Warehouse Sprawl Prompts Calls for Regional Planning

As e-commerce giants like Amazon build more and more facilities, advocates say a regional approach is needed to prevent sprawl and look beyond local benefits.

2 minute read

March 31, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Amazon Fulfillment Center

Tony Webster / Flickr

"A current surge in warehouse construction is raising concern among planners and environmentalists that scarce open space is being eaten up by giant warehouses that generate truck traffic on rural roads, increase contaminated stormwater runoff from more paved surfaces, and industrialize the state’s few remaining rural enclaves," reports Jon Hurdle in NJ Spotlight. But the warehouses also bring jobs and taxes, incentives valued by local leaders who object to the prospect of losing control of land use decisions in their jurisdictions. With Amazon as New Jersey's largest employer, advocates say "the trend raises wider issues that should also be addressed by county or statewide authorities" rather than left up to "myriad local governments" narrowly focused on their own "fiscal self-interest."

Tim Evans, director of research for the nonprofit New Jersey Future, argues that "a 'regional perspective' is needed to ensure that increasing demand for the storage of imported goods does not result in the development of land that is better used for farming or recreation, and that the most suitable land for warehousing — such as that near the ports of Newark, Elizabeth and Bayonne — does not get used for another purpose that could easily be done elsewhere."

As a home-rule state, New Jersey largely gives local governments the final say over land use decisions, and Evans admits "any attempt to dilute the power of local government over land-use planning would prompt strong pushback." But decisions made at the local level can affect their surrounding area, as seen in Warren County, where county officials have urged municipalities to present a united front in resisting the construction of new warehouse facilities on greenfield land. To Evans and other advocates of regional planning, a regional approach is necessary to "help the state avoid the worst impacts of the warehouse boom which is underpinned by e-commerce and fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic."

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