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Lincoln Equities Proposes 220,000 Square-Foot Distribution Warehouse in Executive Park Along Route 303
By Tina Traster
A proposed warehouse developer returned to the Town of Clarkstown Planning Board with a slightly tweaked plan and an updated traffic study on Wednesday, but board members and residents alike remain extremely worried about traffic, air quality, and noise along the Route 303 corridor in Valley Cottage.
Lincoln Equities Group of Rutherford, NJ, a landowner/developer, wants to build a 220,000-square-foot distribution warehouse on a 20-acre parcel it owns at the Executive Corporate Park on Route 303 in Valley Cottage.
Nearly every board member raised concerns and at times objections over the size and scale of the project, a lack of specificity regarding the future tenant and the 24/7 nature of its use, an inability to screen the building from Route 303, particulate air pollution close to residential neighborhoods and schools, and truck traffic despite updated reports from the applicant that said there will be no significant impact on traffic along Route 303.
Despite both the applicant’s and the town traffic consultant’s conclusions that the project will “not have significant impact,” planning board members dug in with “common sense” opinions, saying the proposal will put tractor-trailers on Route 303 every six to seven minutes – or up to 250 trucks per day. That indeed is problematic for the already jammed state road, and for the surrounding area. The applicant broadened a second study to include a handful of additional intersections and roads, including the Five Corners, Christian Herald Road, and Ridge Road.
With only one access in and out of Clarkstown Executive Park, truck traffic leaving the warehouse will spill onto state road Route 303, a single-lane byway. This traffic will likely head south toward the New York State Thruway passing through residential and shopping districts.
Also at issue is just what the facility will be. The applicant said it has been unable to attract a tenant because “tenants are afraid the building will not get built,” said Lance Bergstein, managing director of development and acquisitions for Lincoln Equities. When the applicant appeared at the February Planning Board meeting, it indicated it had a pending tenant.
Board members told the applicant it is difficult to gauge the impact without an understanding of what tenant might occupy the site.
Lincoln Equities, which builds and typically re-sells leased distribution centers in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, hopes to develop a Rockland County facility that may be leased to one of its tenants it has previously attracted to its tri-state properties. Lincoln’s tenants include Amazon, UPS, and The Home Depot.
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The applicant says the project is a “standard warehouse” but on Lincoln Equities website, the yet-to-be-built facility is being marketed as a “distribution warehouse.” Additionally, Lincoln Equities has applied to the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency for a pilot tax program that would give them tax breaks. In that application, Lincoln calls its project a “modern warehouse facility for warehousing or distribution.” To date, Lincoln Equities has been approved for a sales tax exemption up to $2.5 million and an exemption for mortgage recording taxes totaling $388,500. They’re also negotiating with town, county, and school districts for a payment in lieu of taxes.
The project is expected to create 15 full-time jobs.
“The warehouse business has evolved,” said Bergstein. “Businesses are growing. Stores have to be restocked. This is the new industry standard.”
The town has determined that the application is a “Type-1 SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act”, which means it will be subject to a full environmental review before the Planning Board. Environmental issues might include noise from a 24/7 operation, diesel exhaust and the release of particulate matter from idling and operating trucks, air quality monitoring, and the potential restriction on operating hours.
The applicant is seeking a “negative SEQRA declaration,” a hurdle that would allow them to move to the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals because it will need a variance. The applicant is asking for a 44-foot building – four feet higher than the zoning allows. Planning board members do not decide on the issue of height, but they expressed their displeasure, saying its essentially twice the height as the other buildings in the Executive Park and “out of proportion,” said Planning Board member and vice-chair Edward Guardaro.
Lincoln Equities said the height was necessary for modern racking standards in warehouses today. Bergstein said with an increase in commercial rents and higher material costs, tenants are looking to maximize vertical space.
Board Chairman Gil Heim raised the notion that allowing the height for one building could open the door for higher buildings throughout the park. He expressed worry that the applicant owns two other buildings in the park.
According to the developer’s earlier proposal, traffic generated by the project will be minimal, estimating an additional thirteen trucks to weekday morning peak traffic and thirteen to the afternoon rush hour. Lincoln Equities on Wednesday told the board that the number of trips would be reduced to six or seven per hour but did not explain why the number had been reduced.
Clarkstown’s traffic consultant AKRF Matthew Carmody said “We agree with the methodology of the traffic study, but this is not to say this won’t generate truck traffic and increase existing delays.”
In an effort to sweeten its application, the developer has reduced the number of berths from 54 to 34 but added 21 “knockout doors.” Knockout doors are framed outlines set in nine-inch thick walls of concrete that are a map for future cutouts in the building if more berths are needed.
Although the applicant hoped that would ameliorate some concern over the projects, possibly the number of trucks coming in and out, it has proved to be an issue of contention with board members who say they believe Lincoln Equities would come back once the project was built, with a request to increase the number of berths.
“Something’s missing here,” said Board Member Phillip DeGaetano. “You’re a businessman. Come on.”
But Bergstein added, “We’d have to get permission, we’d have to come back to the board.”
The new proposal also lowers the number of trailer parking spaces from 53 to 41 but the developer is asking for the remaining 12 to be placed in reserve, which means they can return to the board at a later date to use the reserve spaces. The number of parking spaces was reduced to 125 from 250.
Several residents spoke about environmental issues including traffic, noise, night lighting, wetland destruction, loss of mature trees, and an increase in air pollution in a county that’s already teetering at dangerous ozone levels.
“This project is out of proportion,” said New City resident Pam Hudson. “This is the wrong thing on the wrong site.”
Another resident, Barbara Pfinst of Congers said there’s so much traffic on Route 303 she can’t get down the street.
She also raised concern over the cumulative effects of particulate matter emissions from trucks.
The applicant said it would have a “three-minute” rule on trucks idling and a sign to remind truckers, but another resident said “I wish I lived in a world where there was that kind of compliance.” The idling limit in New York State is five consecutive minutes.
Another resident Mike Azara also told the board that he did not believe the applicant addressed air pollution emissions, saying the project would produce negative health outcomes down the road.
The property is zoned “CO” which allows for warehouses, as a matter of right.
Heim said the proposal conforms to most of the zoning requirements, but he said the project needed to be looked at in terms of how it would impact the town. He suggested that the applicant consider a cap on 32 berths and reduce the height of the building to 40 feet.
The next public hearing on the project is scheduled for June 22.