TOWN OF NIAGARA — Members of the Niagara Town Council listened carefully, for more than 40 minutes Tuesday night, as close to a dozen residents expressed their opposition to plans for the construction of a $300 million Amazon distribution warehouse on Lockport Road.
Virtually all of the residents who spoke live in close proximity to the site of the warehouse project. Their major objection centered on the traffic that will be created, with an estimated 494 tractor-trailers going to and from the warehouse every day.
Tom Scalzo, who lives on Packard Road near the proposed project site, asked Town Supervisor Lee Wallace about the status of a traffic study being undertaken by the New York State Department of Transportation.
“Are you gonna build this and deal with (traffic issues) later?” Scalzo asked.
Wallace told him that the DOT had asked for additional time to complete its study and that planning board and town board meetings scheduled to consider the project’s approval had been moved back to the end of May.
“We’re waiting for more information,” Wallace said.
Jeanne D’Antuono, who said she’s lived on Lockport Road for 39 years, said worries about the project are keeping her awake at night.
“I love my back yard, I love my pool, but when I heard about this project I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach,” D’Antuono said. “I lose sleep at night worrying about it. I think (the warehouse project) is insane, because of the traffic. The dust from the construction will be in my pool.”
She said the back yard pool is a joy for her young grandchildren, including one with autism.
“You take that away from us? It’s heartbreaking,” D’Antuono said.
Others living close to the proposed project site complained about fumes and noise from big rigs coming and going from the warehouse. Some questioned Amazon’s labor practices, calling the internet retailing giant “not a good company.”
John Kuamme asked whether his property taxes would be reduced “as my standard living goes down.”
Robert Taylor said he pays $7,000 a year in property taxes for a home on Packard Road near the proposed warehouse site.
“Pay attention to the people who live here,” Taylor urged the town council. “Not to Amazon who could give two (expletive) about the people here.”
The Niagara town planning board, at an April meeting, voted to table a preliminary site plan and request for variances for the warehouse project. The four-member board cited a desire to hear a response from Amazon to concerns from the residents near the proposed development.
The town planning board also asked Amazon representatives to offer “further alternatives” for dealing with the expected traffic congestion around the proposed warehouse facility targeted for 8995 Lockport Road.
Amazon has already received approval of its preliminary site plan and request for variances from the Niagara County Planning Board.
The proposal calls for the construction of a 3 million square foot, five-story facility on 216 acres near Niagara Falls International Airport. Amazon has noted that the project location has been “long targeted for development.”
Maura Kennedy, an economic development manager for Amazon, has said that the warehouse “is going to be one of our largest facilities and one of our most sophisticated facilities.” Kennedy also said that Amazon is looking to be “proactive” in addressing noise, traffic and other community concerns.
The proposed warehouse is described as a “fulfillment center.” Amazon said fulfillment centers are locations where merchandise, sold and purchased on its web site, is trucked in by tractor-trailers and then sent to delivery centers, where Amazon’s ubiquitous blue vans are filled and prepared for home and business deliveries.
The project calls for the creation of 1,000 full-time jobs and some additional seasonal jobs. Workers, 10% of whom would be management and 90% of whom would be general warehouse workers, would be paid an and average of $18 an hour with full benefits, including healthcare, 401Ks, and company-paid educational programs.
The preliminary site plan indicates that the warehouse would have in excess of 50 loading docks and provide parking for close to 500 truck trailers. The site would also provide more than 1,700 individual parking spaces for employees and visitors.
The plan also calls for four driveways on the property, with a main entrance at Packard and Lockport roads.
Twenty-eight agencies, from the Niagara town planning and zoning appeals boards to county and state development agencies to the New York Power Authority, the state departments of environmental conservation and transportation and even Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, are currently reviewing the project and its potential impacts.
Wallace said, at this point in time, no final decisions have been made.
“I don’t want anyone to think this is a done deal,” the town supervisor said. “The town board takes no action on any project until the planning board acts on it first.”
But Council Member Richard Sirianni said whatever decision is made, some residents will be unhappy.
“It’s a tough decision,” Sirianni said. “We’re here to represent all the town residents. we know the concerns of the residents on Packard Road, but we have other residents who want this project because of the jobs. There’s gonna be some people happy and some people mad whether it’s Amazon or not Amazon.”