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Residents Share Concerns Over Proposed Amazon Facility In Lawrenceville

David Zalubowski

While Amazon pushes to expand its distribution facilities in boroughs outside of Pittsburgh, the retail giant also hopes to advance its efforts to build in Lawrenceville. But those efforts are receiving pushback from community members who say they’re concerned about the potential impacts of an Amazon facility on the surrounding neighborhood.

Amazon first announced its plans to build a last-mile distribution center at the old Sears outlet on 51st Street in Lawrenceville in December 2020. The facility would help speed up delivery times for local Amazon orders as they get closer to their final destination.

Since the facility was first announced, Lawrenceville residents have expressed concerns about how it would fit into the neighborhood’s community plans. They worry issues like increased traffic and air pollution could have a negative impact on the neighborhood and its small businesses.

“Traffic is already kind of an issue on Butler Street—it’s two lanes, and it’s very busy,” said Emily Howe, a Lawrenceville resident. “I definitely would anticipate traffic to get worse. And then, you know, where there’s more traffic there’s more carbon emitted.”

Karina Westfall, another Lawrenceville resident, said she worries increased traffic in Lawrenceville could deter people from outside the neighborhood from patronizing the local small businesses.

“Due to the traffic, due to the parking situation, it’s going to deter people coming into our neighborhood and experiencing the local shops, the local restaurants, the local bars—because of Amazon,” she said.

Amazon disputes the idea that the facility will make traffic worse and said vans leaving the delivery center will travel outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours. The company said they plan to do a traffic impact report for the facility.

Howe said she was “dismayed” and “highly skeptical” when she first heard about the plans.

“I know the main benefit of the facility would be increasing the amount of jobs in the neighborhood, but then I immediately thought of those working conditions, and how those jobs might pay a decent salary, but the working conditions are pretty terrible from what I’ve heard,” she said.

In a statement, Steve Kelly, a spokesperson for Amazon, said “Amazon is a global business with local roots set firmly in the communities in which we live and work. We place a priority on hiring local workers - all of whom earn at least $15 per hour, comprehensive benefits, and paid leave.” Kelly also said the company plans to be "overall, net-zero carbon, by 2040.”

Lauren Connelly, the executive director of the Lawrenceville Corporation, said they’re not opposed to new development, but that “it needs to align with community values and priorities as it relates to impact on the community, working conditions.”

“We don’t feel that this is responsible growth or development at this point,” she said.

“As a community we have really stressed in our community meetings and our residents have stressed that we don’t want to be NIMBYs about this,” said Dave Breingan, the executive director of Lawrenceville United. “This is not about pushing a development we don’t like into some other community. We need to stand in solidarity with other communities and make sure that we’re setting precedent here for the entire region.”

Amazon says they will provide more information to community members as plans develop. There is no timeline for when the project might move forward.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.