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After Amazon cancels plans to build warehouse in Churchill, residents wait to find out what’s next

Mark Lennihan
A sprawling Amazon warehouse that had been slated for development outside Pittsburgh was expected to generate $11 million in annual local tax revenue, but opponents worried it would harm the surrounding community and environment. The e-commerce company dropped the project Thursday.

Three months after winning government approval for a sprawling distribution center in the borough of Churchill, Amazon has abandoned the controversial project.

The e-commerce giant announced its decision Thursday without providing specific reasons. While critics welcomed the news, the fate of the 133-acre former George Westinghouse Research Park where the warehouse would have been located is now unknown.

In a statement Thursday, an Amazon spokesperson said, “We weigh a variety of factors when deciding where to develop future sites to best serve our customers. It is common for us to explore multiple locations simultaneously and adjust based on our operational needs.”

“While we have decided not to pursue the site in Churchill, Pa., we are still committed to being a good neighbor, corporate citizen and community partner,” the statement continued. And it added that, with more than 4,000 employees in the Pittsburgh area, Amazon has injected more than $2 billion into the regional economy.

“It's really, really exciting news,” Churchill resident Cathy Bordner said of Amazon’s decision to halt the warehouse project. “I don't think any of us expected it,” she said. So when she and other opponents of the development learned Thursday evening that it would not go forward, she said, “We just didn't believe it."

Bordner helped to organize the group Churchill Future, which resisted the Amazon facility for months and weighed in at a series of public hearings that spanned 57 hours.

Critics had argued that the facility would not have fit in with the surrounding residential neighborhood. They worried that the 2.6 million-square-foot warehouse, which would have operated 24/7, would increase air pollution, traffic, light and noise in the area.

But when voting 5-2 to greenlight the development, some Churchill councilors cited projections that the warehouse would generate $11 million in annual tax revenue for the borough, the Woodland Hills School District, and Allegheny County. Texas-based real estate developer Hillwood Development Company was expected to invest $300 million in the site.

After the Churchill borough council approved construction of the Amazon facility, opponents sought to stop the project by filing an appeal in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. While the case might now be moot, an attorney for the plaintiffs declined to comment on its status.

Churchill officials and a Hillwood representative, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comment Friday morning.

Now, Churchill can consider new uses for the former Westinghouse property, Bordner said.

“There's a lot of unknowns, and we're just going to wait and see, see what we find out and go from there,” she said. But regardless, she said she hopes that “we, as a community, move forward working with our council to come up with a viable solution for that site.”

She said she would prefer for developers to convert buildings already located on the property into usable office space or to construct new housing.

“We should be looking at the assets – the landscape, the rolling hills, the trees – and tie that into the development [of] a place that people want to be on. And that could very well happen if we could work together,” she said.