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Amazon clears next hurdle

Mon, Jun 13th 2022 10:40 am

Town of Niagara prepares negative declaration in environmental review

√ Traffic impact discussed on neighboring facilities

By Timothy Chipp

Niagara Town Board members appear ready to move past a major hurdle in bringing an Amazon warehouse to Lockport Road.

Council and representatives from the team looking to bring the warehouse to the town reviewed the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process this week, with town officials coming to a conclusion that a five-story facility at 8995 Lockport Road would not have a significant impact on the area.

Attorney Corey A. Auerbach, an attorney at Barclay Damon in downtown Buffalo representing the town’s interests as lead agency of the project, said the word “significant” is key to the process.

Because, he said, there are several large impacts that would come with building this facility in question. But, if there are mitigation efforts from Amazon offsetting said issues, or limiting their effect, those impacts shouldn’t be considered significant.

With a lack of significant impact – a “negative declaration” in the SEQR process – attention in the project heads now to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, 7105 Lockport Road.

There, the ZBA will hold a public hearing on the project. Auerbach said that board could choose to keep the public hearing open or close it at the conclusion of the agenda item. But once it’s closed, a roughly 60-day timer begins, requiring the ZBA to decide whether the project can be forwarded to the town board for site plan approval or not.

Meanwhile, the town board is expected to formally issue its negative declaration at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 21, paving the way for a site plan approval process, depending on the ZBA’s actions.

Approval of the project could be on the agenda in July for both the ZBA and the town board, should all steps in the process be completed in time.

More Robust Mitigation

A month ago, the Town Board announced the Amazon project was being tabled.

“PSA: The applicant has requested the Town to table the application relating to 8995 Lockport Road with respect to the May Town Board meeting,” the town posted to its social media channels on May 4. “In addition they have requested the May 17 Zoning Board public hearing be postponed. A reschedule for June will be TBD.”

On Wednesday, those associated with the project revealed to the council why the process was delayed: further work addressing a number of traffic issues.

Most notably, they said, the plan now calls for a different truck route out of the facility to help reduce the number of vehicles that will use Packard Road.

While trucks arriving at the facility will still use Packard Road, those leaving the facility will now be instructed to travel on Lockport Road, if the project is approved. They will then turn left on Military Road and head toward the Interstate 190 on-ramp at Porter-Packard Road.

An alternative route proposed by residents, which would see no truck traffic on either major roadway was deemed impossible, according to Michael Finan, associate principal for engineering firm Langan.

Achieving the new route, Finan said, added in an extra mitigation step at the intersection of Lockport and Military roads. The stop line on westbound Lockport Road would be set further back to allow the trucks ample turning space.

Four other mitigation steps were added to the traffic plan based on response to state, local and residential issues brought up during the process, Amazon representatives said.

First, they said a turn lane will be installed at the intersection of Walmore and Lockport roads, designed to help alleviate employee traffic flow exiting the facility at shift change.

Second, a turning lane will be established at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station main entrance on Lockport Road – though a traffic signal light won’t be installed as the flow does not reach high enough volume, according to Amy C. Dake, senior managing traffic engineer for SRF Associates.

Third, the project now calls for the middle employee driveway to restrict traffic flow to right turns only, both entering and exiting the lot. Dake said a physical median will be installed to restrict the traffic.

It was a change prescribed by the state Department of Transportation in its review, Dake said.

The final proposed change to the original plan calls for a widening of Packard Road at the intersection with Lockport Road, which would be the main entrance and exit from the facility.

Widening allows the creation of a right turn lane, Amazon representatives said, which would ease the burden truck traffic has on commuters and drivers using the road for other reasons. And fears of long lines of trucks lined up, Dake said, aren’t realistic as, even during peak times, there shouldn’t be more than two trucks every minute.

John Bancroft, representing developer JB2 Partners, said all of the mitigation efforts go beyond what he’s seen from other sites across Amazon’s facilities.

In all, the plan now calls for about one mile of turn lanes installed, Bancroft said, in what he called “one of the most dynamic mitigation plans” he’s seen.

“We’ve been to a lot of meetings,” he said. “At this point, we think we understand what the concerns are. We’ve worked to address them the best we can.”

Council’s Other Concerns

What wasn’t addressed in the updated plan is traffic to and from the interstate, which some council members felt could be an issue with trucks added into the flow.

They wondered, among other concerns, whether there could be stacked vehicles on the off-ramp waiting at red lights. It’s a complicated section of road, they feel, and could pose a problem maneuvering multiple lanes on their path to the facility.

But, Amazon’s representatives said, there were no mitigation requirements from the state regarding the traffic in the area.

“We’re not seeing backups off Interstate 190,” Dake said. “In the morning, there’s some overlap (between peak traffic time and truck traffic increasing), but we’ve seen most of it is going onto the interstate going to Buffalo or Niagara Falls.

“At night, because the air reserve station is the No. 1 employer, your peak is actually about 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., while ours is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.”

Representatives also said it is likely impossible for a Lockport Road interchange off the interstate, given the proximity to the Porter-Packard exit.

“In rural areas, the state likes to have at least two miles between exits,” Dake said.

Beyond traffic, the town council did recognize in its SEQR review that the facility could have an impact on nearby facilities, including group home Empower WNY, at 9812 Lockport Road.

Bancroft said the facility would be the beneficiary of at least a 14-foot berm between it and the Amazon warehouse, should the project be approved, and that they’ve had “good dialogue” to understand the group home’s concerns.

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