Waldorf, MD- On a sunny day on Industrial Park Drive the air is filled with the steady hum of engines at work. Dirt is kicked up from the nearby trucks as they whirl by on their way to the construction site, which is enclosed by an imposing chain-link fence.
The sound of the sturdy tracks of the truck’s wheels rotating against the ground as its impressive metal arm lifts debris and sets it down can be heard in the distance. The loud noise is accompanied by the maddening blare of another truck’s backup signal as the workflows continuously – not missing a beat.
Across from the construction site, a silver-haired man sits behind his desk as sunshine pours in through the open door baring the name LSL Lawn Service. He reclines in his chair, his eyes fixed on the screen in front of him as he reviews an aerial view of his current location and surrounding area.
For nearly four years Larry Lathrop has been running his profitable lawn care business from Waldorf’s Industrial Park without fault until construction began several months ago on what will soon become an Amazon Last Mile Distribution Center. The newest addition to Industrial Park now has many businesses and residents concerned about the traffic.
“Amazon is likely to be a good neighbor. But they can’t be a good neighbor with their vehicles,” Lathrop said.
In addition to the warehouse, the location will also include a large parking lot to house a fleet of 600 delivery vehicles, according to Lathrop. A separate parking lot belonging to Amazon is situated in the same area and will be equipped with a shuttle service to usher Amazon employees to and from the distribution center.
Those vehicles will soon be on the narrow cross streets of Industrial Park trying to get out of an area that already suffers from congestion during peak hours of the day. The distribution center is also located in close proximity to other delivery outlets including the United States Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS, with some of these units sharing the same roads as Amazon’s trucks once the warehouse opens.
“We don’t see a way where they can get off Industrial Park Drive without total gridlock. That’s going to impact every business back here,” Lathrop said. “Eventually it’s going to be so bad that people won’t want to [come] back here.”
The Charles County Planning and Growth Management Committee was approached by Amazon in September 2019 after selecting the 9 Jay Gould Court location and two other nearby properties that would be converted into parking lots for the center. However, only two of the three development sites were taken through the planning committee due to minor changes, according to Jason R. Groth, the deputy director for Charles County’s Planning and Growth Management Committee.
The parking lot situated at 65 Industrial Park Drive was the first asset to be taken through the committee followed by the preexisting warehouse, which had remained vacant for several years before Amazon acquired it. Amazon’s warehouse went through the committee at the beginning of July and was approved by the end of the month, according to Groth.
“We did have a few commenting parties that came out and expressed some concern[s] about traffic because of the delivery vehicles coming and going to the site,” Groth said.
The land that these properties sit on is allocated to the growth and development of the county and was able to pass traffic muster due to the infrastructure put in place to support new projects. A new traffic study was not required after the initial one conducted in the 80s, which dedicated the land to future business endeavors in the area like the new distribution center.
In coordinating with the planning commission about their traffic plan, Amazon said they would be sending vehicles out at non-peak commuting times and offsetting the amount of traffic on the road by dispatching their deliveries in batches, Groth said.
A spokesperson for Amazon confirmed the plan to reduce congestion on the roads but didn’t give any further indication as to what that would look like with a long term plan.
Outside analysis provided by Lawrence Green, an expert in traffic and transportation engineering, concludes that the initial warehouse proposal far exceeds the actual fulfillment purpose of the warehouse.
Serving the function as a fulfillment center rather than a standard warehouse, the projected use of the building will experience over 1,500 trips a day from the expected 349 with 113 of those trips at peak morning times and 263 during peak evening hours – that is 300 more peak trips than previously estimated.
Charles County issued a press release at the beginning of July formally announcing the new Amazon distribution center following the planning committee’s approval of the first construction site.
“This is positive news for all of our residents, especially because this facility brings employment opportunities to our community at a critical time when COVID-19 has created a need for more jobs,” Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins II said in the press release.
“As soon as we found out it was Amazon, we knew there was going to be a problem,” Lathrop said.
Lathrop has spent most of his life as a business owner, going from one successful landscaping business to another. As a young boy growing up in Maryland, Lathrop learned the tricks of the landscaping trade from his father and his experience motivated him to make a career out of it. Now at the age of 63, Lathrop is looking ahead to retirement, but Amazon’s presence near his place of business threatens that plan.
“We were planning on [these buildings] being our retirement. We’re going to stay here till we retire,” Paul Albert, the owner of Chesapeake Ice said. “[How] am I going to be able to sell a building in a place where nobody can get in and out of?”
To complicate matters further, Lathrop and others claim there was no public notice of public meetings discussing the approval and missed the opportunity to petition against it, according to legal documents obtained from Macy Nelson, the lawyer overseeing the case. As part of the committee’s approval process, members of the community are permitted to speak out against the approval of the development or raise concerns.
“We weren’t given any plans before the virtual meeting so there was no way you could ask any questions. We didn’t [get] a chance to say anything about it. This was a done deal,” Lathrop said.
The case is now being argued in Charles County Circuit Court with the promise to dismiss the case for a chance to argue it in front of the board of appeals where the approval may soon be appealed. The next court hearing is scheduled sometime in early January.