Amazon in Arvada: Fight over distribution warehouse headed to city council

After nearly half a year battling one of the largest companies in the world, Arvada residents will take their fight against Amazon to city hall.

On Monday night, the Arvada City Council will decide whether to annex and rezone land on the west side of town to allow the online retail giant to construct a 112,000-square-foot distribution center and a 1,100-space parking lot next to homes and a popular bike and walking path where owls perch overhead and bobcats lurk in the shadows.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Gina Hallisey, who lives in the nearby Maple Valley neighborhood and has led the fight since the beginning of the year. “They would take out 100-year-old cottonwoods that are nesting sites. People don’t think it’s right to have that kind of heavy industrial use there.”

In documents submitted to the city, opponents say Amazon’s project will “destroy approximately 450 mature trees” and create 23 acres of new parking lots, increasing the amount of impervious surface and potential water runoff that Hallisey says may exacerbate flooding along Ralston Creek.

Phil Lankford, who lives in the Wildflower Ponds neighborhood south of the 36-acre proposed site at Indiana Street and West 66th Place, is concerned about light pollution and traffic, especially as Amazon’s delivery business grows in volume year after year.

He noted Amazon’s proposed site is not near the kind of roadway — like an interstate highway — that’s designed to handle heavy truck traffic and frequent delivery that a 24/7 Amazon warehouse would generate.

“Indiana Street is a total nightmare right now, and if Amazon comes in, we’re going to be gridlocked,” Lankford said.

Mike Schweitzer, who lives in the West Woods Links neighborhood, said neighbors have nothing against Amazon per se — just the location in Arvada.

“Amazon is going to be somewhere, it just shouldn’t be where they are looking to put it,” he said. “The site does not make sense for our community.”

One chief argument opponents make against the project is that the traffic Amazon’s facility will produce exceeds what Arvada’s light industrial zoning allows. But Amazon spokeswoman D. Nikki Wheeler told The Denver Post that about 20 trucks will enter and leave the site daily during most of the year, while it’ll be more like 40 during the busy holiday season.

“The Arvada zoning code allows for up to 50 trips for a light industrial zoning,” Wheeler said.

Overall, Amazon projects more than 1,300 daily weekday vehicle trips at the new facility, a number that opponents say is a severe undercount.

Wheeler also said Amazon is providing a “substantial buffer” between the site and Maple Valley Park to the north, with “landscaping and a masonry wall to screen parking from the park.” There are no plans to operate delivery drones at the site, she said.

The city’s planning commission recommended in April the project go forward. Councilman David Jones, who represents the district in Arvada where Amazon wants to locate, said he couldn’t comment on what he described as a “quasi-judicial land use” matter.

“It is important that we consider all of the evidence, including emails we are receiving, along with the presentations and public testimony we receive at the public hearing before we make our decisions and vote on the application,” he said.

While public comment has been overwhelmingly against the project, lifelong Arvadan Bob West said the jobs that Amazon will bring should be applauded.

In an economic impact study done for Amazon by Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., the firm estimated that the facility will generate approximately 275 full-time jobs, 85 part-time jobs and 691 seasonal jobs. Total annual wages will amount to nearly $11 million, based on a starting hourly wage of $15 an hour, the report states.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people who can’t afford to go to college, and a great opportunity for them to create a career,” said West, who once sat on the Jefferson County Economic Council. “This is for the benefit of the city.”

Wheeler said Amazon employs more than 10,000 workers in Colorado and has invested nearly $3 billion here. The distribution center complies with Arvada’s comprehensive plan, which identifies the proposed facility as being in a part of the city “designated for industrial and commercial uses,” she said.

But Hallisey said Amazon is being disingenuous in how it characterizes the impact of its Arvada delivery hub.

“We argue that it’s a heavy industrial use and they’re pitching it as light industrial,” she said.

That will be a main bone of contention at Monday’s city council meeting, which Hallisey expects will draw a big crowd in-person and online.

The opposition campaign has picked up steam over the last few months, with neighbors in matching T-shirts waving signs on street corners denouncing the project. Hallisey also said the group Protect Maple Valley Park has gathered nearly 9,000 signatures against the proposal — from residents as far north as Standley Lake and as far south as Wheat Ridge.

“Amazon has a lot invested in this,” she said. “So do we.”

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