City of Morgan Hill

Responding to an ongoing public refrain against the development of massive fulfillment centers in the city limits, the Morgan Hill City Council is considering a zoning amendment that would prohibit such distribution facilities.

However, the city’s proposal doesn’t do enough to ban all types of industrial fulfillment centers, according to the president of the Morgan Hill Responsible Growth Coalition. The coalition has collected more than 3,000 signatures for a local ordinance initiative that would prohibit modern-day fulfillment centers in Morgan Hill.

The city council was scheduled to vote Oct. 28 on a proposed zoning amendment that regulates e-commerce facilities, prohibits “heavy distribution and parcel sorting uses” and updates “provisions related to local delivery services,” reads a city staff report. The proposed amendment also defines “significant projects” that would require planning commission review, rather than approval by staff.

The planning commission voted 5-2 on Sept. 22 to recommend the zoning amendment for approval. The council’s Oct. 28 meeting will start at 7pm. Visit the city’s website for instruction on how to join the online meeting.

Specifically, the zoning amendment proposed by city staff prohibits fulfillment centers “by clarifying that heavy distribution and parcel sorting uses are not permitted in any zone in the city,” says the city staff report. However, the amendment would define and allow a new classification of “parcel hub” or “last mile” facility, which would be an industrial center with 75,000 square feet or less of floor area with delivery vehicles rated at 10,000 pounds or less—about the size of a van.

Parcel hub proposals larger than 75,000 square feet would require a conditional use permit, according to the proposed zoning amendment.

Furthermore, the zoning amendment proposal defines “significant projects”—subject to planning commission review—as any proposed project larger than 100,000 square feet; 40 feet in height or taller; or any residential development of 200 units or more. Currently, the city’s community development director determines if a project is significant “based on subjective findings,” says the city staff report.

The council’s Oct. 28 review of the proposed zoning changes occurs months after the MHRGC began circulating a petition to adopt a draft city ordinance that would prohibit and 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.”

The proposed city amendment defines a fulfillment center as 200,000 square feet with a maximum ceiling height of 24 feet, whose primary use is “storage and distribution of e-commerce products to end users,” says the city staff report.

The MHRGC initiative petition was started in July by a group of local residents and business owners after Trammell Crow proposed the Morgan Hill Technology Park near the U.S. 101 interchange with Cochrane Road. That proposal included six industrial/commercial buildings ranging in size from about 80,000 to 220,000 square feet each. Trammell Crow withdrew those plans in September, but the company still owns the property.

Joe Baranowski, president of the MHRGC, said the zoning amendment proposed at the Oct. 28 council meeting would open the door for Trammell Crow to propose a project similar to the one it withdrew.

Baranowski called the zoning amendment proposal a “poor response” to the MHRGC initiative. He noted that if the council approves the amendment Oct. 28, that does not prevent the MHRGC from submitting its initiative for an upcoming ballot measure, if their petition is validated by city and election officials.

MHRGC members have hoped that city officials would work more closely with them on drafting an ordinance that not only addresses truck traffic, but also encourages employers offering higher-paying jobs to Morgan Hill and discourages facilities that rely on automation instead of people.

“The entire proposal makes no sense. We need the city to do what they said, which is cooperate with a broader group of people—not rush this proposal and (they should) sit down, discuss our differences and respect the fact that the citizens have spoken and they want the initiative,” Baranowski said.

Councilmembers have previously agreed with the intent of the MHRGC initiative.

The city’s proposed zoning amendment would not automatically apply to development proposals within the Morgan Hill Ranch Business Park off Cochrane Road, according to the city staff report. That business park is under a planned development agreement, dating back to 1981, that requires all permits for projects within the park be issued by city staff instead of the planning commission or city council.

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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