As Amazon project moves forward, traffic, other concerns linger for Town of Niagara residents

·6 min read

Aug. 6—TOWN OF NIAGARA — Twenty-eight years ago, Robert Taylor built the home he still lives in on Packard Road.

Taylor is proud to say he did a lot of the work himself.

"I built my home 28 years ago with my own hands," Taylor said. "I lived here because it's a nice quiet town."

These days, Taylor counts himself among a group of residents who fear the arrival of a 3-million-square-foot Amazon distribution center, and the truck traffic that would come with it, could turn the "quiet town" into a mess.

"I didn't think it would be invaded by semi-trucks," Taylor said. "It won't be a quiet town, at least not the Lockport Road area."

After being rejected for a similar project first pitched on Grand Island, Amazon got the idea to invest $550 million in a distribution center on Lockport Road in the Town of Niagara.

Taylor's opposition to the project started in March when someone knocked on his door and told him the online retail giant had big plans for his neighborhood.

Since then, Taylor said he feels like a lot of the project details were worked out behind closed doors at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was still limiting public participation in a lot of areas, including local government. By the time residents got wind of it, Taylor said it was too late and the project was already well into the planning stages.

"It's a detriment to the neighborhood all around," Taylor said. "It's dangerous to the people living on the road."

Amazon says the Town of Niagara site will create 1,000 new jobs, of which 950 would be warehouse and logistics jobs that pay $31,200 a year and 50 management jobs that pay $60,000 a year.

Taylor said he doesn't oppose job creation, but he's for jobs that are sustainable, arguing that it's hard to get by at $32,000 a year when people have to cover taxes, bills and a mortgage.

"It has no benefit economically to the Town of Niagara. It's a bad idea," Taylor said.

The project has already received approvals from the Niagara Town Board, the town zoning board, and town and county planning boards. The company is currently in line for a tax break deal through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

That doesn't mean it's not without opposition in the surrounding neighborhood.

Drive along any road near the Niagara Falls Airport and you will likely see signs opposing the Amazon project on the lawns of many homes.

Joanne MacIver, a resident of Steele Circle, said that as long as she lived in here home, the land nearby has been farmland and the residents in that area live there for what it is, not for an industrial airport facility. She feels that the only people who objected to this new facility are the people who live near it.

"When people used to say they live in Niagara Falls, I'd say I live in the Town of Niagara," MacIver said. "Its a different area in the county, not the big city. Now it'll turn into a ridiculous mess."

Her house is also located near railroad tracks, so MacIver got used to the sound of trains going by, but now diesel trucks will go by her residence all the time. MacIver feels that by the time the town gets is tax money from the facility, it will be obsolete and Amazon will leave the area once the tax incentives run out.

"I'm 68, so I might not see the day it opens," MacIver said. "It infuriates me to see the area into what it will turn into."

Traffic is the main concern voiced by most town residents who do not favor Amazon.

Anthony Casilio, a Sunnydale Drive resident, said that there are supposed to be 493 18-wheeler trucks coming in and out of the facility each day, which could work out to one truck leaving every minute one way or the other if they work 16 hours a day. That will result in a lot more congestion on some of the town's most congested intersections, along Lockport and Military roads and Military and Porter roads, especially if trucks have to back up at all.

"There's potential for a lot of people to get in accidents," Casilio said. "Depending on how fast, they're going to end up in the hospital. The area they are surrounding in the long run will be devastated."

Casilio was opposed to it since the first day he heard about it, and he hoped that the town would require Amazon to fund an exit/entrance to the facility along Lockport Road. The street could also be widened to two lanes each direction, which may requiring having to buy out some homes.

"If Lockport Road had a dedicated entrance/exit for trucks, it would create a less significant traffic hazard," Casilio said, with Lockport Road going eastward having some junkyards and a solar farm where Casilio feels an entrance could go.

The county's industrial development agency is considering approval of an application from Amazon for around $123 million in tax incentives over 15 years, which includes $94 million in property tax abatements, $26 million in sales tax breaks, and a mortgage recording tax exemption of $3.55 million. Amazon would make in-lieu of tax payments totaling $49 million during the first 15 years of the facility's operation, with the amount increasing to $9.5 million a year after that.

Given the amount of tax breaks that Amazon requested from the IDA, Casilio is not sure it will benefit all the entities that will receive tax dollars from it and feels that benefit for the area is null and void. While neighboring towns like Wheatfield and Lewiston will benefit from more people and traffic, they do not have to live through the dangerous part of traffic.

"People that go through Military and Packard are taking a chance," Casilio said.

Casilio's worst fear: lower property values for him and his neighbors.

"I'm not condemning anybody for what they think or feel," Casilio said. "I feel they're making the wrong decision."

Tom Weber, another Packard Road resident, is for Amazon coming to the area, but said he wants the project to be done right and safely. He also says the shoulders on the road are not wide enough and that a traffic study for the area needs to be done before Amazon can get its certificate of occupancy.

"Until the money's in the bank, nothing is a done deal," said Weber who still wonders if Amazon will ultimately follow through on the project. "You can't trust Amazon for their word."

The IDA will hold its next meeting 9 a.m. on Aug. 10 at 6311 Inducon Corporate Drive in Sanborn, where it is expected to vote on whether to grant Amazon the requested tax subsidies or not.