LITTLETON — Littleton residents will soon have a new neighbor at 151 and 153 Taylor St.: Amazon.
The retail giant, whose CEO Jeff Bezos stepped down from his role this week, will move into a new “last mile” warehouse on the site and a vacant office building there will be demolished to make room for additional parking. Northbridge Partners, which owns the site, will be leasing the space to Amazon, a plan that was approved by the Planning Board last month.
“It was David and Goliath starting out, the small little town against this big giant Amazon,” said Littleton Planning Board Chair Mark Montanari. “Northbridge/Amazon was very attentive, and I can speak for the whole board, I think we were pleasantly surprised at how they listened to what we had to say and… did what had to be done to make this a good win-win situation for the town and for Northbridge/Amazon.”
Amazon’s “last mile” facilities are meant to do just that — bring packages the last mile from the warehouse to people’s homes to keep up with demand for quick shipping. A Bloomberg article on these facilities posted on the town’s webpage about the project said that Amazon is planning to erect around 1,000 similar facilities in cities and suburbs throughout the U.S.
Already, Amazon has sites in Mass. towns including Braintree, Revere, Holyoke and Milford. Although Montanari has heard “horror stories” about Amazon’s arrival to their towns, he assured residents that this Littleton site will be different.
“The difference with our site is that there are no satellite sites involved with this, the vehicles will be all stored right there. 250 to 300 vans will be stored there at any one time,” Montanari said, referring to Milford’s facility and satellite sites, which caused major traffic congestion in the town.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Everybody wants their packages, and everybody wants it the next day, well, you have to have vans and delivery people to do it,” he said.
Montanari added that Northbridge and Amazon made a number of concessions to reduce traffic concerns from both Littleton and neighboring Boxboro residents. “It’s everything from the way that Amazon designed their daily operations, traffic to and from the site will not be during peak rush hours… Northbridge reduced the application from close to 700 parking spaces down to 450 van spaces at the site,” Littleton Town Planner Maren Toohill said. The vans will be deployed in waves throughout the day during off-peak hours, with reduced van traffic overnight.
Perhaps most importantly, delivery drivers will not be allowed to make a left turn out of the parking lot onto Foster Street, which leads to Boxboro, unless they are making local deliveries. Drivers who violate this rule will be fined $50 each time they break it. Otherwise, drivers will turn right onto Route 2 and Interstate 495. Toohill said Amazon estimates only 17 vans per day will be making this right turn, and 85% of the traffic will turn onto the highway.
“I think that Amazon really looked at that location, and… its proximity to 495 and Route 2, I believe them when they say it’s really going to be that hub, and that the majority of their vehicles are going to be loading up and getting either on Route 2 or 495 and branching out from there,” Littleton Town Administrator Anthony Ansaldi said. He added that he’s “confident” in the approved site plan.
Another issue of concern in other towns with Amazon warehouses is the working conditions for the drivers, which are often contracted through third-party companies and not by Amazon directly. Buzzfeed News has also reported on the difficult working conditions and high expectations of driver output, which can lead to unsafe driving and accidents.
Montanari addressed some of these concerns, and said that the facility will have bathrooms for the drivers to use and parking spots for drivers to pull over and rearrange their packages before leaving the site instead of pulling to the side of the road, an issue other towns faced. He added that there will be police monitoring the site to avoid any disturbances. Northbridge/Amazon is also planning to heat the pavement at the site to avoid polluting the surrounding area with de-icing materials.
On top of these issues they addressed, Northbridge/Amazon will also bring a number of benefits to Littleton. Economic benefits to the town include a number of new jobs created at the site — about 90 in the warehouse, plus the contract delivery jobs — and tax revenue. Toohill said that one of the buildings at the site had been empty for two years, and the other for four years, so “the real estate taxes we were receiving from those was declining rather rapidly. Without redevelopment at that site, they would have been faced with a significant decrease in tax rate for the taxes we received, so there is a tax benefits for the town,” she said.
Toohill said that one of the benefits of working with a large company like Amazon is their wealth of resources, adding that the company plans to have an all-electric fleet of delivery trucks within the next 20 years or so.
Northbridge/Amazon also plans to pay to build sidewalks from the train station to the site for commuters, for increased police and fire protection near the site, and for water main improvements to the 50-year-old pipes near the site. Northbridge also donated 58 acres of their remaining open land as passive open space to the Littleton Water Department to preserve the well water near the site.
An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement that “Amazon is a dynamic business and we are constantly exploring new locations. We weigh a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites to best serve customers, however, we have a policy of not commenting on our future roadmap.” Northbridge did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Amazon gets a lot of the bad press… they even admitted it in our meeting, ‘We did a lot of things the wrong way. We’re trying to fix that,’” Montanari said. “We listened to them, and they listened to what our concerns were, and they did everything we asked them to do between Northbridge and Amazon.” He estimated that the new site will be up and running before the end of the year.