Huge UPS hub in far northeast Philly faces community opposition and court battle

Nancy Waibel, a 70-year-old widow in the Far Northeast, is about to have a new neighbor she wants nothing to do with. Packaging giant UPS has proposed a million-square-foot distribution center two blocks from its twin red-brick home.

The projected increase in new traffic would add 4,650 trucks and cars to the neighborhood — every day — from the “high-volume” warehouse hub.

“I just can’t imagine living in the neighborhood when this is built,” said Waibel, who grew up in the house. “And I had my sixth heart attack. I feel like I’m housebound due to traffic.

With many malls disappearing, online retail warehouse space is in high demand. Amazon leases nearly 60 warehouses of at least 100,000 square feet in the Philadelphia area, the CoStar Group said last fall. Land for warehouses can now be worth more than sites for offices, causing distribution centers to creep into industrial and residential areas.

Backers of the UPS project, including Governor Tom Wolf, tout its good jobs, developmental effects, and growth of an iconic company. But critics say the site off Red Lion Road, surrounded mostly by homes, would have a disastrous impact on local residents and some businesses, and should be shut down.

“We are not against the development,” said Jack O’Hara, president of the Greater Bustleton Civic League, which went to court to stop the project. “We are not green people. We are not against UPS. We are not against the parcel delivery business. We are not against unions. We are not against jobs. It’s the size and scale of this particular project and the damage it will inflict on the community with traffic. The whole fabric of this area will change with the massive influx of traffic.

» LEARN MORE: Our desire for fast delivery brings more warehouses to our neighborhoods | Inga Saffron

Straddling Somerton and Bustleton, the UPS hub would be one of the largest warehouses in the region with 245 loading docks, 1,827 vehicle, truck and trailer parking spaces, and fueling and truck wash stations. The owner, Commercial Development Co. Inc. in St. Louis, said the 138 acres, a former Budd Co. manufacturing site and golf course, are zoned for industrial uses that include warehouses and do not require special exemptions.

In promotional materials, Commercial Development says the UPS distribution center is much smaller than the 14 million square feet of space that zoning allows on the property, and its redevelopment “will bring UPS, a strong corporate anchor and community partner, in Northeast Philadelphia.

Its economic impact would be $300 million immediately with the potential to grow to $500 million per year by 2032 through jobs and other activities, the company said. The property is also in a Keystone Opportunity Enterprise Zone with special tax breaks.

“UPS strives to be a good neighbor and business partner in the communities where we live and work,” a UPS spokesperson said. “We have open communication with city and state officials and are continually evaluating where and how to best expand our facilities to meet growing customer demand. In each location, we strive to ensure that our operations comply with all local ordinances. »

Residents of Bustleton and Somerton, however, fear the influx of vehicle exhaust, noise, congested local roads and the glare of lights.

After the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections issued permits for the project in December 2020, the Greater Bustleton Civic League challenged the decisions with the Zoning Board of Adjustment and lost.

The group then teamed up with Sandmeyer Steel Co., a 115-employee company next to the proposed UPS distribution center, to file appeals in the Common Pleas Court in November, seeking to overturn the Zoning Board’s decision. The Civic League argues that the property was zoned for industrial purposes in bygone days and not for the intensive activity that UPS would bring. A hearing is scheduled for June 29.

Andreas Heinrich, a traffic consultant hired by the Greater Bustleton Civil League, estimated the traffic flow from the UPS facility at 4,650 vehicles per day based on its function as a “large parcel hub”, a term industrial designating a highly automated installation. “What UPS offers is not an old-fashioned warehouse,” he said. The traffic of a traditional warehouse is estimated at 1,800 trucks and cars per day.

Stephen Collins, executive vice president of Commercial Development, said the city and state approved traffic studies for the project and the developer agreed to more than $4 million in traffic improvements. He added that UPS would not agree to set up its distribution center there if “its trucks were to be stuck in traffic”.

In court documents, attorneys for the landlord say city zoning officials did the right thing and that “hundreds of full-time jobs…and improvements in the regional supply chain…should no longer be delayed or delayed due to neighbor complaints from businesses and community organizations regarding the intensity or extent of lawful use.

Although it is not on a freeway interchange, as many large distribution centers are, it is easy to see why UPS is interested in the site: it is approximately 2.3 miles from Roosevelt Boulevard, 6.7 miles from I-95 and 7.1 miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And 800,000 people live within a 20-minute drive, making it easy to deliver packages.

UPS’s main entrance will be on Red Lion Road. Even now, traffic is choked at intersections along the main thoroughfare, residents say. Maureen Greene, a longtime civic activist who lives on Bustleton Avenue about two miles away, asked, “How many trucks can you fit in one area? These were roads that were not intended for tractor-trailers.

Longtime residents remember growing up amid open land and vegetable gardens. Waibel moved there in the 1950s as a young girl. Budd’s manufacturing plant employed many workers, but the traffic mainly occurred when the shift changed, not continuously throughout the day.

“We strive to make our areas a livable and beautiful residential area, and I think our home values ​​will go down when people see traffic, said Marlene Markowitz, who lives on Verree Road, about a mile from the project. UPS center.

Due to the pandemic, the community did not participate in the development process as they would have, and information about the proposed project was difficult to obtain, said Chris Bordelon, former president and current board member of administration of the Somerton Civic Association. “I look at this and I think the elected officials let us down.”

Ron Sandmeyer, the third-generation leader of family-owned Sandmeyer Steel, worries not only about traffic, but also about the safety of his workers.

In the early 1960s, Sandmeyer Steel, which sells custom stainless steel plate to water and chemical treatment plants, moved its plant from Port Richmond to the far northeast. Over time, the city’s economic development arm, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., or PIDC, paved a road with a cul-de-sac through vacant land behind Sandmeyer Steel. The town called it Sandmeyer Lane and PIDC sold small plots there to light industrial companies.

This industrial park on Sandmeyer Lane and the site of the proposed UPS distribution center have co-existed for decades. But here’s where the concerns arise: A former owner of the UPS site has purchased a building at the end of Sandmeyer Lane. As proposed, this structure will be demolished and the property will be paved over for a truck driveway to the UPS Hub – via Sandmeyer Lane. Thus, the lane with a cul-de-sac will become a through street to the UPS hub.

Since Sandmeyer Lane runs through its steel complex, with operations on both sides, Sandmeyer estimates that 1,000 UPS trucks a day could cross the lane its workers cross with forklifts. They’ll have to navigate this tractor-trailer traffic. .

Collins said the developer had agreed to ease traffic on Sandmeyer Lane as part of the more than $4 million improvements, including improved traffic lights and a widening of the road.

Sandmeyer thought he had made a deal with UPS so the delivery giant wouldn’t run its trailers down the lane during weekday working hours. But he couldn’t get the agreement in writing, he said.

“I’ve come to the idea that they’re going to do what’s good for UPS and too bad for the neighborhood,” he said.

“The city seems to be bending over backwards to get someone here,” Sandmeyer added. “But we’ve been here forever.”