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Americans fend off warehouse building boom


The warehouse building boom in the United States is hitting a wall in some communities.

Town and city dwellers are rebelling against a growing push to bring distribution centers closer to neighborhoods and areas unaccustomed to industrial traffic, an effort driven by growing demand for e-commerce that opponents of warehouses say brings from noise, pollution and heavy trucks to local roads.

Enemies of fulfillment centers have gone from speaking out at local meetings and on Facebook to launching lawsuits and GoFundMe campaigns to counter a wave of warehouse building that is changing the retail landscape in the United States. Businesses added more than 1.6 billion square feet of new industrial space across the country from 2017 to the end of the first quarter of this year, according to real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.,

in a relentless drive to bring goods closer to customers amid a growing arms race among retailers to deliver orders faster.

The construction drew protests from communities outside cities, including Pittsburgh and Madison, Wisconsin, and neighborhoods near the expanding logistics regions of southern California and eastern Pennsylvania.

“It would be really great if the state and county, businesses and communities could start some kind of discussion to resolve this issue, because we are under siege,” said Anne Franke, a retiree opposed to a development in Maxatawny, Pennsylvania. , a rural community near Allentown, Pennsylvania, in an area busy with warehouse construction. “Our communities are under siege in Pennsylvania.”

So far, efforts to halt warehouse construction have generally not been successful, said John Boyd, director and founder of Boyd Company Inc., a site-selection company in Boca Raton, Fla. . But he said they often complicated the planning process and made developments more expensive, forcing companies to spend time and money on litigation and public relations efforts.

Residents of Holbrook, NY, on Long Island have secured more than 300 signatures on a Change.org petition seeking to block construction of a 147,000 square foot distribution center. The developer of a 201,000 square foot warehouse in Upland, Calif., in the Inland Empire area near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is embroiled in a legal battle with a community group over the impact environment of the project.

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Sometimes, even after a dispute over a project is settled, opponents are successful in pressuring officials to impose new taxes or regulations on warehouses or establish moratoriums on new construction, Boyd said.

“Policymakers and public advocacy groups obviously need to work together, and we need to adapt our supply chain,” he said, adding that the growth in e-commerce and demand for goods during the pandemic “did not happen in a vacuum”.

Growing opposition is pushing developers and logistics operators to turn more often to public affairs firms to preempt resistance by touting the projects as job generators and benefits to local economies, especially at a time downturn in the physical retail sector.

Warehouse construction is booming in the US Here an Amazon project was underway in Syosset, NY last year.


Photo:

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tom Ahern, a partner at Wellesley Hills, Mass.-based corporate public affairs firm Five Corners Strategies LLC, said fulfillment centers are meeting demand in and near communities.

Everyone likes to see Amazon.com Inc.

delivery vans “show up in their driveway the day after they order the new fishing reel or mitt for their son or daughter,” he said. “But everyone wants to make sure the warehouse they came from is a town further away.”

In a typical year, Five Corners might receive three or four campaign requests supporting new logistics facilities, Ahern said. Since mid-2021, he said, “the pedal has hit the ground.” The firm is already working on four campaigns this year, with requests for two more behind the scenes, he said.

More than 568.2 million square feet of industrial property were under construction in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to 368.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 329.9 million in the same period of 2019, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

In Maxatawny, warehouse developer Duke Realty Corp.

, has encountered resistance, including a court battle over the township’s approval of a large logistics park. The land use decision appeal said industrial operations would light up the night sky, alter ‘pristine’ views of farmland and bring up to 924 tractor-trailer trips a day on two-lane roads without shoulder of the region.

“The problem is that they are now in the middle of the communities,” Ms. Franke said. “They are rewriting the community.”

Duke’s website calls the project a “great opportunity” for e-commerce users, citing access to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, all within a three-hour drive. The company declined to comment on the development, citing ongoing litigation.

It’s getting harder and harder to find space for projects, said Chris Burns, executive vice president of real estate operations at Duke.

“Large facilities need more land. If we tried to find a site today on 50 acres in the Inland Empire, it would be next to impossible,” he said, referring to an area near the busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “You have to go far enough from the ports to do that.”

Julia Somers, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, a land conservation group, said logistics space belongs closer to highways “to make sure they’re using the infrastructure that’s been built for truck traffic.” .

More logistic report

The nonprofit is helping fund a lawsuit brought by the residents of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, against their city council over a 510,000-square-foot downtown warehouse project along the Delaware River, about 70 miles west of New York. The coalition says the project would reduce air quality and free up heavy truck traffic.

Amazon last month canceled plans for a fulfillment center in Churchill, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh, amid strong objections in the community. An Amazon spokesperson said its decision to scrap Project Churchill “was entirely a business decision and not driven by community factors.”

A group called Churchill Future had scheduled protests through its Facebook page and raised more than $46,000 online to pay for a lawyer to help with the opposition campaign.

Cathy Bordner, a retiree who organized the anti-Amazon campaign, said she doesn’t think online fulfillment centers belong anywhere.

“It’s not just in my backyard, it’s not in anyone’s backyard,” Ms. Bordner said. Online ordering and delivery “is an inefficient business model and the American public is addicted to it. I’m at the grocery store. Get up, get in your car and go to the store.

Write to Lydia O’Neal at lydia.oneal@wsj.com

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