Churchill, PA, March 18, 2022–Just after 9 pm Thursday evening March 17th residents got word, through an email sent by their neighbor Cathy Bordner, of an article posted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ( ).  The story announced Amazon’s withdrawal from a plan to build a 2.9 million square foot warehouse in Churchill, a small residential community of 3000 people ten miles east of downtown Pittsburgh.

The reaction to Amazon’s decision was shock followed by jubilation.  Residents are ecstatic.

Cathy Bordner, a Churchill resident and leader within the grassroots Churchill Future group that formed one year ago in response to the development proposal, called for greater transparency by Churchill Borough Council and better communication with residents, adding “They need to understand what all Churchill residents care about and how best to represent us.”

The proposed site was the former Westinghouse Research and Technology Park, a bucolic 133 acre hilly property, with approximately 100 acres of greenspace and wetlands, home to wildlife and a possible endangered species, which is intersected by the historic Raystown Path–a Native American trail.  The mid-century buildings and campus have been deemed eligible by the PA State Historic Preservation Office for the National Register of Historic Places ( ).  Recently, an article in Docomomo documented the cultural and historical significance of the former Westinghouse property

( ). The Docomomo story was followed by another in Metropolis magazine this month ( ).

During the almost 60 hour Public Hearing over four months from July through October, concerns were voiced regarding pollution, environmental degradation, flooding, traffic, vehicular and pedestrian safety, and the impact on health and well-being from diesel emissions, noise, light pollution, and vibrations generated by hundreds of diesel-powered tractor trailer trucks traveling on area roadways, idling on and off-site, and entering and exiting the facility every two minutes, 24/7, 365 days/year.  Over the course of the Public Hearing, 54 residents spoke against the proposal, with 2 speaking in favor.

There was also grave concern regarding the Developer’s plan to lower the site by 30 feet to build the warehouse, and how the demolition, excavation of soil and penetration of existing bedrock might impact air and water quality, potentially cause subsidence from abandoned coal mines, affect gas lines, and threaten the integrity of radioactive waste containers stored underground on the 13 acre Westinghouse hot cell facility adjacent to the property ( ).

There are over 400 homes within 1000 feet of the former Westinghouse site and two schools–Woodland Hills Jr/Sr HS and Pace School–directly across the street. Residents believe that such a development belongs in an industrial zone, away from homes or schools, and that environmental, health, and safety concerns need to take precedence, consistent with the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment of 1971 ( ) .

Furthermore, there are models for adaptive reuse of historic properties ( ), along with tax credits for rehabilitation of properties eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Political support for the Amazon project was particularly strong from State Senator Jay Costa ( and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.  Mr. Fitzgerald refused to meet with residents to discuss their concerns in September 2021, with an email from his executive secretary as follows:

 “I am unable to accommodate your meeting request with the Executive at this time due to timing constraints and the view that the Amazon warehouse, and your opposition to it, is more of a localized/municipality issue.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Fitzgerald’s office released the following statement today on Amazon’s decision:

“It’s unfortunate that a small group of non-elected residents have slowed down this development and impeded the many jobs that could be beneficial to youth in the Woodland Hills School District.” ( )

It is well known that there is a current labor shortage and that warehouses, like many employers, are competing for workers.  It is also well documented that Amazon has engaged in union-busting tactics ( ), hire-to-fire management practices, has the highest injury rate of any national warehouse (more than double that of Walmart) ( ), racial disparities in promotions and firing, and a 150% annual turnover rate (  Months ago,  six Amazon workers in Illinois died when a tornado swept through the area and the warehouse collapsed, while workers were reportedly not allowed to leave and no clear safety protocols were in place.

Our Woodland Hills students, as do our residents, deserve every protection, including keeping them safe from harm.

Support from environmental and community groups, as well as residents from all over Allegheny County, has been integral to the success of the grassroots efforts of Churchill Future.

Mike Stout, President of the Allegheny County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, issued the following statement:

“Fitzgerald’s comment that Churchill Future represented a “small group of people” shows how out of touch he is with the citizens in Churchill.  The overwhelming majority of Churchill citizens, especially those in the immediate vicinity of the Westinghouse site, opposed this project, as witnessed by the number of signs in their yards. This is another example of how our County Executive is more concerned with kowtowing to a giant corporation than the citizens he represents. He should hang his head in shame.  Score one for the people!”

Ed Grystar, a resident of Oakmont, member of Citizens to Protect Oakmont, and opposed to the Amazon warehouse proposal, issued the following statement:

“We desperately need an alternative economic and political paradigm that supports the public interest, not corporate greed.  This necessary formulation is beyond the comprehension of the Allegheny County Chief Executive and many other politicians who are co-opted and compromised by the monied class.”

Meanwhile, the fate of two appeals filed against the 12/21/21 decision by Churchill Borough Council to approve the conditional use permit is unclear.  One appeal was filed by attorney Dwight Ferguson, of the law firm Cafardi Ferguson Wyrick Weis + Gabriel, hired by some Churchill residents to represent them in their effort to overturn Council’s decision.  The second appeal was filed by Pro-Se Party Objector Susan Sterrett, PhD, representing herself as a resident of Churchill.

In response to last night’s announcement, Dr. Sterrett issued the following statement:

“The problem we need to address now is how Churchill Borough Council could possibly have made the decision they did, how they could have made a decision that sacrificed the health of the residents and of the students attending the schools located in the Borough.”