can be employed without ruining our beautiful spaces where there is a dense population center that will definitely be… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Small communities that think of themselves as quaint and unique are going to resist these mini-warehouses and most often will win. "
"One idea could be to build units that provide local businesses with small storefronts at discounted rents and to operate the back end as their warehouse."
"Local government and councils need to take some of the blame here."

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