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Amazon's Efforts to Operate Massive Freight Terminal at Dangerous Intersection in Sonoma Valley Delayed

by Kerana Todorov
April 13, 2021
The proposed Amazon "last mile" delivery station near the city of Sonoma has drawn community opposition. The project will undergo further review. Photo by Kerana Todorov

Amazon’s efforts to operate a distribution center along a busy highway in the Sonoma Valley are being delayed. 

A Sonoma County planning panel on Thursday sided with two grass-roots organizations that appealed plans to allow Amazon to open a delivery hub in an existing warehouse building near the city of Sonoma without a comprehensive evaluation. The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments approved the appeal filed by Mobilize Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Alliance with a 3-1 vote. 

The majority of the board on Thursday concluded the Amazon facility would be a “truck terminal because it includes substantial heavy trucking and van delivery services and the transfer and storage of merchandise,” according to the resolution approved Thursday. 

The existing warehouse, now known as “Victory Station,” is near the intersection of Highway 12/Freemont Drive and Eighth Street in the unincorporated community of Schellville. 

The warehouse was built months before Amazon became publicly known as the would-be tenant.

Thursday’s decision confirms the board’s informal straw vote taken on Feb. 11. The panel concluded that Amazon’s “last mile” distribution center that would be located at the existing 250,000 square-foot building would be a more intense use than the one that was originally approved for the site. The facility would be a truck terminal, they said. The project required a new evaluation, the board concluded.

The warehouse, which was built on land that had been designated as “limited industrial.” The site was approved in 2006 as a light industrial and warehouse complex, according to planning documents. In April 2017, Sonoma County’s Design Review Committee gave developer Joseph “Jose” McNeill III the green light to build a 258,000 square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the 19-acre site. Much of the warehouse, now referred as Victory Station, was constructed in 2018.

In 2020, Victory Station’s developer, McNeill also sought to build a parking lot on 3.5 acres next to the warehouse for about 240 delivery vans, according to planning documents. 

In July 2020, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, an advisory planning panel that includes representatives from the county and the city of Sonoma, recommended a new environmental review, including an evaluation of traffic impacts. There are currently no turn lanes or traffic lights at the intersection. 

Norman Gilroy, of Mobilize Sonoma, and Kathy Pons, of Valley of the Moon Alliance, argued the proposal was a “truck terminal or truck depot” that would generate thousands of trips annually, according to planning filings. Amazon’s activities would be retail, a use not permitted under Victory Station’s permit, according to the document. 

The proposed use for the site, Mobilize Sonoma and Valley of the Moon argued, required a use permit – and further review. 

Residents also opposed the proposed Amazon facility and the proposed new parking lot, citing traffic and other issues. They stressed that traffic in the flood-prone area had increased exponentially over the years. 

Yet others have voiced support for Amazon. In a Feb. 11 letter, Frank Darien, vice president, Bertolone Wine Group, wrote in support of the project. “I firmly believe that the intended use and concomitant owner/user traffic to and from this facility, pertaining to all feeder streets, and thorough fares etc., by the proposed tenant Amazon has been carefully and correctly planned and accommodated for,” Darien wrote.

A new application for the project is slated to come on April 28 before the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, an advisory planning panel that includes representatives from the county and the city of Sonoma.

Victory Station is among the dozens of new “last mile” distribution center Amazon seeks to open nationwide. 

A similar “last mile” project was approved in June 2020 in American Canyon in south Napa County. The Planning Commission’s vote was unanimous. 

The American Canyon project, a collaboration between Orchard Partners of Lafayette and DivcoWest of San Francisco, is under construction next to an Ikea distribution center.

Marc de Bourbon, senior program manager for Amazon who is based in Northern California, told the American Canyon Planning Commission in June that the “last mile” station would be a 24/7 operation. 

These “last mile” delivery stations help Amazon deliver goods “as quickly, cost effectively and efficiently as possible” to customers, de Bourbon said. He estimated the goods would be delivered to customers within a 15-to 20-mile radius.

Amazon’s national network of “last mile” delivery stations has growing exponentially. There were eight “last mile” delivery stations in 2016, de Bourbon said. As of June, there were 240, according to de Bourbon. The company plans to open more than 1,000 “last mile” delivery stations within five years, de Bourbon told the American Canyon Planning Commission.

Amazon’s “last mile” stations are smaller than fulfillment centers which are 1.5 million to 3 million square feet, he said. The goods are pulled off the shelves, placed in a box and labeled in fulfillment centers, de Bourbon said. The items are then loaded into 53-foot long trailers and delivered to a “sortation” centers, which are typically 400,000 to 900,000 square feet in size. 

The goods are then trucked into the “last mile” delivery station between 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., where about 250 employees sort the items.

The facility is not a long-term storage or warehousing facility, de Bourbon explained. “The goal here is to get that product inbounded and out the door as quickly as possible,” he said.

American Canyon’s delivery fleet would include 250 to 300 delivery van drivers who work for a third-party exclusively for Amazon, de Bourbon explained. The company also plans to have deliveries made by flex drivers, similar to Uber drivers. Amazon rolls out its delivery vans in waves and after rush hour, de Bourbon explained. 

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