Amazon vans backing up traffic at Holyoke distribution center

  • Suzanne King, a project manager at BL Companies, presents on behalf of Amazon in front of the Holyoke Planning Board on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2019 10:25:09 PM

HOLYOKE — With the busy holiday shopping season in full swing, long lines of delivery vans entering the new Amazon distribution center on Lower Westfield Road have been tying up traffic and raising the eyebrows of city planners.

The delivery-van traffic jams were a topic at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, where the engineering firm BL Companies — presenting on behalf of Amazon — made an appearance to present an amendment to their site plan. The distribution center has been granted a temporary certificate of occupancy, but must secure a permanent one from the board.

Marcos Marrero, the city’s director of planning and economic development, said in an interview Thursday that often a temporary certificate of occupancy is granted when a site is in good enough condition for a business to operate. But the city wants to make sure that conditions in a site plan are actually being met before granting final approval.

“They’re asking for their final certificate of occupancy, and the site isn’t working as it was presented to the city,” Marrero said of Amazon. “And so of course that’s a matter for concern.”

Marrero said there are heavily used intersections near the distribution center, given its location next to an exit from Interstate 91. The city wants to make sure to avoid traffic jams in that area, and on a recent inspection city staff noticed the vans queuing along the road.

It is up to Amazon to propose changes to the traffic flow, he said.

“Our interest is to not have their company queuing of cars spill out into the public road,” Marrero said, adding that delivery vans have been lining up for extended periods on the street. “You don’t want the street being taken over wholly by private business.”

A spokesperson for Amazon said in an email the company was “working closely with our transportation partners to manage our deliveries and minimize disruption around our buildings.”There were several other issues that Jeffrey Burkott, assistant director of planning, presented at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting. Among them: excessive idling of trucks on the Amazon property; a road on the property that had been salted, despite a salting ban because it is near a wetland; and overgrown bushes on Homestead Avenue.

Amazon and BL Companies representatives said at the meeting that those issues had already, or would soon be, addressed. Amazon will return to the Planning Board on Jan. 14.

The Amazon distribution center opened this fall at the site of the former Paolo Freire Social Justice Charter School at 161 Lower Westfield Road. 

The company said it would hire 235 warehouse workers, as well as 168 delivery service workers and 210 “flex drivers” — what Suzanne King, a project manager at BL Companies, described on Tuesday as delivery drivers that function like Uber drivers.

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