Wharton Warehouse Hearing Continuance Provides Perspectives, Objections
With a public hearing on a controversial warehouse hearing extending into a second session May 5 — and set to reconvene May 19 at Edmond Town Hall at 7 pm — attendees and officials continued to hear two radically different visions of what impact the facility might have on the town.
Wharton Equity Partners LLC, a New York developer, is applying for a Special Exception to the M-2A Zoning of property at 10 Hawleyville Road and 1 Sedor Lane, so as to permit the construction of a 344,880-square-foot warehouse with truck docks, trailer and vehicle parking spaces, and associated site work. According to P&Z minutes from the initial application session April 7, the proposed use is permitted in the M-2A zone with a special exception from the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Among the May 5 hearing’s most notable moments came when William Cody, a lawyer for Wharton, objected to intervenor Azeez Bhavnagarwala as he offered a presentation about potential impacts of vehicular traffic at and around the proposed facility.
“This intervenor does not have any qualifications as a traffic engineer,” said Cody. “This presentation should be given no credit or deference in your [Planning & Zoning Commission’s] deliberations.”
At the beginning of his presentation, Bhavnagarwala stated he was an electrical engineer and a research scientist, and admitted that doing a traffic study was new to him. He said as a research scientist, however, he is qualified to and has often researched a variety of new topics.
Bhavnagarwala stated he is the inventor of over 50 issued and pending patents, “some of which IBM sold to Microsoft, Google, TSMC and Cypress [now Infineon].” He is also a member of the faculty at New York University, and founded Metis Microsystems in 2017, which develops and licenses technology related to semiconductor chip efficiency.
Cody noted that Bhavnagarwala’s qualifications speak to the electrical, not traffic, and that it was “unfair” for the people assembled “to have to sit through” the presentation. Cody also pointed out that intervenors are supposed to discuss the impact of a subdivision on environmental issues, but Bhavnagarwala was discussing traffic, which drew shouts from the audience that traffic is an environmental issue.
P&Z Commission Chairman Dennis Bloom said Cody’s objection was “noted,” but Bhavnagarwala was allowed to continue with his presentation.
According to Bhavnagarwala’s presentation, the traffic study done by BL Companies and submitted by Wharton used an incorrect Land Use Code for warehousing and long-term storage facilities, instead of what he felt was a land use code for high cube parcel hub warehouses. Using trip generation rates for high cube parcel hub warehouses, he increased projected morning peak trips from 76 per hour to 304 per hour, and evening peak trips from 83 per hour to 245 per hour.
Using these numbers, Bhavnagarwala estimated the proposed facility could generate 1,200 truck trips per day, and 2,674 daily vehicle trips.
“These numbers are outrageously high,” Bhavnargawala observed.
The presentations by Wharton and the intervenors took up all the time available for the hearing, which meant that no one from the general public had an opportunity to speak. At the previous hearing April 7, only a few from the public were afforded time to speak.
Wharton began the May 5 hearing continuation with answers to questions from the public and commission.
Cody responded to a commission question about expected tax revenue from the warehouse, the “economic impact is very positive.” While he said he couldn’t be sure of the exact numbers since assessments are determined by the town’s assessor, he estimated that the building and property would generate $897,435 per year in property taxes, and there would be another $401,523 generated per year for personal property.
“A goal in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development is to reduce residential taxes by increasing the industrial and commercial parts of the grand list,” said Cody. “This project certainly meets that goal.”
Cody said the warehouse would be “one of the highest taxpayers in town,” while not generating any costs to the school system. Cody said that the developer, Wharton, does not know who any potential tenants of the warehouse may be, and submitted that it is “not relevant.”
“How the building is designed and how it functions speaks to the use of the property, not the user,” said Cody. “This is a fundamental tenant of zoning law.” Cody said the intervenors had “misrepresented” the function of the building and that he took “great issue” with the warehouse being termed as a “truck terminal.”
“This is not a truck terminal,” said Cody. “I take exception to this misrepresentation.”
Cody said a truck terminal is a “distinct use different from a warehouse,” and is a “high volume, trans-shipment facility,” but that the proposed warehouse is “not designed for that.”
Truck Volume Disputed
Scott Guo, Wharton’s senior vice president of acquisitions, said the building is designed to house inventory, not for “rapid through-put” and will have “far less truck traffic than some people believe.” He said that a truck terminal would have bays on both sides, one for deliveries and one for pick-ups.
“This limits the building for through-put,” said Guo.
Guo said the type of operation expected would see “less than 50 daily inbound and 50 daily outbound” trucks, and trucks would “not need to queue before unloading — empty bay doors will be available at all times.”
Mike Dion of BL Companies said Solli Engineering of Monroe verified data from the original traffic study by BL Companies. Additionally, the traffic study was updated with data from 2017 so the information it was pulling from was no longer solely from pandemic years.
Dion noted that Land Use Code 150 for warehouses calls for 100 inbound truck trips and 100 outbound truck trips, but the actual truck traffic is estimated at 50 inbound and 50 outbound per day. Dion also said that most truck traffic would head back out onto Interstate 84 and very little of it would pass through the main parts of Newtown.
Following the presentation by Wharton representatives, P&Z Commission members had a chance to ask new questions.
Corinne Cox asked about any stone walls that might be on the property as they were historically protected. She was also concerned about smoke and emissions from the property, and costs to the Hawleyville volunteer fire company.
“There are a lot of costs that might not be covered by the taxes,” Cox asserted.
Commission member Gregory Rich asked if local hiring would be a priority for the warehouse. Cody responded that there would be local job fairs and local residents would have the “first shot at jobs at the facility.” Guo answered that most employees would be within a 20 minute commute of the warehouse and 45 minutes away would generally be the furthest an employee would be located.
Commission member David Rosen asked about truck queueing on the driveway in, and suggested that the developers put up signs saying “no queueing on hill.” Rosen also asked about waste generated from the warehouse such as plastic packing, and where that would go.
Guo answered that a lot of “deliberate thought” went into the design of the building to help minimize waste. As owner of the building, Wharton would not allow litter to go out into the community from the warehouse.
Rosen also asked about winter visibility of the warehouse when leaves are not on trees, wanting to know how much of the building would be visible even from I-84. He then asked if the property may be subdivided as there is a lot of open space at the back of the property in the current site plan.
Guo answered the back of the property would be landlocked, and that there are “no plans to develop that today or in the future.” Dion added that the topography “did not make the land prime for development.”
Attorney John Parks, representing the intervenors, spoke again May 6 addressing the traffic study, and saying that Solli Engineering identified “exactly the right issue” concerning the Land Use Code used for trip generation. He added that traffic generation would be “significantly higher than depicted in the study.”
“The 76 docks and 51 trailer spaces do not agree with a trip generation of 59 trips [the number used for am peak in the original study by BL Companies],” said Parks. “The applicant chose to use a Land Use Code that generated the least amount of trips, and based the whole study on that. If he chose the wrong one, the whole study is skewed.”
Parks said that with a 350,000 square foot building with 76 doors, a claim that only 50 trucks would be inbound per day seems unlikely.
“The trip generation is grossly underestimated,” said Parks. “A warehouse needs two doors, one in, one out. The 74 other doors are needed for a high queue, high turnaround warehouse.”
Parks said that every definition of a warehouse does not fit the building design presented. “We’re not talking 100 trucks per day, we’re talking 600 per day,” said Parks. “This is enormous and will overwhelm your infrastructure.”
Parks said that the site is surrounded by intersections that are graded F on a scale from A to F.
“With 600 trucks coming through F rated intersections, there’s going to be problems,” said Parks. “I agree they can’t queue on the drive, they can’t queue in the truck court. You’ve got yourselves a disaster.”
Parks noted that the property at 10 Hawleyville Road is zoned for “light industrial.”
“This use is harsh; 600 trucks per day is far from light industrial,” said Parks. “On point after point it fails.”
Intervenor and Newtown resident Don Leonard described the project as a “total disaster for Newtown.” He noted that the intervenors said they would “rally the community against the proposal,” and that they had “given proof to that assertion” with the hearing attendance and the rallies that occurred over the past week.
Leonard said in reference to the warehouse proposal, it is “hard to sift through what is real and what is not.” He said that the proposal was not for a warehouse, but for a freight terminal.
“A freight terminal stores goods for a shorter duration compared to a warehouse,” said Leonard. “The flow velocity is much higher than at a warehouse.”
If the project were a warehouse, Leonard said, the site plan would not be calling for 76 doors. He also noted that without knowing the tenant, the nature of the business and what would be stored on site are also unknown.
Leonard ran through a list of points he felt showed how the warehouse failed to meet the town’s zoning regulations. He said that the purpose of the town’s zoning regulations are to “lessen congestion on the streets; secure safety from fire, flood and other disasters; promote health and the general welfare; conserve the value of the buildings and land; encourage the most appropriate use of the land; and be consistent with soil types, terrain, and infrastructure capacity.”
He noted the traffic study failed to address employee in and out trips, which, with 360 spots for employee parking, could be as much as 360 trips in and 360 trips out per shift; with three shifts he estimated a total of 2,160 daily trips from employees. With 125 truck in and out trips, Leonard said it could amount to 2,285 daily trips.
He said all intersections around the proposed development were rated F. A D rated intersection is “considered the limit of acceptable delays,” while an F rating “can imply a complete breakdown” of traffic flow. He expressed concerns about unleashing the additional traffic from the warehouse into intersections that already had an F rating.
Leonard cited a study by Consumer Reports that states that “trucks and buses create 25% of polluting emissions from the nation’s transportation sector, despite making up only 5% of the vehicles on the road.”
Leonard also cited an intervenor from a previous meeting, Stephen Trinkaus, a soil engineer for Trinkaus engineering, who said that “the proposed development is considered a high pollutant load site,” so the project fails to promote health and general welfare.
Leonard said that the proposal “fails on traffic, fails on health and environment, fails on safety, fails on every special exception requirement.”
“There is no justifiable basis for approving Wharton’s application,” said Leonard.
At a previous meeting, Wharton Industrial representatives said the proposed warehouse was a “less intense” use of the 104 acre property than any of a long list of prior projects proposed for the property that never came to fruition.
Those projects included the Mendik Newtown Corporate Office in 1979; a 200,000-square-foot medical office building with a 90,000-square-foot mixed retail building and 335 age restricted apartments in 1997; the GE corporate headquarters in 2003 and Newtown Crossings in 2011, which would have been a 527,000-square-foot mixed retail building with 184 residential units and a 100-room hotel.
The property is zoned Industrial M-2A, which allows warehouses as a special exception — review the zoning stipulations at ecode360.com/34497278 .
The property is bounded by I-84 to the north, Hawleyville Road to the west, and Mt Pleasant Road to the south. To the east is undeveloped property.
The project is also near some residential neighborhoods.
The property currently has “extensive areas” of thick vegetation. Cody said a lack of sewer lines to the area was a “longtime hindrance” to development, and the town recently installed sewer lines to help attract development.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.