Churchill Residents Say They're Concerned About Proposed Development Believed To Be For Amazon
A group of Churchill residents plans to voice its opposition to a proposed e-commerce distribution center in the borough at a protest on Tuesday.
Hillwood Development Company, a Texas-based real estate developer, has submitted the proposal for the project, which is widely believed to be intended for internet retail giant Amazon. The distribution center would be located on the site of the 133-acre former George Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill.
The protest, organized by the group Churchill Future, will be held at 5 p.m. on July 6 outside the Churchill Borough building. Organizers said they want borough leaders to listen to and consider their concerns when the borough holds a public conditional use hearing about the development on July 19.
Representatives of Hillwood did not respond to requests for comment.
But Kate Karrigan Hill, a Churchill resident who lives across the road from the Westinghouse lot, said traffic and flooding already are issues in the area. She said she worries the development could make those problems worse.
“You’re putting an amazing amount of traffic and trucks and cars on roads that were built when the suburbs were created back in the ’40s and '50s, early ’60s,” Carrigan Hill said. “None of this is designed for this kind of load, this kind of traffic, this kind of danger.”
An estimated 350 semi-trucks would enter and leave the site every day, in addition to cars and other vehicles used by employees. Hillwood’s proposal would add new ramps to roads near the lot and expand some of the borough’s existing road infrastructure.
Residents also expressed concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed distribution center. Churchill resident Sandra Fox noted that idling trucks can produce harmful fumes and exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma.
Hillwood’s plan for the site also would remove hundreds of mature trees, which the company would later replace with saplings. Fox and Susan Sterrett, another Churchill resident, said they are concerned that the young trees would not combat the air pollution generated by the warehouse as effectively as the mature trees.
“Once they remove that soil and those trees, which have been there for many decades, that’s not something you can fix easily,” Sterrett said. “If Amazon is only there for ten years and then they leave, we’re stuck with this problem.”
Churchill Borough Council President Jay Dworin said the council always considers residents’ input, adding that some members of the council share similar concerns about traffic and pollution. But he said the development could have positive economic benefits for Churchill and other nearby communities.
“We are in an area that has relatively impoverished surrounding communities,” Dworin said. “This has the potential to help those communities. Our school district, the Woodland Hills School District, certainly faces financial challenges, and so this helps [the district] in that kind of financial space.”
Hillwood is expected to invest $300 million in the development, including $30 to $40 million for environmental remediation, according to plans it submitted to the borough. Hillwood said the site could generate roughly $11.7 million every year in tax revenue for Churchill, the Woodland Hills School District and Allegheny County.
“The reality is, there are going to be people who are directly, positively impacted by this, and there will be people who are exactly the opposite of that,” Dworin said.
Many residents who oppose the Hillwood development said they would not object to redeveloping the former Westinghouse lot for another purpose. Fox and Carrigan Hill said they would like the lot to be used for a development that would benefit the community.
Residents said the local impacts of the Hillwood development can’t be measured purely in economic terms such as jobs and inconveniences to residents.
“I consider this proposed development, if it were to happen, to be a desecration — a desecration of beautiful land and trees,” Fox said. “I hope that I don’t have to witness this occurring because that would be heartbreaking.”