There is a solid reason that distribution centers belong in dedicated industrial parks.  Industrial parks are designed to group businesses together that need a similar infrastructure.  Sometimes it is access to water, sometimes to trains, and always to interstate highways.

Plus, they are already pre zoned for warehouse/distribution.

Building out the infrastructure involves multiple agencies from power and other utilities to state and local highway departments.  This infrastructure involves extensive planning and implementation.  But once it is in place each business can be assured of a well-thought logistics infrastructure that minimizes nonproductive traffic delays.

In addition, the cost, which can be significant, is amortized over multiple businesses and is incorporated into the construction plans of the state, the county, and the local borough for the most cost-effective implementation.

And because all the permitting and rules and regulations have already been worked out, the actual construction by each complex can be built out faster and more cost-effectively than could any single project.

States and regions all over the country plan for these industrial parks without having to specify a given location, as the developer will be able to make a rapid and accurate cost evaluation of the project.  When the numbers line up, they know their job will be easier.

NY State for example has a development profile for warehouse/distribution/logistics center sites.  Of course, it has a few rules, but it also inventoried sites, and make extensive reviews to accelerate investment and development.

Each of these profiles has been designed to allow local governments to decide on the appropriate type of development for their community.  It is not put in anything you call a business just anywhere.

They have generic site developments for three types of economic development.

  • High Tech Manufacturing Sites
  • Warehouse/distribution/logistics center sites
  • Multi-tenant business and technology parks

Each has slightly different project requirements and includes the “must-have” and the “want to have”  local requirements. That is, what is essential for that community and what is highly desirable for that development.

There are also the generic site requirements such as traffic, and if the project is in fact appropriate for that community.

Typical distribution centers today have a 30-foot ceiling height with cross-docking to accelerate the movement of freight in 24 hours or less.

Typically the number of actual employees is less than in the past due to automation and increased use of robotics.  That means the amount of materials crossing the floor from delivery to shipping has increased significantly.  See the separate article of how Amazon keeps its docks working continually 24/7 with practically no empty dock time.  That is important because today the number of trucks unloading and reloading from both sides of the building is many times more than traditional centers.  Of course, the size and number of docks have also increased.

One must realize that the most semi-trucks either enter full and leave empty or arrive empty and leave full.  There is no one-on-one relationship.  That is significant because the total number of big rigs that need to use the surrounding traffic arteries is several times what it used to be.

The rule of thumb for a 350 to 500,000 ft sq distribution center is 350 trucks a day.  This is a 3.6 million-square-foot project.  You do the math.

A designated industrial complex will have taken this into consideration.

As a general rule, a minimum of 50 contiguous developable acres is required.   The key here is the term developable.   The topography of the site should generally have little elevation change.  Site topography needs to be at road grade elevation and not have major elevation changes.

There are also the normal flood plain and stormwater requirements.  In addition, and handled separately, is the need to be free of wetlands, protected species, and environmental issues.

And depending on the core businesses in the industrial park, the utility and telecommunication infrastructure is also installed and amortized by the agencies again over several projects on the site.

The most vital requirement is transportation.  All-access roads must be designated for travel by 53 FT semi-trailers. Travel to the 4 lane highway should avoid congested commercial, retail, or residential routes.  In addition, all sites need to have dual road access and separate auto and truck access points or entrances and traffic lights to control ingress and egress to the site.

Planning for support facilities is also part of an industrial park.  They need proximity to truck mechanics, truck stops, and other service providers and industrial supply companies

There is also the concern that operating parameters not adversely impact offsite locations such as idling trucks.   That leads to surrounding land use issues.  Due to high volume truck traffic and continuous, around-the-clock operations, the must allow for noise level without restriction on heavy truck engines.

One rule of importance is that the site must have unimpeded left-hand turn access for big rig trucks, in addition to dual road access to separate truck and auto traffic.

The primary reason the Hillwood proposal should be dismissed is that the infrastructure needed does not exist.  And it was to be constructed, would totally change the entire north half of the borough.

An isolated distribution center cannot reasonably justify the expense that the state, the county, and the borough will need to invest to support the Hillwood project.

Any increase in taxes from Amazon will be more than offset by the costs to develop the infrastructure and then maintain it over the years.

That is even assuming it is reasonable or practical to do so.

The streets around Churchill were never designed as a commercial area roadway. It is built to support residential traffic and not commercial traffic.  It needs to be upgraded since the first development, but that is different from the requirements of a distribution center so dependent on semi traffic to deliver and ship goods.  The goal today is not to have stock in the facility for more than 24 hours, and that requires a whole lot of traffic to support, even for a large single-story center, much less one of 3.6 million square feet.

The Hillwood proposal for any kind of distribution center does not belong on this property and should be rejected outright.

It must allow local governments to decide on the appropriate type of development for their community.

A distribution center is not appropriate.

Let us simply think about a couple of examples of the current roads in Churchill.

As a residential community, the number of heavy vehicles is the exception and not the rule.  So the roads are not reinforced for the abuse such heavy vehicles create.  Industrial parks are, but residential communities are not.

Currently, the borough and the county are responsible for these streets.  Are they prepared or have the budget to repair them with half the anticipated life?

Let’s take just one example.  Churchill Road between the light at the Westinghouse exit at Beulah Road up to the parkway onramp.  It was just repaved a couple of years ago, and yet it has already deteriorated.  Image what having 500 to 1000 trucks a day will do to it with a 24/7 use?

Now also image the left turn onto the on-ramp. And the uphill grade of the on-ramp, and the speed at which a 53 footer can merge into traffic, especially during rush hour.  Now imagine the backup of trucks on Churchill Road to the Beulah light.

You can also imagine the same going west off of William Penn to the Parkway, although it does have the advantage of a level on-ramp, trying to merge during rush hour will still be a considerable challenge with inevitable backups.  And do not forget the stoplight on William Penn and the off-ramp in front of city hall.

Even though they say a new east-bound exit will lead directly into the site, there is no direct west-bound entry.  And even those big rigs will all need to leave via Beulah Road.  There is the Greensburg Pike exit, but It was never presented as a real entrance or exit artery.  And if it is, it is directly across from the school.

Suggestions of what will be more appropriate will be another article.

Murray Bilby
2424 Churchill Road