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Rand’s Paul Adler Sings The Praises Of Making Rockland County Commercially Diverse As Warehouse Building Proliferates

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Rockland County: Warehouses or Bust? Building a Brighter Future Beyond Big Boxes

By Paul Adler

Rockland County, nestled in the Hudson a stone’s throw from bustling Manhattan, is at a crossroads. While the last two years have seen a boom in commercial development, it’s been a one-note symphony – a monotonous chorus of rising warehouses. While these hulking structures promise short-term economic gains, we risk building a fragile house of cards if we don’t diversify our development strategies.

Think of farms. Wisdom has shown that “monocultures,” or farms with one type of crop, are not typically sustainable. That thinking may yet apply to the pent-up demand to build, build, build warehouses – and to build them not just adjacent to highways but closer to neighborhoods and local roads.

Paul Adler, Rand Commercial

Yes, warehouses offer a quick injection of economic adrenaline. But let’s not be dazzled by the initial rush. These concrete behemoths are job generators of a specific kind – low-paying, often temporary positions that could easily be eclipsed by the rise of automation. Imagine our once-vibrant communities hollowed out, replaced by aisles patrolled by robots, their silence broken only by the hum of forklifts.

Is that the legacy we want to leave for future generations?

Moreover, warehouses notoriously lack versatility. Unlike a bustling Main Street or a tech-hub office park, they have limited shelf life. Once their logistical purpose fades, they become hulking monuments to past prosperity, difficult to repurpose and often eyesores on our landscape.

Who wants Rockland County to become known as the land of empty boxes?

In recent years, the county has witnessed the proliferation of warehouse building and the pace is not slowing. The Village of Suffern’s sprawling Novartis campus, once known for manufacturing pharmaceuticals, is slated to become a warehouse hub of 1.2 million square feet on the 162-acre campus. In late 2022, the Town of Clarkstown greenlighted approvals for Lincoln Equities of Rutherford, New Jersey to build a 220,000 square-foot warehouse right off Route 303 in Congers, despite widespread opposition over increased traffic. Plans are moving slowly for a proposed 454,000 square-foot warehousing and distribution center that will have 76 bays and operate 24/7 on a 34-acre vegetative site sitting in the crook of Railroad Avenue and Beach Road in the Village of West Haverstraw, miles from the nearest highway.

These are just a sample of projects proposed or underway. There are many more.

The solution to diversifying commercial development lies not in rejecting progress, but in embracing a more nuanced approach. We need a development ecosystem that sings a richer melody, with diverse notes of retail, office spaces, and light industry harmonizing in a dynamic symphony. Imagine vibrant town centers where locally-owned stores flourish alongside national brands, attracting residents and tourists alike. Picture technology hubs buzzing with ideas, injecting our communities with intellectual capital and high-paying jobs.

This requires a shift in perspective. Our zoning regulations, currently tuned for the monotonous drone of boxy warehouses, need to be reorchestrated to accommodate a fluid, diverse economy. We need flexible codes that encourage mixed-use developments, allowing businesses to adapt and thrive as the economic landscape evolves.

New York’s GML (General Municipal Law) requires the Rockland County Planning Department to weigh in on most development projects proposed in Rockland’s towns and villages. Municipalities – towns and villages — are also required to “consult” neighboring governments when a project touches its borders, but are generally not bound by the concerns of those other jurisdictions.

When it comes to the many large warehouse projects that dot the county, there is no regional planning. No coordination between towns. No deference to the county, regional authorities, or the State. Projects like the 220,000 square foot warehouse project in Valley Cottage, the million-plus square foot former Novartis warehouse project in Suffern, and the proposed 475,000 square foot warehouse project off Beach Road in West Haverstraw are all reviewed by local municipal governments without the aid of any state or regional planning authorities.

New York needs a new system of regional and/or state planning for the siting of large warehouse properties, distribution, and fulfillment centers like steps New Jersey has recently undertaken to look at planning more holistically. Last year, following a deep dive on research, input gathering and listening sessions, the New Jersey State Planning Commission adopted its Warehouse Siting Guidance, developed by the NJ Office of Planning Advocacy in the Department of State. The guidance is for local governments to use when updating their master plans, zoning, and development standards, and when reviewing development applications.

Building a vibrant, resilient Rockland County doesn’t mean turning our back on economic opportunities. It means recognizing that a one-song playlist risks a dull performance. We need a development chorus that reflects the richness and potential of our communities, a symphony of diverse enterprises that creates jobs, fosters innovation, and builds a sustainable future for generations to come.

So, Rockland County, let’s raise the curtain on a brighter future. Let’s not settle for the monotonous drone of the warehouse waltz. Let’s build a future where the music of commerce fills our streets with opportunity, diversity, and the promise of a vibrant tomorrow.

Paul Adler is Chief Strategy Officer of Rand Commercial.