An overflow audience got their first look at the megaproject planned for a vacant property on Grand Island, and one word came up again and again during and after Monday's Town Board work session:
Town Board members peppered representatives of the developer behind a massive proposed warehouse and distribution center with questions about the project's effect on traffic on and off the island.
Many of the residents who packed the session at Town Hall shared the concerns. They said there's no way the Interstate 190 and the South and North Grand Island bridges can handle additional delivery and employee vehicles coming and going from the site on Long Road.
"It's ridiculous," said islander Chuck LaChiusa after the meeting. "The traffic problem is overwhelming."
"I don't agree with the development. The island is getting too crowded," Robert Eddy said outside the meeting hall. The town resident said traffic returning to the island is sometimes backed up from the South Grand Island Bridge well onto the Interstate 290.
The public was not allowed to speak during Monday's Town Board work session – but this was the first opportunity residents had to hear from the developer behind the e-commerce project.
The Town Board took some procedural votes on the proposed development. The project must undergo a lengthy review at the local, state and federal levels.
That process continues during the March 9 Grand Island Planning Board meeting and at a special public hearing set for April 8 in the Grand Island High School auditorium.
Trammell Crow Co. of Texas on Feb. 21 filed plans for a five-story, 3.8 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on a 145-acre parcel at 2780 Long Road on the island. That's more than the size of two Walden Gallerias.
"It's an exciting project that sends a statement about the economic vitality of Grand Island," Kimberly Nason, an attorney for Phillips Lytle who is representing Trammell Crow, said Monday.
The application runs 2,202 pages and doesn't name the e-commerce company but uses a code – Project Olive – instead.
The Buffalo News reported in May, citing sources, that Amazon was eyeing the property on Long Road, near the I-190 exit. Former Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray last week said Amazon is the prospective tenant.
Nason, asked directly by Supervisor John Whitney when she could name the company, said she was not at liberty to do so at this time.
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.
Much of the work at the facility would be automated, but it would have at least 1,000 employees working in two shifts – with up to 1,800 employees during the peak holiday period, when seasonal employees are hired.
The building would be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The structure would have 1,871 parking spaces for cars and motorcycles, another 219 spaces for trailers and 69 loading docks. The developer expects 484 truck trips per day to the facility.
Nason said the developer's traffic study indicates that, "with basic mitigation, there are no anticipated adverse impacts to the roadways" – a statement met with loud laughter from the audience.
Councilwoman Jennifer Baney said the developer needs to consult with the state Thruway Authority and regional traffic experts, noting the impact on Long and Bedell roads and Grand Island Boulevard.
"These roads are not made for this," she said.
Several Town Board members said the developer needs to more closely study the effect of the project on the south and north bridges – choke points for the town.
"Our bigger concern here is the fact that we're an island," Councilman Tom Digati said.
Councilman Michael Madigan pointed out that redecking and other repair work routinely takes a lane or bridge out of commission for months at a time.
"It's not infrequent," Madigan said.
"Us islanders have to plan our life around the bridges," Sharon Nichols said after the work session, adding she wondered why the developer didn't consider Niagara County for the project.
The parcel is marked by trees, wetlands and creeks. The developer acknowledges the plan would require paving over a portion of the property and removing trees.
The Town Board will retain its own experts, paid for by the developer, to review the traffic and environmental effects of the project.
William L. Huntress of Acquest Development owns the property. Trammell Crow has an agreement in place with Huntress to purchase the property, contingent on the project getting the required approvals.
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.
The developer is seeking permission to build a taller building than allowed under town code – 87 feet instead of the maximum 45 feet – among other requested variances.
Trammell Crow would like to begin site work by late summer.
Construction would take 18 to 24 months.
During the public comment period that followed the full Town Board meeting later Monday, residents got a chance to respond to the Project Olive presentation.
David Reilly said the town shouldn’t schedule any more meetings on the project for six months to allow officials to fully digest this project that has the potential to radically reshape the island’s future. He brought five reams of paper to show the size of the application.
“Don’t allow anyone else to dictate your timeline,” Reilly said.
Other residents, like Rose Bugman, echoed concerns about the effect on the town’s quality of life.
“It’s going to be a quagmire on the island,” she said.
“What are we doing to this island?” asked Bugman’s friend, Sandra Nelson, citing traffic and environmental concerns.
One resident, Sam Hunt, did speak in favor of the project.
“I think this is something that really needs to be brought onto the island,” said Hunt, pointing to the economic benefits.