Despite surrounding neighbors’ concerns, Seefried Industrial Properties recently received approval to conduct around the clock business hours in warehouses totaling 442,495 square feet with 1,810 parking spaces on 103 acres currently zoned Restricted Industrial District (M1) off Shiloh Road.
Tensions were a little high on Thursday, Nov. 5, as neighbors from Shiloh Farms and nearby residences gathered at the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting for a public hearing on a conditional-use permit, which was approved 5-0, to express their opposition to the project’s arrival in their area. Many residents expressed concerns about traffic congestion, vans cutting through small residential streets and noise.
The project is proposed with three buildings: Building 1 totaling 219,000 square feet; Building 2 totaling 180,375 square feet; and Building 3 totaling 43,120 square feet.
The permit was approved by the board with variances for an additional amount of parking spaces up to 1,531 along with the reduction of the zoning buffer along the northeastern portion of the entrance drive.
Seefried, an Atlanta-based developer, has been tied to a number of Amazon fulfillment centers, including locations in Louisiana, Texas, Chicago and Tampa Bay.
According to Forward Forsyth – a public-private partnership between the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the county, the Development Authority of Forsyth County, the local school system and Lanier Technical College – codenamed the development “Project A to Z” and previously estimated it would bring $70 million in capital investment and 285 full-time jobs over the next 20 years.
Officials were careful not to officially say Amazon was coming to Forsyth, but speakers were less secretive about the proposal and their concerns.
“There already is significant traffic congestion in the Shiloh Road area,” resident of Shiloh Farms Gary Nixon said. “The Amazon development would be implemented two years prior to the Ronald Reagan extension completion. This is going to make the traffic problems a lot worse in terms of congestion.”
Melissa Chung, a resident of Shiloh Farms, expressed her concerns about the development of the facilities saying, “We don’t want extra noise, we want to be able to enjoy our outside. One of the main reasons why we moved up to Georgia is because we love the peace and quiet. When you have an operation that’s going on 24 hours a day, you can’t go outside and enjoy … with our families and neighbors to have a quiet evening.”
Tim Allen, assistant director of traffic and transportation engineering said that the department has been working on taking adequate traffic counts around Shiloh Road.
“We’re going to look at everything that we possibly can to help slow the traffic down through there regardless if this project goes or not,” Allen said.
The traffic counts will be done by the next BOC meeting and the department will know more about problems on Shiloh Road at that time. Allen also said there were many possibilities for raised crosswalks and speed tables in the Shiloh Road area.
“You have a commitment from me the rest of the short time I’ll be the commissioner,” District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown assured the residents of Shiloh Farms. “We hear you loud and clear about the traffic through there, and we’re going to do everything we can.”
Greg Herren, chief operating officer of Seefried also attended the meeting to quell any fears that residents might have had.
“The way that the company [Amazon] operates the building is with the express intention of imposing as light a burden on the background traffic in the community as possible,” Herren said. “They do want to be a good member of this community and they are going to take any concerns very seriously.”
Regarding the problems that residents expressed about traffic, Herren assured that the project would be operating vehicles in off-peak hours to the background community.
There were also many comments from residents about the noise that the facilities might bring to the community. According to officials, the initial building will be sitting 30 feet below Shiloh Road, so there is not expected to be much noise.
“Our traffic engineer says that the ability to hear the facility across that is almost none,” Herren said. An acre and a half of vegetation will also sit between Shiloh Road and the facilities.
During the segment allotted for public comments, many residents informed the BOC of the fact that many semi-trucks and large vans often cut through residential streets and neighborhoods. “No semi-trucks or tractor-trailers should be coming down Shiloh Road through Shiloh Farms ever,” BOC Chairwoman Laura Semanson said. “That’s something that we will definitely want to try to engage with the Sheriff’s Office on.”
Brown confirmed that semis are not allowed to use neighborhood roads unless dropping off a package are in the conditions presented to Seefried from the planning commission in a prior meeting.
Stacy Guy, planning commissioner and resident of Shiloh Farms, worked with Amazon specifically about traffic concerns.
“I challenged them, … ‘give me an example where you’ve built a delivery station near a residential area. Did you ever have to deal with traffic cutting through?’” Guy said. “And they came back to me with an example with an address….”
Amazon supplied Guy with an example from New York that was similar in situation to the Shiloh Road area. When Amazon learned that their contract drivers were cutting through residential areas, the company threatened to cut their contracts.
“It stopped completely,” Guy said. “They nipped it in the bud.
“So that made it comfortable for me as a planning commissioner, but also I’m a resident of Shiloh Farms as well. I’ve been involved in trying to keep our neighborhood as having a good relationship … with the office park near us. So that [example of a situation in New York] was important in my decision and in my recommendation.”
“That’s the fear of a big company, that nobody’s going to care,” Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said. “And that after that big company gets open and they’re making millions, these people are not going to have anybody to go to. If there was a condition that said that the company will always have an employee that will be a go-to person that will answer to the community … I think that just gives assurance to everybody.”
The board took the residents’ concerns into consideration and added a condition to the proposal.
The condition states that Amazon must establish a community-outreach protocol to facilitate two-way interaction between the owner [Amazon] and any adjacent residential areas and other affected community stakeholders. Herren said that Amazon had an internet portal meant for comments from the surrounding community, and the BOC deemed that as satisfactory.
Brown also expressed his interest and desire for Seefried, their client and the neighboring HOAs to exchange contact information so that neighbors can report to the company if any vans or trucks are cutting through their residential areas.
The BOC moved to approve the conditions as stated along with the addition of having a point-of-contact for the neighbors.