Let’s begin by clarifying once again, we are not against a development that meets the borough’s vision and complements its residential nature. We are against this proposal for a distribution center.
Hillwood deliberately misled the public in each one of its presentations of August, October, and in November. Nowhere in the presentation did it indicate the actual square footage of the base level, much less that they intended to construct a building equivalent to 5 distribution centers stacked one upon the other. All 4 can be found on http://www.churchillborough.com/
The latest presentation of February 2021 can be found as a PDF here:
Here a direct link to all the documents concerning Hillwood. It is a lot of reading, and a lot of thinking about what is contained in those documents, but well worth the time for an accurate understanding of the proposal. Since it is not easy to find on the website, I post a direct link for you here.
The presentations made false comparisons of rural industrial zone developments to the current residential community in all comparisons, such as increasing home value.
It also failed to indicate that this would be one of the largest and most complex developments in the history of their company. That is relevant because the comparisons emphasized to the public were all considered as single-level large distribution centers, not a new concept of a 5 level distribution center as a single building. That is 5 distribution centers stacked one on top of the other. Comparisons were all in rural relatively flat land. They were all in industrial parks.
Illustrations falsely conveyed a minimum reduction of green space in their before and after renderings. Areas, where they identified green grass and trees, do not exist on the submitted plans.
The trees illustrated as full-grown could not exist from the sapling’s being planted. Plus drawings showed trees in areas that were streets and parking in the plans.
At no point were the actual building dimensions presented. Each illustration was based on a single-level distribution center. Not once was the actual size shown in illustrations. That includes the latest PowerPoint.
Original filings were based on a footprint of 639,000 sf. That is a huge building even when found in an industrial park. It then presented the 2nd drawing of 839,000 sf to the council using essentially that same foundation requirement and land disruption to flatten and build out flat the top of the hill. It then returned in February with essentially the original proposal and proclaimed they had reduced the project by 24%. “Look we are good guys, see how we are working with you”
Hillwood deliberately withheld the scale models and architectural renderings, while at the same time pressuring the zoning, planning, and council to grant them a zoning variance for a distribution center, which unequivocally does not belong in a residential community.
They also did the same to acquire a variance to build up to 125 feet high. A true abomination when you consider it is higher any Penn Center building and covering an area larger than the entire Penn Center development. That is almost impossible to imagine. We put a single level 500,000 sf building below for perspective.
No building project is ever launched without an architect’s scale model and on-site sketches of the finished building. Never. Hillwood still has not produced any of these, even though they have existed for well over a year. So it is impossible for anyone, much less the public, to imagine the true scope of this building and what it will look like when completed.
Instead, they submitted just enough data for the engineers to be concerned with the foundation and run-off requirements. A sleight of hand to keep the magnitude of the building off the discussion.
Architectural renderings and scale models were deliberately omitted from the PowerPoint presentations. It was just a 2-dimensional foundation drawing from a birds-eye view with nothing to indicate the massive scale of the proposal. You can see it in the February PowerPoint below.
This is contradicted by the actual printed documents submitted to the borough engineers which defines the full scope as well as the level of automation within this facility. They are careful to do what is legally required and no more.
Hillwood continues to exaggerate both the number of full-time jobs to be created as well as the level of new revenue the project will supposedly be creating. Written documents confirm that at least half the building will be automated and functioning with robots, thus minimizing the number of full-time employees required.
It totally skips over, at all stages, the number of 18 wheelers needed to supply a 3.5 million sf distribution center, and talks about the employee traffic on the streets. That is a red herring. The borough can absorb 800 passenger vehicles, it cannot also absorb more than 1000 semi-trucks every day.
Remember, a distribution center is also what puts the fresh lettuce into Giant eagle every day. A distribution center fills and empties continually 24 hours a day. Goods remain just for hours. It is not a warehouse. It is a distribution center. Bulk arrives, then breakbulk, and ship to the store. The number of 18 wheelers needed to keep this up continuously 24/7 by 365 days is massive. This building is the equivalent of 5 of some of the largest single distribution centers being built.
Churchill simply does not have the infrastructure to support this level or kind of traffic. PennDOT would need to rebuild the Parkway East. We discuss the traffic challenges in detail elsewhere.
So if there is no answer to this dilemma, other than an ineffective token roundabout and questionable off-ramp entry, the deficient logistics needed to support the project are avoided altogether in the presentations, and attention is directed elsewhere.
There is no attention given to the antiquated Parkway East on and off-ramps which were designed and build even before the mid 50’s interstate highway system was created. Much less the surrounding arteries and streets that were built with residential traffic in mind, not 24 hours a day big rig traffic.
The Hillwood presentations fail to accurately state the effect of the topography changes needed to build out and create the flat areas required for the foundation, parking, and roads. Nor does it acknowledge the increased instability that it creates high on that hill in a region known for landslides.
It fails to address the loss of headwater for the Turtle Creek Water Shed as more than 4 acres of trees are removed and a reduction of almost 50 acres of natural drainage in ground filtering. The consequence is contaminated water from the project merely stored in underground pipes.
And no one is talking about the future maintenance upkeep required by the state, county, and of course the borough to maintain the peripheral arteries bearing the brunt of the traffic. Hillwood will sell the property, usually within 15 months, and move on. Perhaps back to an industrial park designed for such businesses, or perhaps to another small municipality that can be bullied and intimidated with the implication of lawsuits.
Because of the lack of transparency and misleading statements and action, I do not see how the borough can continue to work with Hillwood and its distribution Center project.
Many of these points are discussed in detail in various articles you can find on the ChurchillFuture.com website, with new background data being posted regularly.
As a resident who was in the dark for way too long, I do not have access to all the accurate data, but as I learn more, I publish more so that others don’t have to go through the frustration of trying to find the truth behind what is being stated into the public, and what is being hidden or distorted.
If anyone has further clarification on anything here, email that additional information, and I can add it to the appropriate article.
Residents who complain about high taxes in Churchill should look at what other school districts pay, Churchill pays 10% less than even Penn Hills. These are posted on the website so go see them for yourself.
Comments have been made that we do not own the property and can only influence it. That is not true. What is ignored is the right of the municipality to set restrictions on property use. That is why zoning, planning, and other commissions and committees exist.
That includes zoning variation. The borough has the right to zone an R 1 to C 1 and a C 1 to an R 1, regardless of what the owner thinks and feels. The municipality has the right to determine its best interest over an individual landowner. This is especially relevant when the long-term negative consequences are so significant.
Municipalities set out visions and objectives for the community so that everyone can visualize the future. No single property owner can take any property and do whatever he wants with it. The municipalities determine what a C 1 means for its community, defining specific businesses.
Just because a project vaguely meets a code requirement, does not mean that proposal can just slip in. Small communities like Churchill do not have the expertise of a Pittsburgh, so it normal that some ambiguity creeps into the codes and ordinances. That is one reason industrial developers tend to select such communities for their projects.
But it does not mean that just because a developer has legal, engineering, financial, and other resources, that it can just command the municipality to accept its proposals.
Below are links to the 4 presentations made by Hillwood to the borough.
I shall only comment on a few pages from the February 2021 presentation made to the Planning commission – (click here for the Feb 2021 presentation you can use it as reference for my comments: https://www.ecode360.com/documents/CH1558/public/586550174.pdf)
The building shown is a single-story distribution center. The same is used throughout the PowerPoint so you need to mentally stack 5 of them to see the actual scale.
None of the green or the trees on the left of the photo will remain after the road is built just below the parkway level. Like all the illustrations, it exaggerates the landscape that will exist after construction and downplays the actual proportionate size of the building.
The lower building that currently exists is the level to which the top of the hill will be reduced in order to produce a sufficiently flat topography to accommodate the building, roads, and parking for workers and semi-trucks.
Also throughout they show trees filling in and obscuring a building in the background, which is not the actual building or the proper dimensions.
This is ¼ of the full plan that offers scale on the lower right side so that you can see just how close the road is to the parkway, in some areas less than 20 feet, which is to the property line fence.
You can also see how the Beulah Road entrance is reduced to about half the distance to the existing guard shack. Plus the high retaining wall is just 100 feet from Beulah Road. All the trees to the right of the Beulah road entrance will be removed and a stormwater holding basin dugout.
Drawings show trees all over the parking lot and along the road. These do not exist. It will take 30 to 50 years for the saplings to reach any significant heights, especially compared to those being removed by the bulldozers, assuming they can actually grow in the bedrock that remains when all the topsoil is hauled off to be used a fill behind the retaining walls.
Here again, both the trees and the building are incorrect. The existing view of that building is half the height of what is proposed. Think about that. Instead of a building at 30,000 sf foundation at the existing location, there will be a building of 635,000 sf twice the height of that building.
The approach from Beulah again shows a single-level building in perspective that is further away from the entrance than what it actually is. All the old-growth trees, among the 1000 or so to be lost that you see on the left will be gone, and the imaginary ten-year planting can in no way be grown in that time frame, so the building wall that is within 100 feet of Beulah road will dominate the site. And the apparently open space on the right of the drawings is actually the stormwater pit.
If you walk along with Beulah you will see where the road cuts up against the hill. You will find the concrete jersey barriers as a retaining section against the landslides. This site for the presentation was selected to totally distort the view from Beulah Road. The same instability that results in landslides here will also contribute to potential landslides around all the disturbed areas of construction and fill.
So as a warning of what will inevitably happen, this is indeed a good example. But as an example of what the site will look like it is totally misleading. You can see current photos of the entire Beulah Road section here.
Again the Greenburg Pike perspective is misleading with only a single-story building shown, and trees that do not and will not exist for 30 to 50 years superimposed.
To create the massive flat space for the building, roads, and parking, the top of the hill and rubble from demolishing the building will be pushed to the sides as represented in the sharpie marked east and west retaining wall sections. That is why such high retaining walls will be necessary.
None of these observations are accidental. It is part of a deliberate plan to mislead the public and minimize any resistance to their project.
Hillwood presentation August 2020
Hillwood presentation October 2020
Hillwood presentation November 2020
Hillwood presentation February 2021