Amazon ready to deliver Sonoma warehouse project

Posted on June 19, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Amazon plans to outfit and open a distribution center by the end of the year, the 250k-square-foot Victory Station warehouse on Highway 121 south of Sonoma. The hub promises tax revenue and jobs 24/7, but opponents say the project did not get a thorough vetting — including public input — before being approved by the County.


The grassroots groups Mobilize Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) contend that Amazon’s plans for the site are significantly more intense than what the building was initially cleared for, and that the deal went down without planning review or public comment. 


Permit Sonoma’s Tennis Wick, the County’s head planning official, has heard from others as well, prompting the declaration, “Please know that I will hold Amazon to the law.”


The facility is along Highway 121 in Schellville, at Eighth Street East. It has been empty since completion two years ago.


Amazon said it will spend $15 million on customizing the space for opening by the end of the year. (In fact, the company began the project without proper permitting, and was fined and shut down temporarily pending the proper County paperwork.)


Longterm, Wick said the building was not approved for one use, but an array of industrial uses as authorized in the zoning governing the site. “Permit Sonoma authorizes land uses. Property owners chose tenants. My job is to ensure that tenancies comply with project conditions of approval.”


The draw for Amazon is frontage access to a highway linking key regions of three counties. But the traffic and activity the hub would generate, the opponents contend, constitute too great a variance from the initial County guidelines.


“Amazon seems to be proposing a very traffic-intensive, regional scale, retail-delivery and distribution center that would operate 24-hours a day, year-round,” said Kathy Pons of VOTMA. “There has been no indication that Amazon will respect the conditions of the original approval under which the facility was built.”


Pons estimates that the operation would have more than 250 workers and drivers, two to three shifts per day, all of whom would commute long distances to work there. “Taken together with the intensity of the operation and the truck traffic involved, that expansion constitutes a change of use under County codes, and it should be reviewed as such.” 


The County has performed its due diligence, Wick counters. “I will ensure that occupancy of any tenant in the warehouse conforms to the conditions of approval. If a conflict arises, the use will be denied or scaled back to meet conditions of approval.”


Norman Gilroy, speaking for Mobilize Sonoma, said the Victory Station warehouse complex is at a very sensitive location for traffic circulation in the Sonoma Valley. It was approved in 2017 as a wholesale wine-storage facility to serve the local industry, he said, with few employees and minimal truck activity spread out over the year. But the Amazon model is far more intense, opponents contend.


Gilroy said the limitations were to last at least until the installation of a nearby traffic circle, and stoplight, which are “at least four years away.” 


Wick maintains that the project conditions are based on a traffic study that calls for turning restrictions from the site onto SR 121 and 8th East, and a nearby roundabout. He said Impact fees amounting to approximately $250,000 have been collected for those improvements. Additionally, “Site frontage improvements costing $400,000 have been collected.”


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