Tension between the developers of the UPS distribution center at 1 Red Lion Road and the neighboring residents and businesses boiled to a new high Sept. 8 when the project was presented to Civic Design Review.
Around 20 people called in during the meeting’s public comment section to voice unanimous concerns about the center’s potential impact on traffic, pollution and quality of life in the immediate Somerton and Bustleton areas.
“We’ve been asking for two years for information about the project and a meeting, and this is literally the first,” said Greater Bustleton Civic League president Jack O’Hara during the meeting’s public comment section.
The 1,004,000-square-foot site would have trucks entering and exiting from Red Lion Road and Sandmeyer Lane. Plans presented at the meeting showed more than 400 spaces for tractor trailers. It is expected to open in 2022 and operate 24/7.
CDR meetings are intended to evaluate proposed design elements for larger projects in the city, and can’t be used to halt a project. Residents used the opportunity to call in to ask for a second CDR meeting for more time to review materials about the project that had been distributed the week before.
A 579-page traffic study was distributed the Thursday night prior, giving a short time window between then and the meeting that took place the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend.
“Because we know so little about project we’re not able to develop a discussion when we don’t even have full details on how much this will affect surrounding neighborhoods,” said Somerton Civic Association president Chris Bordelon.
Bordelon said documents were blurred and illegible when they were first sent out, and he obtained a legible copy only after they were posted on the CDR website.
Bordelon asserted that he had tried to schedule an in-person meeting with developers and residents before COVID-19 restricted such gatherings. He claimed the developer “wouldn’t discuss” having a virtual meeting.
Toward the end of the call, Carl Primavera, real estate lawyer of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP and member of the project’s design team, dialed in to refute Bordelon’s claims, stating Bordelon was the one who wouldn’t entertain the notion of a virtual meeting.
“We’ve got the finest company and finest team working on this, and I couldn’t let it go unsaid that we’ve been ignoring the city or insensitive,” Primavera said.
Bordelon refuted Primavera’s claims, but the conversation was cut short by the CDR committee to prevent a “back and forth” discussion from keeping the over six-hour meeting from continuing even longer.
The Somerton Civic Association is the project’s RCO, though the developer could make an effort to hold meetings and interact with the community beyond just SCA, the CDR committee noted. Primavera said the team’s been meeting with neighboring business owners. An in-person meeting had been scheduled with the Greater Bustleton Civic League to happen near the end of March but was canceled in light of the pandemic.
The CDR committee said the 900 jobs the project would add would benefit the area, though noted much of the discussion that had taken place was outside of their purview.
“We strongly urge all sides to get together and have meaningful open honest discussions about this before you come back for obvious reasons,” CDR Chair Nancy Rogo Trainer said.
Trainer noted the meeting, which included five other project presentations, started at 1 p.m. and finished well after 7, which she believed was a record. There were 70 people still tuned in to the Zoom conference by the time the presentation was done, an unusually high number. ••