Last month, YIMBY unveiled the UPS package sortation and distribution facility proposed at 1 Red Lion Road in Bustleton, Northeast Philadelphia. The 1,004,000-square-foot structure is currently the city’s largest single proposed building in terms of floor area. A few days ago, the development team of Commercial Development Company, Inc, Blue Rock, Bohler, and NORR submitted a revised Civic Design Review package, which shows design changes that deal mainly with landscaping at the 140-acre site and the way the facility will relate to the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Much of the plan remains in place. The warehouse is still planned to span a footprint measuring 1,674 feet long by 600 feet wide (covering 16 percent of the site), rise 44 feet high, and include 245 loading docks. As before, the facility will also include a 3,300-square-foot employee entrance and customer service counter, a 7,400-square-foot truck wash station and 956 employee parking spaces and 879 trailer storage and loading spaces.
The site sits in a low-rise, low-density area, with an industrial district to the north and east and a residential neighborhood to the south and west. The developers have already made sizable concessions to local opposition. The proposal is a vast underdevelopment of the site, which currently ranks as the city’s largest development-ready tract of land and where current zoning allows up to 14 million square feet of total floor area and buildings up to 60 feet high. The main building will be set back from its industrial and residential neighbors by 718 feet to the east, 930 feet to the north, 377 feet to the south, and 672 feet to the west, by the city border with Montgomery County. A sound wall will be installed near the site’s northwest corner where it comes closest to residential properties. The latest update provides still further concessions.
The prior design called for landscape berms along the site perimeter, largely blocking the facility and on-site truck traffic from outside view. Previous renderings showed the berms covered in grass, but the latest update added a considerable amount of trees and other vegetation on top of and alongside the berms, increasing the total number of on-site plantings to 995, which is 52 percent more than is required by the Zoning Code. On the plans, the six stormwater runoff detention ponds, which were present in the prior iteration, have been relabeled as rain gardens to better reflect their nature. Light fixtures will use cutoff shields and other accessories to reduce visibility from the surrounding properties.
Since the distribution center will contribute to local traffic, the revised proposal will provide roadway improvements at a number of local streets, highways and intersections.
Though a small yet vocal group of local residents are opposed to the development, the site has a rich industrial past. During World War II, before suburban-style residential development arrived in the area, the site was used to manufacture transportation equipment for the war effort. After the war, the Budd Company purchased the site where it built railcars, employing almost 2,000 workers in the 1960s and 1970s.
The factory shut down in 1987. In the 1990s, Transit America purchased the site, carried out a decontamination process to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) buried in barrels around the property, then sold the site to White Pine Partners LLC, which in the early 2000s built a golf course, which operated until 2011. The owner sold the property to Teva, a pharmaceutical company that sought to built a warehouse on the land, but backed out two years later. The Commercial Development Corporation purchased the site in March 2018 and marketed it as space for a nearly 1.9 million-square-foot distribution facility.
The currently proposed development is part of UPS’s $1 billion Pennsylvania investment plan, which intends to “modernize and expand the UPS network across the Commonwealth,” according to the developers’ design statement. The statement also notes that the project will provide around 1,200 permanent jobs, many of which will be “well-paying union jobs with excellent benefit packages,” and that UPS will focus on recruitment from the local area.
Whether the proposed amendments will pacify local opposition figures, the project is ultimately beneficial for both the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Delivery services will almost certainly continue to grow in importance in a society altered by both online services, social distancing, and working from home, and cities need upgraded infrastructure to deal with increased deliveries. Road improvements will benefit not just delivery truck drivers but local residents and businesses, as well. The jobs that the project will generate, both the above-mentioned permanent, community-oriented ones and the hundreds of construction jobs, are especially important in the currently strained job market.