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Amazon distribution centre given green light

Town council accepts settlement offer but directs staff to keep working on traffic and noise issues
Delivery vans in loading lot area2

Eventual approval of an Amazon distribution centre proposed for a Cornwall Road warehouse was a foregone conclusion.

As town staff pointed out in the kickoff to a five-hour special council meeting on Jan. 27, owners of the vacant warehouse are entitled to apply to modify the property for use by the e-retail giant.

And while the town can manage the details, the site plan process always eventually results in an approval, explained Jennifer Huctwith, the town’s assistant solicitor.

If the town could not reach an agreement with the applicant, a site design would be imposed by the provincial Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).

“Site plan applications are not about whether a development can occur,” said Huctwith.

With that in mind, town councillors held their noses and voted unanimously to work with the landowner to mitigate concerns about noise, traffic and safety expressed by nearby residents.

“The largest frustration has been trying to explain to residents that we are not able to simply say no to this application,” said Ward 3 regional councillor Dave Gittings.

“As we are not able to prevent the proposed operation, our role and duty is to ensure that this site is operated in as safe a manner as possible.”

Ward 3 town councillor Janet Haslett-Theall was even more direct, as she thanked residents for their input into the application over the last year.

“I am torn because voting for this settlement goes against the fact that I believe this is absolutely in the wrong place,” she said. “No Amazon delivery station should be in a residential neighbourhood.

“However, this is a settlement that has been worked out that is going to achieve many of your concerns, and I hope that you understand that we have acted in the best interest of all of you.”

Appeal to LPAT

The site, near the northwest corner of Cornwall and Ford Drive, is directly across the street from a residential neighbourhood.

New Amazon distribution centre on Cornwall Road |  Click to access Site Plan Application - Image Credit: Town of Oakville
New Amazon distribution centre on Cornwall Road | Click to access Site Plan Application - Image Credit: Town of Oakville

Last January, property owner H&R REIT requested permission to add a second driveway to the property and more than quadruple the amount of parking.

As many as 200 employees are expected to work at the site, unloading incoming tractor trailer trucks and loading parcels into delivery vehicles. More than 1,500 vehicle trips will be made in and out of the property each day, according to a traffic study filed to support the site plan amendment.

When the town failed to meet a 30-day deadline for addressing the application, H&R REIT appealed to the LPAT for a decision.

But with no hearing date scheduled, the company made a recent settlement offer to the town.

In exchange for draft approval by Jan. 31, the company offered to reduce the number of requested parking spots, enhance landscaping, provide new turning lanes on Cornwall Road and build a noise wall to insulate neighbours from the beeping sound of reversing trucks.

If councillors had refused the offer, final decisions on the site would have been made by the LPAT.

Conditions for approval

With draft approval of the site plan, the political part of the process is complete. But town staff will continue to work with the company to address a variety of traffic and noise concerns raised by residents.

Councillors have asked staff to follow-up on issues related to traffic and the alignment of the additional driveway.

They also added a wish list of items they’d like to see for the site, including electric vehicle infrastructure, a ban on the use of drones and an internal traffic flow design to limit the need for vehicles to reverse.

As part of the settlement, the building will be prohibited from expansion beyond its current size, and parking will be capped at 689 spaces.

Residents opposed

Residents have been expressing concerns about Amazon’s arrival since the application was made.

On Wednesday night, they had their first chance to air that opposition publicly.

Although the warehouse has been in existence at 2175 Cornwall for more than 20 years and previously housed such tenants as UPS and Gillette, residents say the intensity of traffic required by the Amazon model shouldn’t be allowed in the site’s zoning.

“A customer delivery station is not a business for which a definition has been captured in the town’s current zoning bylaw,” argued Elizabeth Chalmers, president of the Joshua Creek Residents' Association.

“The business model for an Amazon last mile delivery station will generate vehicle movements into and out of the facility that could be at least 50 times greater than a traditional warehouse.”

Business definitions need to be updated to reflect modern business practices or the problem will be repeated in other parts of the town, she warned.