ARVADAAmazon is eyeing Arvada for its next metro area distribution hub, hoping to add another cog to a machine that’s worth more than $1.5 trillion, and buoyed by a global pandemic that’s generated a surge of online shopping.
Despite the potential for speedier service, a growing number of residents on the Denver suburb’s west side believe the location for a 112,000-square-foot warehouse and 1,500-space parking lot filled with the company’s ubiquitous blue and gray delivery vans is the wrong place.
The 36-acre site — at the northeast corner of Indiana Street and West 66th Place — directly abuts the Maple Valley neighborhood and the Ralston Creek trail, which is used by hundreds of residents every day and is a habitat for owls, hawks, deer, bobcats and coyotes.
“They’re just trying to shoehorn that development into that location,” said Gina Hallisey, who lives in Maple Valley. “To put something that invasive so close to homes and open space is incompatible.”
Hallisey worries about the impacts that an around-the-clock Amazon facility, with its vast illuminated parking lot and countless semi trucks and delivery vans moving in and out daily, will have on her quiet neighborhood.
Amazon’s own traffic study estimates the site will generate 1,352 daily vehicle trips on weekdays.
“We would support a less intrusive development that is more transitional and mixed use,” said Hallisey, who serves as chair of the newly formed Protect Maple Valley Park community group.
Amazon spokeswoman D. Nikki Wheeler told The Denver Post last week that she was unaware of the neighbors’ concerns and planned to reach out.
“Amazon is proud of the investments it has made in Colorado,” Wheeler said. “We want to be good members of the community and good for the community.”
That won’t be easy, said J.J. Ament, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. Amazon, he said, will likely find it increasingly difficult going forward to identify places to build facilities that don’t impinge on fast-growing neighborhoods in and around Denver.
“Now that Amazon is vertically integrating into these spaces, they’re going to have to deal with the same challenges as their peers, like Walmart and Target, have had to deal with before them,” he said.
Convenience at a cost?
An enterprise that began as an online seller of books nearly 30 years ago, Amazon now has warehouses and distribution centers all over the country as part of an aggressive campaign to respond to consumers’ demand for more convenience and faster delivery.
The company deftly tapped into — and helped lead — America’s shift to online shopping, and its growth has followed. According to a recent Associated Press story, Amazon hired more than 250,000 permanent full-time and part-time workers in the third quarter of 2020, the most recent period it reported, and added another 100,000 in October, bringing its headcount to 800,000 in the United States.
The company expects to take in $121 billion in sales during the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, according to the AP.
Wheeler said Amazon employs 10,500 full-time and part-time workers in Colorado and has invested nearly $3 billion here, including wages and infrastructure. She said it’s not yet known how many workers the Arvada facility would employ.
But the ease of shopping the company has ushered in for a generation of point-and-click consumers means more of an on-the-ground presence to get all those packages to doorsteps in as little time as possible.
“We want the convenience of two-hour delivery,” Ament said. “And with that is the logistical challenge of how you physically accomplish that.”
Fights over Amazon’s expansion plans have occurred across the country, including Chicago, suburban Minneapolis and Gaithersburg, Maryland. So far, the company has largely been spared pushback in metro Denver, and in 2018, the city and its suburbs made the final cut to be the home of Amazon’s second world headquarters.
But Amazon’s Arvada plans differ from its existing hubs in the metro area because of how close the new facility would be to homes. Its distribution centers in Centennial and Denver are in the middle of industrial areas and far from neighborhoods. And its giant robot-filled fulfillment centers in Aurora and Thornton, which are each around 1 million square feet, are in dedicated industrial or retail zones along Interstate 70 and Interstate 25.
“This is a very different facility from those (fulfillment centers),” said Ryan Stachelski, Arvada’s director of community and economic development. “Our understanding of this facility is that it is a distribution hub on a much smaller scale.”
He sympathizes with neighbors worried about a 24/7 operation starting up in what is now a quiet field where owls scout out their next meal and coyotes lope along a fence line.
“It comes from having nothing there now — so having anything there is difficult,” he said.
“As neutral as we can”
Stachelski said the city will examine Amazon’s application as it would any other.
“We try to be as neutral as we can through this process,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re not creating incompatible things in the community.”
Stachelski pointed out that the area Amazon is looking at is zoned for industrial use, and is already ringed by a dozen or so large light-industrial buildings, several of which have only gone up in the last year or so.
But not all of the land that Amazon wants to acquire for its delivery facility is in city limits — about 25 acres sit in unincorporated Jefferson County. The company will not only have to annex that into Arvada but also get it rezoned.
That’s where opponents, like Hallisey, hope they can appeal to Arvada leaders to take a closer look. They aim to remind the city of its 2018 Arts and Culture Master Plan, which specifically identifies the proposed Amazon site as a potential “centerpiece for arts and culture in the future.”
“Arvada touts connectivity in their master plans and creating an Arvada Town Square Village would give this area that community gathering place,” Hallisey said.
Amazon’s application is scheduled for a hearing before the city’s planning commission in March and then goes before the City Council in May. Arvada Mayor Marc Williams declined to comment on the proposal ahead of its presentation to council.
Maple Valley Homeowners Association President Tory Korthuis said he’ll be tracking the project as it goes through Arvada’s approvals process. He worries about how a busy Amazon facility might impact property values in a neighborhood just a few hundred feet away.
“Who’s going to want to move into a house where all they’re looking at is a parking lot with lights?” he said.