NIAGARA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Amazon is one step closer to calling the Town of Niagara home.
The new, state-of-the-art first-mile mega distribution center received unanimous site plan approval by the Niagara Town Board on Tuesday. This vote means the plots of land that comprise the project will be joined together and the proposed plans for the structure were approved. This is the final municipal approval in relation to zoning entitlements.
The Town Zoning Board approved the variances last week, which allowed the Town Board to take final action.
Residents were able to comment before the final vote and many of them were concerned about traffic and safety. The proposal says there will be hundreds of Amazon trucks traveling down Lockport Road and Packard Road every day, and many who live in the area said it will make it impossible for them to leave their homes.
“You’re forcing me to put my house up for sale and pick up my life and start all over again. All on you people sitting right here.” Town of Niagara resident Robert Taylor said during public comment. “It’s a shame.”
The Town Board voted in June to say there will be no significant environmental impact from the project, which was 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 is home to about 8,000 residents and sits on nine square miles of land, but many residents have said it is not fit for heavy industry. The proposed site for a new Amazon warehouse is 8995 Lockport Rd. It would primarily serve people on the East Coast who buy products from the company. The land on Lockport Road was deemed ‘shovel-ready‘ by New York State in 2012, meaning it was pre-approved for a large industrial project.
“It has been advertised as such for more than a decade,” Michael Casale, commissioner of the Niagara County Department of Economic Development, told News 4. “To tell the site selection community in the world that yes, we are shovel ready, but we are not for this project would send a very terrible message.”
Some residents are excited about the project and say it will bring economic development to the town and county. They say with added jobs comes added spending and tax dollars.
“I would like to see the Amazon project go forward and bring positive economy to this town,” resident Johnny Parks said.
The company was already planning to call Western New York home, but the original project fell apart when residents on Grand Island pushed back in 2020. Before that project went up for public comment, Amazon agreed to pay the town $10 million for public and community projects. The Niagara Town Board says similar negotiations are underway, but no deal has been finalized.
“Get some good negotiators, because with the railroad, the airport, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge that Grand Island doesn’t have, I think we are worth $40 [million],” Tom Webber, Packard Road resident, added.
Many residents questioned how the town can approve the project without finishing negotiations.
“How can you finalize anything without the negotiations that are going to benefit this town?” one resident yelled from the crowd.
Town Supervisor Lee Wallace replied that the tax revenue is enough to move forward.
The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the e-commerce giant for various workers rights violations. The Town Board did not consider this when making their decision.
“As a town, when we approve a project, we really don’t go internally into the individual who owns that project and what they will do with their employees,” Supervisor Wallace said.
The project is not set in stone yet. Amazon has halted projects before shovels go into the ground, but the potential for economic growth was too important to pass up.
“You never know what is going to happen, but we have to move forward and hope for the best and hope for things to work out,” Supervisor Wallace concluded.
There is still one major hurdle for this development project. The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency will have their say on August 10. There will be another public hearing in front of the NCIDA on August 3.
Amazon applied to the NCIDA last week and asked for millions in tax incentives.
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 and the Town Planning Board in early June.
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.
In 2020, Supervisor 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.