An appeal to Permit Sonoma’s approval of the Amazon distribution facility in Schellville was upheld at a Feb. 11 hearing before the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.
The success of the appeal will at the very least delay final county approval for the 250,000-square foot warehouse to operate as a “last-mile” delivery hub for the online retail giant.
The Board of Zoning Adjustments denied Permit Sonoma’s request to reject the appeal, and instead instructed the county to redefine the proposed facility as a “freight terminal” rather than as storage facility.
The board’s decision may open Amazon up to filing for a CEQA review, certification under the Environmental Quality Act, a potentially lengthy and demanding process.
The vast warehouse and shipping facility at 22801 Eighth St. E. and 1194 Freemont Drive – known as Victory Station and built by Jose McNeill, a Bay Area business developer – has been vacant since its construction in 2018. It was proposed, planned and permitted as a winery storage and distribution location at the time.
But early in 2020, with a use permit in hand, it was announced that Amazon was interested in taking over the location for a regional “last mile” operation that would receive goods from around the country, and deliver them to Sonoma Valley-area locations. A last-mile facility is a business center where packages are received from larger regional facilities, sorted, and then delivered to local consumers in 20-foot-long delivery vans, as described in the Permit Sonoma project description.
Amazon has similar although larger shipping hubs in Vacaville – one opened in 2014 and another is currently under construction. Yet another is being built in Napa County, where the company’s 58-acre portion of a development at Napa Logistics Park in American Canyon includes parking for 1,170 delivery vans and 409 employee vehicles.
The company told the North Bay Business Journal in November it has over 175 fulfillment centers across the globe and more than 110 in North America.
Amazon sought to apply the use permit granted in January of 2020 for the warehouse at Victory Station, and add on a new parking lot on a 3.5-acre lot they leased next door, to streamline the opening of the facility. Project managers even began remodeling the warehouse last year, prior to approval of the permit, activity that was halted by county officials in July of 2020 with a stop-work order.
Norman Gilroy and Kathy Pons, who represent neighborhood watchdog groups Mobilize Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon Alliance, respectively, have objected to the proposed use by Amazon because they say it exceeds the “scale of uses on which the (project’s) original permit approvals were predicated.”
In July 2020, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission agreed with Gilroy and Pons that the expanded use of the property, including the addition of the 250-space parking lot, should be regarded as “a single conjoined proposal and not as separate ‘piecemealed’ components.”
That was followed on July 29 when Permit Sonoma’s Supervising Planner Blake Hillegas sent developer McNeill a letter that said, in part, “the County is required to evaluate the whole of the project under CEQA guidelines… A single application for the whole of the project, including Amazon as the tenant is required.”
Gilroy and Pons filed the appeal to Permit Sonoma’s acceptance of Amazon’s new application that was heard by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. In the staff report for the Feb. 11 meeting, the combined project was described by Permit Sonoma as a “permitted heavy commercial use for which storage and commercial transportation facilities are necessary and usual to the operation” – and thus the proposed operation did not require a new use permit, according to Permit Sonoma.
But Gilroy said that new county definitions of “truck/bus/freight terminals” are more in line with Amazon’s proposed operation than its initial designation as a storage facility.
“The definition of a freight terminal in the new code clearly fits what we know of the Amazon proposal, which is neither a wine warehouse nor a storage facility for large and heavy merchandise,” Gilroy wrote to the Index-Tribune in an email. “But rather (it) is a transfer terminal.”
And, argued Gilroy, since trucking and truck storage would be the primary function of the facility, the “truck terminal” category would be a better for what Amazon proposed.
The new definition of a “truck/bus/freight terminal” in the county zoning code was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 2.
Valley of the Moon Alliance member Roger Peters suggested it was clearly appropriate to the proposed Amazon facility, as the new code characterization includes “freight, forwarding services, freight terminal facilities, joint terminal and service facilities, packing, crating, inspection and weighing services, postal service bulk mailing distribution centers, transportation arrangement services, trucking facilities including transfer and storage, repair services for trucks using the facility.”
That definition was recognized by the BZA as appropriate to the proposed Amazon facility, and a straw poll of the board resulted in a 3-2 vote instructing Permit Sonoma staff to modify the resolution to reflect that decision, and to bring it back to the BZA for a final vote.
Permit Sonoma has not yet set a timetable for bringing a modified resolution back to the Board of Zoning Adjustments.
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