North Hempstead grants site plan approval
One of the most valuable companies on the planet gained an official foothold in Carle Place recently.
On Aug. 13, after a public hearing held on Zoom, the Town of North Hempstead Town Board approved a site plan review as part of Amazon’s plan to erect a “Last Mile Delivery Station” proposed at 2 Westbury Ave., Carle Place.
The distribution facility will make use of the former Waldbaum’s property, a 7.4 acre parcel with a 55,742-square-foot building. Vans based there will deliver packages to all of Nassau County.
The official applicant was Brisbane-Steel Carle Place LLC, part of developer Steel Equities of Bethpage. The firm was formed on Nov. 25, 2019 in Delaware.
Days before, Councilwoman Viviana Russell had arranged a virtual town hall hosted by Amazon to inform the residents of Carle Place.
Brad Griggs of Long Beach, a senior manager with the Amazon economic development team, led the presentation and stated, “We wanted to mitigate the questions and concerns that the community may have and how this site is going to impact the surrounding area.”
According to Griggs, anywhere from 10 to 20 (depending on the season) 18-wheeled tractor trailers will deliver loads from the giant fulfillment center in Staten Island every day. Delivery hours are from midnight to 7 a.m., with occasional afternoon deliveries.
The trucks will exit the Long Island Expressway, travel south on Glen Cove Road, and make a right turn onto Voice Road. The retailing giant will make use of the former supermarket’s existing loading docks, accessible from Voice Road.
At the north end of the property there is parking entrance on Westbury Avenue, whose northern side is lined with residences.
Griggs assured his listeners that the tractor trailers will not be using Westbury Avenue to enter the premises. He went on to say that Amazon truck drivers use an app that will direct them to avoid that east-west thoroughfare.
Griggs called it a “manageable low volume” of tractor trailers and claimed it was no different than how the former Waldbaum’s delivery system worked.
An overnight crew will sort the packages for the next day’s deliveries. The sorting staff will park on the south end of the property, adjacent to Voice Road.
Amazon van drivers will start arriving at 9 a.m. and the vehicles will be loaded starting at 9:30 a.m. According to Griggs, they will go out in groups of 18 starting at 10 a.m. with the last batch leaving around noon. They will put in 10 hour days and start returning at 7 p.m. The vans will exclusively use the Westbury Avenue entrance, as will the drivers in their personal cars.
Van drivers are third party independent contractors. Amazon partners with local logistics companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs to handle the delivery routes. Drivers make at least $15/hour.
Vans will be owned by Amazon and then leased to those third party logistics companies.
Griggs noted that the delivery schedule is meant to minimize the effects on rush hour.
He talked about the Amazon Flex Program, similar to Uber or Lyft, in which drivers deliver packages in their own vehicles. They make between $20-24/hour and begin arriving at the facility around 2:30 p.m. They drive directly into the loading zone, and this loading takes about an hour to complete. These drivers will exit in coordinated waves out of the facility onto Westbury Avenue. They will not return to site unless they have an undeliverable package.
The facility is expected to employ at least 50-plus “associates” starting at about $15.50/hour with what Griggs called “comprehensive benefits,” including the possibility of owning Amazon stock. Managerial positions start at about $60,000 per year. Griggs did not say how many managers will be hired.
Griggs told Kevin Coffey, assistant superintendent for business in the Carle Place School District, that the delivery trucks would not affect the morning school bus routes on Westbury Avenue and the adjacent area.
Kristin Biggin of the Carle Place Civic Association (CPCA) lives on Raff Avenue, off of Glen Cove Road. There is a traffic light at that corner, and opposite Raff is the southbound entrance ramp to the Meadowbrook Parkway. Thanks to the traffic app Waze or Google Maps, Biggin asserted, many drivers were bypassing the busy traffic light at Westbury Avenue and Glen Cove Road and taking her road as a shortcut.
“There are days when I can’t even get into my own driveway,” she said, concerned that the van drivers would use Raff as a shortcut in their personal cars.
Griggs told Biggin that management would work with the drivers to mitigate such an issue. He also assured her that delivery vans will avoid the shortcut—unless they had a delivery to make.
Kevin Ketterhagen of the CPCA asked about possible career fairs in this time of pandemic and wanted to make sure that Carle Place residents have a shot at those jobs.
Griggs replied that Amazon hoped to have the facility up and running in time for the holiday season, and could foresee an in-person hiring event in the October-November time frame. The low positive coronavirus rates in Nassau County made such a job fair—with masks and distancing protocols—a possibility and he said local residents would be the first to have employment opportunities.
Regarding traffic, Amazon’s consultants had worked closely with the Nassau County DPW and the latter, after studying the issue, felt there was no need for a traffic light on Westbury Avenue and the entrance to the facility. As for changing the timing of the left turn signal of eastbound Westbury Avenue onto northbound Old Country Road, the county would make that determination once operations got underway.
The traffic study concluded that “trips generated by the proposed distribution facility are expected to be lower than would had been generated by the prior supermarket during daytime hours.”
Resident Peter Gaffney warned the Amazon reps that right-hand turns onto Voice Road would be difficult for tractor trailers, and since Glen Cove Road was one of the busiest routes in the county, it could cause traffic tie-ups. The left turn from Voice Road onto Glen Cove Road during rush hour would also cause problems.
Griggs replied that the overwhelming number of deliveries will take place overnight, and traffic will not be an issue then.
Gaffney also had a chance to ask questions at the Aug. 13 town board meeting, held over Zoom.
“Will there be an IDA tax benefits been given for Brisbane-Steel or Amazon?” he asked, referring to the county’s Industrial Development Agency.
“No, we have not pursued any tax breaks for this project,” Griggs replied, and to a follow-up question from Gaffney, said that included asking for relief from sales tax for construction materials.
Gaffney asked about parking spaces at the facility. Rich Bivone, of East Meadow-based RMB Development Consultants, said there were 255 parking spaces provided and the zoning requirement was 121.
Griggs added that parking fluctuates throughout the year,and mentioned the holiday peak season.
“Will the vans engines be running while loading?” Gaffney asked.
“Our policy for the vans when they are in the loading zone is that they are turned off as the driver and the associate load the vehicle, which can take 20 to 30 minutes,” Griggs replied.
Gaffney noted that Amazon’s distribution facility is a 24/7 operation, adding, “Years ago, when Waldbaum’s supermarket opened, it was open 24 hours. After a period of time, the [operating] hours were reduced. One reason was the noise.”
The Westbury resident said he disagreed with the traffic evaluation that trips generated by the facility are expected to be lower than what was generated by the prior supermarket.
“The statement is misleading and should not be included,” he argued.
Griggs seized on the fact that Gaffney had called it “a fulfillment center,” which Griggs explained were much larger facilities with much higher traffic counts.
“The traffic study was conducted by our traffic consultant, which is recognized throughout the region,” Griggs rejoined, referring to Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, a firm with national reach.
Rich Bivone added, “Nassau County does an extensive review of the traffic analysis that was submitted by our licensed professionals. They review those counts and trip generations [with what] happens now and what the proposed use will be. And they have approved that as far as this site being used for this type of use.”
Gaffney brought up traffic on the residential streets north of the site.
Griggs replied, “I would reiterate what Rich has said. This was an extensive review by Nassau County. We also designed this facility in such a manner as to eliminate the tractor trailer traffic on Westbury Avenue. And again, our hours of operation are at such a level as to allow the feathering of vehicles, and it occurs exclusively after the peak periods in the morning and the evening.”
Gaffney reiterated his concerns from the Zoom meeting from the previous Friday, and asked again about left turn lane from Voice Road onto northbound Glen Cove Road. Also, trucks making the right from southbound Glen Cove Road onto Voice Road can have a conflict with the left turn lane. Wondered if those particular problems were taken into consideration when doing the traffic analysis.
Councilwoman Russell interjected to add that “we do see that as a potential issue, from the town’s standpoint.”
If there was to be a problem, she added, the town could move the left turn lane back so as to avoid potential conflicts.
“To Councilwoman Russell’s point, this site, when it was Waldbaum’s, had commercial traffic in and out with 18-wheelers that utilized Voice Road for that area, and I believe it has not been a concern as of yet,” Griggs replied
Dan Disario of Langan, the traffic engineers, said, “As it relates to the trucks, I would point out to everyone’s consideration that our truck traffic is going to be relegated to overnight hours, and because of that we don’t see any frequent conflict with vehicles trying to turn left out of Voice Road with a tractor trailers trying to make a right turn onto Voice Road.”
He added, “I anticipate, based on how the building is situated, that the previous Waldbaum’s also received its deliveries via Voice Road, and to our knowledge, we’re not aware of any issues as far as Waldbaum’s trucks creating any issues at that intersection. Similarly, we do not anticipate any issues with the delivery station and its truck activity.”
Noting that Voice Road bordered a commercial/industrial area, Gaffney asked if the existing businesses will affect the traffic.
“I believe our traffic study has taken existing businesses into account,” Griggs said. “The counts was done pre-pandemic, when traffic was presumably higher.”
Gaffney had seen some construction activity at the property, and asked about it.
Bivone answered that it was work to clear out the inside of the existing building “and to analyze the existing conditions and be able to have the licensed professional architects and engineers to design what needs to be done and make changes to the submitted plans.”
Gaffney also made note a steel structure that was being erected and asked what it was.
“The only construction was authorized by permit issued by the building department and [includes] the demolition of existing conditions and the ‘make ready’ work of the building itself,” Bivone replied.
This drew a reaction from Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who asked that someone from the building department visit the site “to make sure that there is no construction going on there that is not part of the permit process. I can understand why that is a concern.”
Bivone later stated of the structure, “That’s the canopy on the east side near the parking area. That’s the loading area for the vans.”
Russel asked Gabriel Garcia of the building department if that was covered under the permit.
Garcia answered, “I believe it is.”
“I’m a little confused, because we haven’t approved the project at this point, and that’s what the purpose of the hearing is,” Bosworth stated. “Is this like the cart before the horse?”
Garcia said that, prior to coming on to the meeting, “I reached out to the assigned building inspector for that project and he told me what was going on. Two permits were issued, one for an emergency roof repair and the other was for the build-out of the warehouse. The building inspector did not see any other work that wasn’t covered by those permits. He said that everything has been going fine, there’s been no issues, no hiccups.”
He added, “It’s my understanding that what triggered the site plan re
view was the revision to the existing parking lane and how the parking lot would be used. That’s what brought us here today.”
Department of Planning & Environmental Protection Commissioner Mike Levine joined the discussion, mentioning “the scope of work items that cannot go forward without board review. That would include an expansion of the gross floor area. That would include alterations to the parking lot. That would include any changes to the access and egress points.”
He added that applicants were allowed to do “destructive” work such as clearing out the interior to get it ready and that is permissible before board review.
Levine observed, “The canopy structure is something that would be permitted regardless of who the new tenant is and it does not involve the expansion of the gross floor area nor the alteration of the parking configuration.”
Levine assured his listeners that “the deputy building commissioner is on site…[and] has not found anything that went beyond the permitted activity.”
The commissioner said that his department recommended the site plan approval, only asking for a follow-up meeting in six months to review the project’s progress.
More Traffic Concerns
Russell had question about commercial vehicles being able to cut through Park Avenue and other residential streets adjoining the facility.
“Will the drivers be given instructions to not use those local residential streets unless they have a delivery?” she asked Griggs.
“Any of the vans that are typically in that area will typically be making deliveries,” Griggs replied. “If not, they are utilizing the major roadways as the most efficient means by which to get to their [destination].”
Echoing what Biggin had noted the previous Friday, Russell said that Waze and Google Maps often steered drivers to shortcuts through residential areas when the major routes were backed up.
The councilwoman did some research and spoke with the mayor of Los Altos Hills, CA, who had asked the developers to program the apps to avoid certain areas. The response was that in the absence of ordinances, that could not be done. So the municipality did create laws to deal with the issue, and Russell said that North Hempstead could do the same.
Levine observed, “Our main concern is, how do we [assure] long term compliance with the traffic plan? We did ask for a fairly comprehensive plan on how to manage what types of vehicles come in through which streets at what hours. We have a lot of experience with this, where everybody on the applicant’s team is present at the hearing, and that was what was agreed to, but it doesn’t always get translated. Sometimes it doesn’t reach the on-site manager, or if it does, over time, people turn over and the continuity is lost.”
Levine asked Griggs, “What is your plan to ensure that every driver is aware of the restrictions in terms of the hours and the routes. We will also ask that you identify a single point contact for us because the enforcement issue with a large corporation sometimes is hard to track down. Who is the person who is responsible?”
Griggs replied, “We have an operations team that would be three to four points of contact that we could provide to the Town of North Hempstead or to you, Commissioner Levine, to be able to answer to any issues related to the site.”
In The Community
Bosworth asked Russell, “Councilwoman, when we spoke, you mentioned that there was some kind of talk of a community support program.”
Russell said that these took the form of job opportunities and educational programs.
Griggs stated, “From the standpoint of community engagement and opportunities, we want to partner with the supervisor and Councilwoman Russell and with the Carle Place community on hosting events in the area to allow the residents of the area to be part of the first key wave of associates and managers hired for this facility.”
Griggs said that the company conducts drug tests during the process, and hiring events are held in conjunction with local elected officials.
“We typically hold them in hotels, especially in the current COVID-19 age, when social distancing and cleaning requirements are so paramount to allow for that to be scoped out in advance,” Griggs said. “Anyone who applies and goes through the interview process will be given a contingent offer. So, we want to work directly with the community on making sure we get as many local residents hired as possible.”
Further, Griggs revealed, Amazon is focused on a number of good citizenry practices around sustainability and racial equality and veterans and first responders and STEAM and STEM education.
“We had great meetings with the Carle Place school district and the superintendent there around possible programs for potential internships and the robotics day camps and learning events that we host at the facility in Staten Island,” Griggs affirmed. “Students would work on the Amazon building system and learn about how the products show up at their house. And they would actually learn to work and build some of the robotics that we utilize in our facilities, and then we’ll partner with local school districts on potential sponsorship events and hosting STEAM and STEM class learning sessions. And then we have our Amazon future engineers program, where we look to put computer science programs into disenfranchised school districts to help bring computer science programs to those that don’t have that ability.”
The giant retailer has committed to a climate pledge to be carbon neutral and has an initiative to get 100,000 electric vehicles in its fleets, with the first ones in 2022.
The company has also spent tens of millions on racial equality programs, Griggs added.
I’m happy with how this process worked,” Russell said. “When we initially met with Amazon, there were some things that we asked of them to do. And they have been pretty straightforward in accomplishing the things that we asked them to do, particularly with communicating with the residents that are in proximity to this project, as well as the stakeholders and the community.”
She added, “This is a very large project that has a huge impact on the community while it’s taking away the blight of the former Waldbaum’s. And it was very important to myself as well as this board that there was ample communication with all stakeholders.”
Russell promised that any concerns by the residents would be addressed by the town.
Bosworth thanked Russell for the way she “shepherded this through in a beautiful way to make sure the community was involved and that Amazon got the feedback that it’s getting and they had the opportunity to do that as well.”
Click By the Numbers for a look at some of the figures associated with the project.