TOWN OF NIAGARA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The fight for an Amazon first-mile mega distribution center is dividing the Town of Niagara.
The town is home to about 8,000 residents and sits on nine square miles of land, but many say it is not fit for heavy industry. 8995 Lockport Rd. is the proposed site for a new Amazon warehouse, which would primarily serve local residents who buy products from the company. The land on Lockport Rd. was deemed shovel-ready by New York State in 2012, meaning it was pre-approved for a large industrial project.
The Town Board voted Tuesday night to say there will be no significant environmental impact from the project, which is a major step forward. Town of Niagara was the lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process, according to Special Counsel to the Town Board and Barclay Damon attorney Corey Auerbach. He says the board voted to issue a negative declaration of environmental significance. The SEQRA designation is a prerequisite for any other action to be taken on the project.
The Town Zoning Board can now take action on variances for the project. They must act within 60 days of their last meeting, which was June 14. The Town Board could vote to approve the project at their next meeting on July 19.
Niagara County officials confirmed the e-commerce giant was coming to Niagara County, after months of going by the moniker Project FiFi. The project cleared the County Planning Board last month and the Town Planning Board in early June.
It was standing room only at the Niagara Town Hall. Residents voiced their concerns, which include traffic, safety and property values, about the proposed mega-distribution site. Many say the increased traffic and proximity to the facility will decrease their home value. Others are worried about sharing the road with hundreds of semi-trucks that would drive in and out on Lockport, Packard and Tuscarora roads.
“We are going to have tractor-trailers going down this road 24 hours per day, seven days per week. When we go to bed at night we are never going to be able to sleep,” Rob Taylor said in an interview with News 4.
At the meeting, Taylor voiced his concerns to the board. Another resident told the board, “It’s going to be a total flippin’ mess.”
“We don’t come back to the residents every time we have a decision to make,” Town Supervisor Lee Wallace said in response to Taylor.
Some residents are citing Amazon’s fallout on Grand Island. Niagara residents say their town board is not listening to them, despite calls to continue public comment on the project or halt it all together.
“Amazon was offering Grand Island $10 million dollars to do improvements to their parks, etc. Are we getting anything like that?” Kim Pollock questioned the board.
“We are in negotiations for that,” Supervisor Wallace replied.
Traffic and safety are of utmost concern for residents near the facility. At times 100 trucks could pass by in a 24-hour period, which could cause delays on the roads. The town says they plan to add turning lanes into and out of the facility to ease that burden, but residents say it will not be enough.
“Am I going to be rear-ended? Possible maimed, injured? I could be dead. Because those semis carry tons and tons of weight,” another resident asked the board.
Some people in attendance were in favor of the major industrial project, saying if Niagara does not accept the deal, it could affect the entire county.
“No serious site selector would ever give Niagara County a second look again if we do not stand behind the shovel-ready certification,” Michael Casale, commissioner of the Niagara County Economic Development, said.
Union leaders say it would provide many jobs to the people they represent.
“It would provide a lot of work opportunities for my workers and I have come to speak in support of it,” John Scherrer, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 237, added.
Board members say this project will balance the town budget and keep taxes low. The town already borrows money from its savings to pay for services in the general fund. They say if the Amazon project falls through, they may have to add an additional general fund tax to pay for the Police Department, recreation, highway, and other services.
“It would be like every month you are short $500 so you have to take it out of your bank account to pay for the rest of your bills. Eventually, you’re going to run out of a bank account,” Supervisor Wallace continued.
The Zoning Board has until August 13 to take action on the project, while the Town Board could vote to approve the project in July.
At a meeting in April, Amazon Economic Development Manager Maura Kennedy, who was in attendance Tuesday night for public comment, said the proposal will create jobs both at Amazon and during the construction process.
“We’re really looking to bring economic opportunity to the jurisdiction through this investment. We’re looking to create 1,000 full-time positions. All [of them] on average make $18 or more per hour,” Kennedy added.
The company was already planning to call Western New York home, but that project fell apart when residents on Grand Island pushed back in 2020. In the same year, Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace sent a letter, saying his town was “fully on board and committed to assisting in bringing this great project to Niagara County.”
The facility will be four stories, more than 3 million square feet, built on a 216-acre plot and will feature 55 loading docks, 414 trailer parking stalls, 1,755 parking stalls, and two guard buildings. This will cover 7% of the property, according to the application by JB2 Partners, LLC., and 105 acres will be left untouched.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.