WILMINGTON – Neighbors of the former GM Boxwood plant got a sneak peek at the huge, five-story e-commerce distribution center planned for the site in an unusual meeting Thursday, Nov. 21.
A team of a lawyer, developer, engineers, architects and an environmental remediation expert representing the project’s developer, Nevada-based Dermody Properties, testified before the New Castle County Board of Adjustment in pursuit of a special use permit, which was ultimately approved in a unanimous vote.
In presenting to the board, several more pieces of the puzzle were disclosed, including that the project is expected to bring more than 1,000 jobs.
Jeff Zygler, senior vice president for national development at Dermody, told the board that the facility would likely employ between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
“What’s the intended actual industrial use of this building?” asked Board Chairman David Burt.
“It’s an e-commerce fulfillment center,” replied Mark Ford, architect with Ford & Associates who designed the new five-story plan.
“Amazon?” Burt asked.
“It’s an e-commerce fulfillment center,” Ford replied, drawing some laughs.
County and state officials and the project’s development team have repeatedly declined to identify the prospective tenant of the facility, citing non-disclosure agreements in effect. However, Dermody, Ford and the contracted engineering firm, Langan Engineering, have worked with Amazon on previous projects, the latter two firms completing Amazon’s four-story fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, in 2015.
“It’s not heavy warehousing in terms of bulk warehousing … this is where customer-specific orders are made online, the product is stored here and through a series of robotics and conveyors the orders are filled and distributed,” Ford told the board in his presentation.
The architect then showed a video of a 3D rendering of the facility, describing how five freight elevators and a dozen staircases will move product and personnel up and down the five floors.
The front of the facility, facing Boxwood Road, will be a one-story office component that will sit forward of the five-story e-commerce warehouse. The max height on the project is planned for 85 feet, just under the maximum 90 feet allowed under county code for the heavy industrial zone.
Employee parking would be in front of the building off Boxwood Road, with truck parking in the rear and west side of the property. It would utilize the three existing entrances to the property but would not utilize the neighboring CSX rail line.
The single-building plan also pushes the facility farther away from neighboring residences. In the plan first put forward by Harvey Hanna & Associates early this year, the closest building would be about 145 feet from Boxwood Road while the Dermody-planned building would be 572 feet away. From Dodson Avenue, the Harvey Hanna plan has buildings 41 feet from the road while the Dermody building would be 741 feet away.
In terms of impervious surfaces, Dermody is planning to restore much more green space. The GM plant was about 83% impervious surface before it was razed while the previous plan from Harvey Hanna called for 80%, and the Dermody plan now calls for 65%. Dermody also plans to install a berm on the eastern edge of the property to further screen Dodson Avenue.
The tenant will have an on-site security team, lessening its dependence on county law enforcement. In addressing some residents’ concerns about traffic associated with the facility, Zygler told the board that shift work under a single employer would allow it to largely avoid worsening peak traffic loads on Centerville and Boxwood roads.
The hearing itself was unusual because the project is properly zoned and not seeking any variances, which are the types of cases the board normally considers.
“There are no specific criteria under the code for warehouse and logistic uses as a special use. They have traditionally been allowed uses,” explained A. Kimberly Hoffman, Dermody’s local counsel from Morris James LLP. “Ordinance 19-046, having been adopted last August, relates to landfills and puts limitations on landfills. Unfortunately it also changed a table in the code that basically makes every use in this zoning district a special use.”
“We are seeking a special use (permit) for an allowed use,” she emphasized to the board.
Chairman Burt noted the circumstances that compelled the developer’s hearing and added that he would refrain from trying to pry more than necessary.
“The board recognizes that you are here requesting that we grant you relief that formerly was unnecessary for it not for a legislative artifact that somehow altered a table that governs this site,” he said. “So we really shouldn’t be asking curiosity questions … This is a very peculiar situation.”
By Jacob Owens