Dane County just took one step closer to becoming the home for one of the largest Amazon facilities in the country.
On Monday, the Cottage Grove Board of Trustees approved a proposal from the e-commerce giant Amazon to build a 3.4 million square foot facility. The $200 million distribution center, located at the intersection of highways TT and N in the village of Cottage Grove, a suburb of Madison, would span 145 acres and create around 1500 jobs.
The facility would be situated in Cottage Grove's newest tax incremental financing district — which would allow the village to use tax dollars generated from the development to fund upgrades on or near the site until 2037.
“While the project is part of [a tax increment financing] district, the village would receive 100% of new tax revenue from the project. This would total about $4.6 million annually,” said the village administrator, Matt Geise, adding that Amazon would far and away be the biggest village taxpayer. According to Geise, Cottage Grove has requested no tax assistance to aid the project.
In statements to the Wisconsin State Journal, Geise has asserted that the project could increase the village's tax evaluation by $300 to $400 million, which would be a significant bolster to the village's current $900 million valuation, as well as to the surrounding areas.
“It’s a huge economic win for the village and Dane County as a whole,” Giese said. “It’s just an ideal location.”
Many residents pushed back against this assertion, expressing concerns that the facility would increase traffic around the area.
According to a traffic study commissioned by project developer Trammell Crow, the site is expected to generate 403 trips during peak morning commuter hours between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. In the evening peak there would be 436 trips.
Village engineers are studying improvements to the county highway to accommodate the increased traffic load.
“Those improvements will mitigate the large extent of those increases. There’s a lot of capacity to those roads and those roundabouts that are there, so there’s plenty of capacity to add what's coming,” added Geise.
At the Village Board of Trustees meeting, residents expressed additional reservations on a range of topics, including environmental impacts of the facility such as stormwater runoff, potential decreases in property value of those living near the facility and a sense that the facility would change the village for the worse.
Michelle Rutta-Wahe, a resident and business owner in Cottage Grove who has worked with Amazon in the past, castigated Amazon as a “fox in sheep's clothing,” saying “Amazon does what Amazon wants to do,” a sentiment echoed by many other residents. She called for the approval to be postponed until the corporation can be fully vetted, suggesting that the village could listen to the experiences of other jurisdictions with large Amazon facilities to truly understand the impact such facilities can have on the area.
“This can fall on the backs of us if something goes awry, not only next year but twenty or thirty years from now,” Rutta-Wahe said.
Matt Dunning, a resident of Cottage Grove, called for a 30 day deferment to reexamine the development proposal and reconsider. He referenced Governor Tony Evers' statements during his State of the State address last Tuesday, when the Governor announced a 2.5% unemployment rate, the lowest in the state's history.
“Where are these 1500 employees going to come from?” Dunning said. “These are low numbers.”
Cottage Grove resident Katie Schwab expressed concern that the Amazon facility would change the look of Cottage Grove for the worse, fearing that it could turn Cottage Grove into “a factory town”. She called to postpone or say no to the project altogether.
“We have always prided ourselves of being a nice suburb of Madison, and I think that is going to take the feeling away,” Schwab said. “If you guys really listened to all of the residents of Cottage Grove, nobody wants this.”
Some residents expressed frustration that they weren’t made aware about the project, initially referred to only by a code name, Project Silver Eagle, until only very recently. In response to these concerns, Geise said the village does not make projects public until a developer applies for or moves forward with a proposal.
Village staff members compiled a memo recommending a number of conditions be put in place, including protecting an existing environmental easement at the site as well as mitigation practices. Kimberley Tucker, a resident of Sun Prairie, spoke about the disconnect between what Amazon wants and what the community wants.
“I don’t think that they care about the impact that they are going to have on the environment or our property values,” Tucker said. “They don’t care about our roads, they don’t care about our neighbors, they don’t care about our creeks or the runoff, the wildlife. I can strongly say that they don’t care about our local businesses either.”
Morgan Baer Blaska, a senior associate for Trammell Crow Company, said the site had been updated to include two additional sound walls west and north of the building, as well as an improved retaining wall and Dark Sky compliant lighting to minimize light pollution at night. The east side of the site also includes a conservation easement on which Amazon cannot build.
After the plan commission gave its initial approval last Wednesday and the precise implementation plan was presented to the full village board on Monday, Cottage Grove and Trammell Crow will enter into a development agreement to seek building permits. According to Geise, further approvals will still be needed, but if approved, construction could begin later this year with the facility opening 18 months later.