Amazon withdrawal from Churchill development met with mixed reactions – TribLIVE

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News that Amazon will not forge ahead with its plans to build a massive warehouse in Churchill was met with mixed reactions Friday.
Amazon’s decision to nix the proposed 2.6-million square-foot warehouse, which was to be developed at the former site of the George Westinghouse Research Park, came after more than 50 hours of public hearings and debates spanning about a year.
The news came as a surprise to Kate Carrigan Hill, a vocal opponent of the development and member of opposition group Churchill Future.
“I did not see it coming last night,” she said, though she said she believed that the lawsuit Churchill Future had filed against Amazon would have eventually forced the company to scrap their plans. “I really, really thought it was going to have to go on longer through the court system.”
Others called it a missed opportunity for jobs and increased tax revenue.


Amazon drops plans for Churchill warehouse

Hill was one of dozens of residents who were prepared to continue fighting Amazon’s development, even after Churchill Council approved it. Hill said she and others were planning to host additional protests this spring and launch a fundraising campaign to offset legal costs associated with the lawsuit.
They ordered yard signs that read, “It’s not over, Amazon.”
Now, she said, they plan to cross out the word “not,” so the signs read, “It’s over, Amazon.”
Allegheny County Councilman Nick Futules, who represents Churchill, said he doesn’t think the decision came because of some of the residents’ concerns.
“Any time you’re building anywhere, doing anything, you’re always going to have a group of people complaining about it,” Futules said, though he said he didn’t have any idea why Amazon reversed course.
While Amazon has announced it is pulling out of the proposed distribution center, Churchill Borough said in a statement that it has not been apprised of any change in the status of the proposed distribution center by Churchill Creek Project, which was granted approval in December to use the site. Hillwood Development Co. LLC, a Perot company based in Dallas, seeks to develop the Churchill Creek Project.
James Fuller, a Hillwood spokesman, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Alex Graziani, borough manager, said he could not add to the statement because of Churchill Future’s lawsuit appealing the conditional use approval issued by borough council in December.
Should the status of that legal proceeding change, the borough said it will be prepared to comment.
“Until such a change occurs, the Borough is unable to comment further,” the borough said.
Churchill Mayor Paul Gamrat did not return calls for a comment, nor did any council members.
Hearing that Amazon wouldn’t be coming to her residential community was a relief for Hill. Ultimately winning a yearlong fight against the corporate giant felt “astounding, amazing, fantastic,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Hill said.
Cathy Bordner, a leader in the Churchill Future group, said she, too, was “caught off guard” by the news that Amazon was leaving.
“We’re just so happy that we don’t have to worry about all the issues that were going to come with an Amazon distribution center — the diesel trucks, the traffic, the wear and tear on our infrastructure,” she said. “We’re delighted that we’re not going to face that.”
Moving forward, Bordner said she’s hoping for more community input when it comes to new developments for the site. She said it would make a nice place for an office park, while Hill suggested retail, medical facilities, senior citizen housing or even a new research park.
“Now there is a new opportunity to reboot this situation and have our council and our residents really engage in conversations about what’s best over there,” Bordner said.
Some of the major buildings on the site could be redeveloped and put to new use, she said, adding that the site also is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
“Let’s start using that site appropriately,” she said.
Amazon announced their intention to not build on the Churchill site without any explanation of why they scrapped the project. The company said it weighs a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites.
Hill said she feels the move was precipitated by Churchill Future and other citizens who vehemently opposed the development and filed the lawsuit.
Like Hill and Bordner, Futules said he had no warning that Amazon was going to back out of the development.
Unlike Hill and Bordner, Futules is not happy about it.
“I’m pretty sad about the fact,” he said. “That was a great opportunity for this area. The job base and tax base — that was such a big plus. Everything was a plus.”
Officials had said taxes would have included between $600,000 and $660,000 annually in property taxes to Churchill, plus between $2.3 million and $2.5 million for Woodland Hills School District. Churchill is one of 12 municipalities within the district.
Adding that much extra tax revenue could have helped the community avoid tax hikes, Futules said, and would’ve served as a “shot in the arm” for their budgets.
“The fact is, they don’t have it now,” Futules said.
He said he was also mourning the loss of job opportunities, particularly for students who were graduating from high school and looking for a career that would pay a living wage.
“I’m very sad it didn’t develop,” he said. “I think our next step would be for Allegheny County to look for a new tenant to bring that back to life.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said local officials are “delighted” that Amazon employs 4,000 workers in the region and is continuing to build logistics centers with sites in Findlay, North Versailles, Aleppo and Fairywood.
“As they continue to expand their footprint, we look forward to working with them,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s unfortunate that a small group of non-elected residents have slowed down this development and impeded the many jobs that could be beneficial to youth in the Woodland Hills School District.”

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, or via Twitter .
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