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Morgan Hill
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September 22, 2020

Initiative would ban fulfillment centers from Morgan Hill

Signature gatherers will be out Sept. 4-5

Proponents have begun collecting signatures for an initiative that would prohibit new fulfillment and modern-day distribution centers in the city limits of Morgan Hill, and require more intensive regulatory review of all large-scale development proposals.

Members of Morgan Hill Responsible Growth Coalition (MHRGC) in August filed a notice of intent to circulate a petition for the Responsible Growth Initiative, and began collecting signatures last week. If at least 10 percent of Morgan Hill’s registered voters sign the petition—and if officials certify the petition—the initiative will go to the elected city council. The council could decide to adopt the initiative—which would amend the city’s zoning code—or place it on a future election ballot for the voters to decide. 

The MHRGC has been advocating against large-scale distribution centers in Morgan Hill since Trammell Crow purchased property for the proposed Technology Center near the U.S. 101 Cochrane Road interchange. The proponents say fulfillment centers—which are not currently defined in the local zoning ordinance—could detract from the “small-town” character of Morgan Hill by creating more traffic, noise and pollution. The MHRGC petition also argues that fulfillment centers could disrupt retail and tourism business, and are unlikely to create an abundance of high-paying jobs compared to traditional manufacturing or industrial projects.

“The purpose of this ordinance is to preserve the small-town feel and family-friendly character of Morgan Hill, to protect the health and safety of its residents, and to support the viability of local businesses by enacting legislation that will enable our city to remain distinctive in the midst of the rapidly changing logistics and distribution industry,” says the notice of intent to circulate the petition.

If approved by the city council or voters in a future election, the initiative would amend the city’s zoning code to define “fulfillment centers” as “any structure with greater than 75,000 square feet of floor area that has more than one dock-high-door per 25,000 square feet and a clear ceiling height of more than twenty-four (24) feet over more than 25 percent of its floor area,” says the petition notice.

A “dock-high door” is a loading dock doorway that is elevated from ground level to line up with the standard height of a tractor-trailer, the petition clarifies.

The notice adds, “Any such structure would be classified as a fulfillment center regardless of actual use. The measure would prohibit uses and structures that meet the definition of a fulfillment center in all zones within the City.”

Three proponents signed the notice to petition: MHRGC President Joseph Baranowski, Westmont Living President Andrew Plant and Paramit Corporation CFO Rick Kent.

Westmont Living is a senior living community off Cochrane Road, next door to the proposed Trammell Crow Technology Center. Paramit Corporation is a manufacturer of medical devices located on Madrone Parkway.

The initiative seeks to give Morgan Hill residents more of a voice in the approval of new large-scale development projects proposed in Morgan Hill. Thus the ordinance would require the city’s planning commission to review any proposed large-scale development projects, which would be defined as “a project that includes more than 75,000 square feet of new floor area, or is a new building or an addition to an existing building that is more than 35 feet in height, regardless of use,” reads the petition notice.

The proponents also argue that fulfillment centers contravene the city’s General Plan, the goal of which is to “maintain Morgan Hill’s family-friendly character and strong sense of community while the community grows and prospers,” according to the petition.

“This ordinance safeguards our General Plan and land use entitlement process, allowing it to evolve in a sustainable manner that encourages high quality job growth and meets the needs of our residents and visitors,” says the petition.

MHRGC representatives will be out in public areas this week with paper copies of the petition, collecting signatures. They will be collecting signatures 5pm to 8pm Sept. 4 at the Third Street Parking Plaza; and from 9am to 1pm Sept. 5 at the Morgan Hill Farmers’ Market on Depot Street. 

Baranowski said volunteers who support the Responsible Growth Initiative have been out spreading the word. “They are out in neighborhoods collecting signatures and engaging with neighbors because they believe the Initiative is important and their response has been energizing to our team and, I believe, to many residents,” Baranowski said in an email to the Times. 

Under the city’s current zoning ordinance, projects that fall within MHRGC’s proposed definition of a fulfillment center would be considered traditional “warehouse” or “distribution” uses within the Industrial zoning category.

“Revisions to the Zoning Code have not kept pace with the evolution of e-commerce and (fail) to adequately distinguish characteristics of traditional ‘warehouse and distribution’ from modern-day Fulfillment Centers,” says the Responsible Growth Initiative petition.

Among the unique traits of modern fulfillment centers is the use of advanced automation technology—or robots—to complete daily operations, the petition says.

Trammell Crow’s proposed Morgan Hill Technology Center’s project specifications indicate it would fall under the prospective definition of a fulfillment center. Baranowski said MHRGC is hoping that their initiative will result in modifications to Trammel Crow’s current plans for the MHTC site. 

City staff and a consultant recently completed an environmental study of the MHTC proposal, which includes six buildings ranging in size from about 80,000 to 220,000 square feet each.

A mix of industrial, residential and commercial uses are proposed for MHTC, which would be located just off the intersection of Cochrane Road and De Paul Drive.

Trammell Crow representatives have said they do not have any tenants lined up for the MHTC project. 

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