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They call it 'Project Olive.' But it's no mystery who is behind Grand Island plan

The application seeking permission to build a five-story, 3.8 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on Grand Island runs 2,202 pages. The name of the business that wants to build it does not appear once.

Instead, the developer gave it a code name: Project Olive.

Maybe "Project We Won't Say This is Amazon but It Is" would have been more accurate.

As Grand Island officials begin sifting through the voluminous application – made for an unnamed e-commerce giant widely believed to be Amazon – they still want to hear more about the plans for a 145-acre property near an Interstate 190 exit.

The town hasn't seen a development on this scale before, and it's already generating strong opinions.

Proponents point to the jobs the project creates and the boost it provides to the town's small businesses and tax base. Critics argue it adds to congestion and paves over too much valuable green space.

"I'm not going to make a decision until we have all the facts," Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney said. "I don't want to make things worse for our citizens. There's pluses and there's minuses."

The public gets its first chance to hear from the developer at the work session before Monday night's Town Board meeting, a forum that starts a lengthy review process for the proposal.

What we know about the Grand Island project that could be Amazon

Project overview

The developer, Trammell Crow of Texas, one week ago filed plans to construct a five-story, 3.8 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on the island. That's more than the size of two Walden Gallerias. Former Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray last week identified the anonymous tenant as Amazon.

Trammell Crow's filing, posted online by the town, has new details about the project, many included in a 46-page introductory letter from attorney Kimberly Nason of Phillips Lytle.

The sortation and fulfillment center would receive bulk shipments of consumer products from various vendors, package them and send them off to another facility where they are readied for final delivery to customers. Amazon has one such "last-mile" facility in Lancaster and is building another in the Town of Tonawanda.

The building would have room for 7,000 employees, but much of the work is performed by robots, the filing states. The facility would have at least 1,000 workers working in two shifts, with up to 1,800 employees during the peak holiday period when seasonal employees are added.

The building would be open 24 hours a day and 365 days per year. The structure would have 1,871 parking spaces for cars and motorcycles, another 219 spaces for trailers and 69 loading docks.

James Murray-Coleman, a Pittsburgh-based senior vice president with Trammell Crow, said there's a growing demand for this e-commerce warehouse space.

"The U.S. consumer is just buying more material online today, so more of those goods need to be stored offsite or in a position where they can be delivered more quickly to customers," he said in an interview.

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2780 Long Road

The property is 145 acres of former farmland marked by trees, wetlands and creeks. It's bounded by Long Road to the north, Bedell Road to the south and the I-190 to the east.

William L. Huntress and his Acquest Development purchased a number of properties in 1990 to form this parcel and another 62-acre parcel located just to the west.

The installation of a private sewer line to serve the Holiday Inn Express across Long Road made the land more desirable for development, McMurray said.

Trammell Crow has an agreement in place with Huntress to purchase the property, contingent on the project getting the required approvals, said Murray-Coleman. Michael Huntress, an Acquest executive and William's son, declined to comment.

Environmental effect

The developer acknowledges the plan would require paving over a portion of the property and removing trees.

The filing states 31 acres of the site would be put to industrial uses, 19 acres would serve as parking and 6 acres would serve as internal roads. But, Trammell Crow said, 90 acres would remain green space and the company would plant trees as part of landscaping on the site.

A rendering of the proposed e-commerce facility on Grand Island. (Courtesy of Langan)

The company insists the building will be well-screened and won't be starkly visible to most town residents.

There are federal and state wetlands on the site, but the company would offset any losses by purchasing wetland mitigation credits. The project would require shifting one creek on the site and building a road across another.

Traffic and congestion

The application estimates the development will generate 484 truck trips each day, in addition to employee vehicles. The property would have two roads leading into it, one from Long Road for all vehicles and one from Bedell Road for access to employee parking.

Trammell Crow said it has talked to the state Thruway Authority about the project and its effect on the North and South Grand Island Bridges.

Trammell Crow said the development shouldn't add to general congestion on the island because most traffic to and from the site will come directly from the nearby 190 on- and off-ramps.

"The existing roadway network can accommodate the project," Nason's letter states, if changes are made that include adding a full traffic signal at Long Road and the southbound 190 ramp.

Jay Patel, owner of the Holiday Inn Express located across Long Road from the warehouse property, said he agrees the 190 should be more than able to handle traffic from the development.

"I don't see that as a problem. I don't see that as a nuisance for my hotel," said Patel, who welcomes the investment in the town.

The project would bring benefits to the island, McMurray said, but the site is ideal for Amazon, too. The development gives the town the opportunity to shape its future, he said.

"We should be able to get a new bridge out of this," McMurray said.

Economic benefits

The application touts the minimum 1,000 workers who will staff the facility and the 300 construction workers required to build it.

"Most municipalities see these kinds of jobs as a good thing for their constituents," Murray-Coleman said.

A similar e-commerce facility proposed for a Syracuse suburb has an estimated annual payroll of $40 million – or $40,000 for each of the 1,000 jobs – according to Syracuse.com.

Whitney said he wants to hear more about the jobs' compensation and he wants assurances local workers will be hired to build the venue.

"I don't want to see them bring in Ironworkers from South Carolina or something like that," Whitney said. "We've got guys up here that are trying to feed their families."

Owners of small businesses hope the facility's workers will patronize their stores or, even better, move to the island, said Eric Fieblekorn, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. The property is targeted for light industrial development in the town's recently updated comprehensive plan, he said.

"Just the lunch crowd alone could sustain or double some of our small restaurants' businesses by itself," said Fieblekorn, who also pointed to the boost in tax revenue but said the project must be thoroughly examined.

Trammell Crow has had conversations with state and Erie County officials about possible tax incentives, Murray-Coleman said, declining to elaborate.

Amazon did not pursue tax incentives for its far-smaller facilities in Lancaster and Tonawanda. But Trammell Crow did obtain nearly $71 million in tax breaks over 15 years for its 3.8 million e-commerce facility planned for Clay, that carries a $350 million price tag.

Amazon scouting locations in Grand Island, Tonawanda

Project timeline

The 145-acre property at 2780 Long Road is zoned for light industrial use. But Trammell Crow, citing the development's large size, has asked the town to rezone the property as a planned development district. Nothing would happen with the neighboring 62-acre parcel.

The developer is seeking permission to build a taller building than is allowed under town code – 87 feet instead of the maximum 45 feet – among other requested variances.

The Town Board will retain its own experts to review the traffic and environmental effects of the project, Whitney said.

Murray-Coleman said Trammell Crow would like to begin site work by late summer. Construction would take between 18 and 24 months.

But a host of local, state and federal agencies will have to review the project first.

One official with a close-up view of the development is Councilwoman Jennifer Baney, who lives several houses west of the future main entrance on Long Road.

"Living this close helps to remind me that we have to be careful and considerate of every single resident and the impact this kind of project could have on their quality of life," she said.

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