Township will update 'antiquated' height regulations

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com
This rendering shows the proposed fulfillment center, which would bring 2,000 jobs to the Antrim Commons Business Park. A variance was granted by the Antrim Township Zoning Hearing Board for the taller part of the building, seen to the left. PROVIDED IMAGE

Two projects, including a fulfillment center creating an estimated 2,000 jobs, can move forward after receiving variances from the Antrim Township Zoning Hearing Board Thursday evening.

Plans for both a fulfillment center for a company that has not yet been identified publicly, and U.S. Cold Storage, which would bring about 80 jobs, exceed the township's height limit of 50 feet in an industrial zone.

NP Greencastle III, the name NorthPoint Development is using for the fulfillment center project, received a variance to allow part of its proposed building along Milnor Road in the Antrim Commons Business Park to be 85 feet high. U.S. Cold Storage received a variance for part of its proposed building on Hykes Road to be 125 feet high.

Two nights earlier, township supervisors instructed staff to begin the process of updating outdated regulations for the industrial zone to better reflect modern technology.

"Our ordinance is antiquated and needs to be revised," Sylvia House, zoning and code enforcement officer, testified at Thursday's hearing. Both township supervisors and the planning commission supported the variances, which allow the projects to proceed now.

Because the variance requests were similar, House offered much of the same testimony at both hearings.

"The regulation does not provide for a modern facility that promotes smart growth," House said. "This is the type of facility the township wants to attract and our ordinance needs revised.

"We ask that the variance requested here tonight be approved to allow such a facility to locate in the township while we work on updating our regulations. This opportunity will be lost if the height variance cannot be obtained."

Franklin County Area Development Corp. President Mike Ross also provided letters of support for both variances.

"This represents one of the most significant development projects in which FCADC has been involved over the last 34 years. And it could not come at a better time as the Franklin County unemployment rate currently stands in excess of 10%," Ross wrote about the fulfillment center.

Concerning U.S. Cold Storage, Ross wrote, "The company's decision to invest in the Hykes Road property is, in the opinion of the FCADC, the highest and best use of the property and by doing so, the company stands to create a positive long-term impact on the local and regional economies of Franklin County and the quad-state area."

***Fulfillment center ***

"We have a user, it will be occupied the day it is built," Eric Watts, director of development for NorthPoint, testified at the hearing.

Two-thirds of the 1.9-million-square-foot building steps up to 85 feet for the highly automated material handling component of the distribution, warehousing and e-commerce fulfillment center, said architect Aaron Haschel. He cited operational efficiency, automation and racking storage systems as benefits of a taller building.

"It's more efficient to move vertically than horizontally," he said, adding to get the same storage area without going upward would require one and a half times the proposed building footprint.

The project includes construction costs estimated at $175 million and automation around $100 million.

When the plan was introduced to supervisors in July, Watts it would be ideal to break ground in the late third quarter or the fourth quarter of this year, with completion of the fulfillment center in December 2021.

*** U.S. Cold Storage ***

U.S. Cold Storage, which has 43 facilities coast-to-coast, moved toward automation about three years ago, Tim Herm, area director for the northeast region, told the zoning hearing board.

Automation, which allows pallets containing products to be moved around without forklifts, requires the cubic footage in the higher part of the building, he said. It also means forklift operators not have to work in a minus 20-degree environment.

The 380,000-square-foot facility would be built in two phases and, at full capacity, would employ 80 to 84 people, with technical jobs paying $60,000 to $80,000.

The land investment is $40 to $48 million, the "personal property" investment, including building and automated systems, is upwards of $39 million and the payroll would be $3.6 to $5.7 million a year, Kellie McGowan, the attorney representing U.S. Cold Storage, said when the project was first presented to township supervisors in July.

Asked in July when he would like to see the facility open, Herm said, "Last year."