Shipping trailers ready to be loaded up at the 640,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse in Nampa, Idaho last year. Photo: Adobe Stock/Tracy King

Some residents are challenging the standard being used by town planners to evaluate potential traffic impacts from the proposed logistics center on Middle Road in Calverton, arguing that the standard being used by the town does not apply to the actual use being proposed.

NorthPoint/Riverhead Logistics is seeking approvals to build a 50-foot-tall, 641,000-square-foot warehouse facility on 39.7 acres of currently vacant, wooded land on the west end of Middle Road at the terminus of Manor Road. The site is in the Industrial A zoning district which allows “warehouse” as a permitted use.

The applicant describes its proposed facility as a “modern Class A high cube warehouse.” Those are specific terms in the logistics industry used to describe state-of-the-art, often highly automated, facilities built specifically to benefit the e-commerce supply chain.

NorthPoint/Riverhead Logistics has said it does not yet have a tenant or tenants for the proposed warehouse facility. There is a growing demand for Class A high-cube warehouse space in the region, according to the company.

Riverhead’s industrial zoning codes (outside the Calverton Enterprise Park) were adopted in 2004, after the adoption of the town’s current comprehensive plan. The codes have not been updated to reflect the new types of warehouse uses that are now being developed to meet the needs of modern freight handling and logistics in the era of e-commerce, including distribution centers, fulfillment centers and high-cube warehouses.

In its draft scoping statement — the document that details the scope of environmental review for assessing potential adverse impacts of an action — NorthPoint/Riverhead Logistics estimates traffic impacts of its proposed facility using trip generation data from the manual published by the Institue of Transportation Engineers (ITE). The manual estimates trip generation data for all possible types of land uses — industrial, retail, residential, office, recreational, etc. — and is relied on by planners and traffic engineers to project traffic impacts of proposed uses.

In it draft scoping statement, NorthPoint used the ITE land use code used for general warehousing (ITE land use code 150) to estimate traffic impacts for its proposed Class A high-cube warehouse. ITE has updated has its manual to include land use codes and trip-generation estimates for different types of high-cube warehouses (ITE land use codes 154, 155, 156. And 157), but NorthPoint’s scoping statement uses ITE land use code 150, which is the code for estimating trip generation for traditional warehouses.

The detail caught the attention of at least two local residents, who have questioned town planning officials about the review standard being used, because high-cube warehousing uses have higher trip-generation numbers than standard warehousing uses.

Calverton resident Vinny Schiavone, who lives in a neighborhood off Twomey Avenue, near the proposed logistics center, brought the differences to the attention of the Planning Board during a public hearing on NorthPoint’s draft scoping statement in September. Schiavone’s career in corporate management includes work in the trucking logistics and third-party logistics industries. He told the Planning Board he had attended the community meeting hosted by NorthPoint to present its proposal.

“I grew immediately alarmed when I heard terminology like distribution center, logistics, cross-dock operations,” Schiavone said. In cross-docking, products are unloaded from a truck, sorted, and directly reloaded onto outbound trucks.

“Obviously, this is not a traditional warehouse project. There are distinct differences between traditional warehousing and a supply chain distribution center with cross-dock operations,” Schiavone told the board at the scouting hearing. “The primary purpose of a warehouse is to store inventory for an extended period of time. The primary focus of a distribution center is all about package volume, speed, efficiency, and limited inventory,” he said.

“Traffic volume is difficult to project without knowing who the tenants will be,” Schiavone said. But even knowing the tenants, other questions would still need to be answered, including anticipated package volume, average storage time, and holiday season volume increases, which could quadruple package volume, he said.

The final scoping statement approved by the Planning Board in October uses the same ITE land use code (150) for warehousing to estimate trips generation for the NorthPoint facility.

Riverhead planner Greg Bergman told RiverheadLOCAL last month that the Planning Board’s traffic engineering consultants, L.K. McLean, “found that the proposed trip generation calculations appeared reasonable.”

Schiavone disagrees and told the Planning Board so at its last meeting on Jan. 6.

The ITE defines five different categories of high-cube warehouses, each with their own ITE land-use code Schiavone told the board.

“They’re not a traditional warehouse that should be utilizing a 150 land use code,” he said.

They have “dramatically different” traffic calculations, he said.

According to the ITE manual’s tables, fulfillment centers can generate seven times more traffic than traditional warehouses, Schiavone said in an interview after the meeting.

In written comments on a separate application for a 30-acre industrial park in Calverton, where 412,000 square-feet of industrial uses are proposed, Jamesport resident Barbara Blass also challenged the use of ITE land-use code 150 for estimating traffic impacts of NorthPoint/Riverhead.

“Utilizing the same ITE code to estimate trip generation numbers for Riverhead Logistics Center, a high-cube logistics distribution center, defies logic,” Blass wrote.

The ITE manual uses a traffic generation rate of .19 trips per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for a standard warehouse (ITE code 150) and 1.37 trips per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for a high-cube fulfillment center warehouse (ITE code 155), Blass wrote.

“As a result, the projected number of vehicle trips generated is grossly underestimated which may also have implications on the level of service conclusions at the designated intersections,” she wrote.

The planning department referred Blass’ comments to the town’s traffic consultants L.K. McClean, Bergman said. He provided RiverheadLOCAL with a copy of the consultants’ Jan. 11 memo to to planning staff in response to Blass’ comments.

Raymond DiBiase of LKMA wrote in the memo that Blass’ trip generation numbers were taken from the ITE Trip Generation Manual 10th edition (2020) which was updated by the 11th edition of the manual in 2021. The 11th edition update created two subcategories for high-cube fulfillment center warehouse (ITE code 155: high-cube fulfillment center warehouse — sort and high-cube fulfillment center warehouse — non-sort, DiBiase wrote.

DiBiase defended LKMA’s conclusions.

“The daily vehicular generation rate for Code 155 is 6% higher than Code 150,” he wrote, “however, the weekday AM and weekday [PM] peak hour rates are both 11% lower using Code 155. Therefore, our prior conclusions regarding the trip generation calculations for the Riverhead Logistics Center remain valid,” DiBiase wrote.

He attached to his memo several pages from the ITE manual pertaining to warehousing (ITE code 150) and high-cube fulfillment center warehouse — non-sort, including trip-generation estimate calculations and definitions.

DiBiase did not include or reference ITE manual pages with estimates for the high-cube fulfillment center warehouse — sort subcategory.

“A sort facility is a fulfillment center that ships out smaller items, requiring extensive sorting, typically by manual means. A non-sort facility is a fulfillment center that ships large box items that are processed primarily with automation rather than through manual means,” the ITE manual reads at page 157.

The Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Planning Commission has done extensive work to provide guidance to municipalities to help them prepare for and review these new warehousing uses. The LVPC published a guidebook on the subject in 2020, which was updated in 2021, a spokesperson for the commission told RiverheadLOCAL. The content of the guidebook is published online.

According to LVPC’s analysis, using ITE trip generation estimates, high-cube sort warehouses have total daily vehicle trips nearly four times higher than high-cube non-sort warehouses.

The LVPC guidebook points out that the “ITE manual calculates traffic based only on gross floor area, a reflection of traditional warehouse footprints, which may not necessarily reflect the impacts of structures with storage capacity of 100 vertical feet or more. In essence, by measuring only floor area ITE treats a 24-foot-tall building with a floor area of 200,000 square feet the same as it treats a 100-foot-tall building with 200,000 square feet of floor area. In reality, the 100-foot-tall high cube or automated warehouse building is akin to stacking four traditional warehouses on top of each other.”

The warehouse Northpoint/Riverhead Logistics is looking to build is not quite akin to stacking two warehouses on top of each other. It is proposing a 50-foot tall building, which is 66% taller than the maximum building height of 30 feet allowed in the Industrial A zoning district. The plan will require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

High-cube warehouses are taller than regular warehouses — Riverhead Logistics/North Point’s proposed facility, for example, is five stories tall, whereas standard warehouses are one or two stories. The extra height is designed to accommodate the highly automated functions of these new types of warehouses.

NorthPoint’s plans include 305 spaces for passenger vehicles and an additional 143 trailer parking spaces are proposed.. All parking stalls for passenger vehicles would be 10 feet wide by 20 feet deep. Trailer parking spaces would be 12 feet wide by 55 feet long.

LKMA said in its Jan. 11 memo to planning staff that, due to the site’s “proximity to the LI Expressway, the overwhelming majority of trips to and from the facility will utilize the LI Expressway. A much smaller percentage of its generated traffic can be expected to utilize NY Route 25/Middle Country Road and pass by the HK Ventures site (west of the NorthPoint site)…”

The site does not have direct access to the L.I. Expressway, though the developer has said it will seek such access by permission of the State Department of Transportation. Expressway-bound traffic would have to take Manor Road to Middle Country Road to the westbound on-ramp located east of Splish-Splash Water Park.

The memo does not address the expected route of any eastbound trips generated by the site. Since the site is located at the terminus of the L.I. Expressway, the expressway is not an option for eastbound traffic, which would travel eastbound on Middle Road eastbound or take Manor Road to NY25/Middle Country Road and travel eastbound on either NY25 or County Route 58.

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