By John Murray
“There is no top. There are always further heights to reach.” ~ Jascha Heifetz
The potential to have a 650,000 square foot Amazon distribution center built in a wooded area straddling the Waterbury/Naugatuck town lines is real, and the concept has begun inching its way forward through a gauntlet of obstacles.
An aerial view of the proposed project in the South End of Waterbury and Naugatuck.
During a public information session Wednesday night, June 29th, inside Waterbury City Hall, Alex Escamilla of Bluewater Property Group laid out the challenges.
Alex Escamilla of Bluewater Property Group explained the project’s timeline.
Escamilla, the head of development for the Bluewater Property Group (an industrial developer from NYC and Philadelphia) reiterated that their prospective client for the property is Amazon, which is considering building a distribution center. Before the colossal project can advance to the next stage there has to be a critical zone change made in both Waterbury and Naugatuck.
Current height restrictions forbid the project.
Waterbury only allows industrial buildings to be 60 feet high and Naugatuck buildings are capped at 40 feet. The proposed Amazon building would be 130 feet high, so the first step in a long process is to seek a “text change” in zoning that increases the allowable height and allow the project to proceed.
The Amazon center would be 130 feet high if they get a zoning change.
If they can’t get the change the project is torpedoed, but with Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor Pete Hess bullish on the project, expect the change to happen.
“Getting approval of the text change is not approval of the project,” Escamilla said. “It only allows us to submit a legal application to these various agencies to begin.”
Escamilla said Bluewater is focused on the Northeast right now. “This location works because of its proximity to the roadway network. Trucks and people coming from 84 and 8 are going to spend very little time on local roads,” Escamilla said. “They’re going to go straight from exit to exit, off the site, into the site, out of sight, back on the highway.”
She stressed the entire project is at the very beginning stage. “We’re very early in the process,” Escamilla said. “It’s quite conceptual at this point.”
Considering they haven’t received the text change yet; Bluewater still came prepared to talk specifics with the public and address questions and concerns. Escamilla showed a conceptual rendering of a building prototype and said it’s an Amazon Robotics Sort.
A conceptual view of the Amazon center as it would appear from Route 8 South. Bluewater also showed several images of how the structure would appear from surrounding neighborhoods in the dead of winter, and it was mostly obscured by trees.
“It is a multi-level fulfillment and distribution center,” she said. “This is where product comes to a large facility where it’s stored on the upper levels and then as orders are coming in, complex and high-tech robotic system picks those orders and puts them through a massive material handling conveyor system.”
Despite the name “robotics”, Escamilla stressed it will take up to 1000 fulltime employees to run the center.
If the text change happens and the project winds its way through the approval and permitting process (which could take 12-18 months) there would be 300 construction jobs and 1000 full-time employees. Amazon would most likely become the highest taxpayer in both Waterbury and Naugatuck.
During a Q&A session there were statements of support of the project from Cathy Awwad of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board, from Michael O’Connor, the regional president of Webster Bank, Joseph Violette from the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce and Miquel Fuente of a carpenter’s union.
Bilal Tajildeen was the first to pose questions and asked about Bluewater’s plan of dealing with potential cracked foundations caused by blasting in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Bluewater’s Alex Escamilla explained there would a precondition survey in the neighborhoods to document the current state of foundations, which she equated to the process a pre-inspection when renting a car.
“We have heard a lot of concern about blasting, and we will go above and beyond in communicating the process to the community,” Escamilla said. High tech sensors will monitor the vibrations of the twice daily blasts needed to carve a site out of ledge rock.
Tommy Hyde of NVRDC, left, and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary fielded questions.
Art Dense questioned the project’s impact on traffic and the new greenway nearing completion in the South End. Tommy Hyde the CEO of the Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corporation said the greenway would have a net positive impact on the project as it would allow workers to walk or bicycle to work.
Then Escamilla wrestled with the larger traffic issue by stating there had been no traffic studies done yet, but that the proximity to exits on and off Route 8 would help minimize the impact.
“There is a perception that Amazon trucks would create the biggest traffic,” Escamilla said, “but it will actually be the employees coming in and out. In projects like these there is usually a need to improve intersections as the project develops.”
A public hearing will be on July 28th inside Waterbury City Hall to discuss the height issue that will determine if the project moves forward.
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