Massive warehouse in Lawrence goes to town board with an unanswered question: Who's coming?

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Green Bay Press-Gazette

TOWN OF LAWRENCE -  New details have begun to answer some questions about a proposal to build a $200 million warehouse that would operate around the clock in this town southwest of Green Bay, but one key detail remains unanswered.

Who would the town's new neighbor be?

Trammell Crow Co., a national real estate developer based in Dallas, is seeking approval to build a 90-foot-tall distribution center on roughly 110 acres of a 150-acre site bounded by Freedom Road, Williams Grant Drive and Mid Valley Drive. The 630,000-square-foot building, nicknamed Project Badger, would include a total of 2.9 million square feet of space spread over five floors.

Trammell Crow provided updated details to the community as recently as Nov. 15:

  • The warehouse would operate 24/7 and include 49 loading docks, 1,250 car parking stalls and 265 semi-trailer stalls.
  • It would directly create 1,500 new, full-time jobs in the region and indirectly create another 700 jobs in the area.
  • Two landscape berms would be created on the northwest and southwest corners of the site. The berms are 15 feet tall, but part of the northwest berm's height was raised to 25 feet to address resident input.
  • Hourly traffic estimates indicate between 400 and 500 total trips to/from the site during peak morning and afternoon hours and a general traffic estimate of 63 vehicles per hour during non-peak hours. About 5% of peak traffic would be truck traffic.
  • The warehouse will not provide "last mile" operations that involve vans delivering orders to individual customers.
  • Semi-truck traffic would primarily arrive and depart from Mid Valley Drive or Freedom Road entrances while a driveway on Williams Grant, closer to residences, would be used by employees.
  • The warehouse will cost about $200 million to build, but town officials said they are not sure how much property value the warehouse would add to the town's tax rolls.
  • It would require the extension of water and sewer service south along Mid Valley Drive to service the site. Town staff said the work would cost millions of dollars but have not identified how it will be funded.
  • Reports reference a "user" and a "tenant," which implies the building will be leased, not owned by the end-user.

The development's opponents said who will use the space is important for several reasons. They wondered about future use of an undeveloped 40-acre parcel north of the building site and whether the tenant can recruit 1,500 workers at a time when most employers in the region have "Help Wanted" signs in their windows.

'No going back'

Lawrence residents packed the town hall on Wednesday evening for a Planning and Zoning Board hearing on whether to rezone the land to allow the warehouse to be built and to allow it to exceed the town's maximum building height of 60 feet.

Close to 20 residents spoke during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, with warehouse opponents outnumbering supporters more than two to one. After the public hearing, the board voted unanimously to recommend the town board approve the project.

Opponents said traffic, truck noise, the building's size and its location wouldn't fit in a corner of the town where a lot of families live and more homes are coming. They want to see mixed-use development with shops, clinics, parks, restaurants and other amenities. Town resident Kathy Schmidt said the project would turn the area into an industrial park with a building as tall as the Bay Beach Big Wheel.

"In my opinion, the risks to this project potentially outweigh the financial benefits of the property taxes this project would generate," Schmidt said. "If this building is approved, there is no going back."

Kari Vannieuwenhoven told the board her family moved from De Pere to Lawrence two years ago for the peaceful setting. She said the warehouse proposal is making her regret the choice.

"This is a massive development that doesn't align with the town's current comprehensive plan and would make it impossible to maintain the rural feel of the town," Vannieuwenhoven said. "This will destroy the town of Lawrence."

Supporters of the plan touted the need for more tax base and the warehouse's potential to spark the kind of retail and commercial developments residents want. Mike Gildernick is the third generation of his family to run Lone Maple Farm, off Mid Valley Drive, and remembers when subdivisions encroached on the town's longtime farms.

"We didn't like it when (subdivisions and residents) came, but we didn't complain," Gildernick said. "I see this as benefiting the town. It will bring other developments."

The Planning and Zoning Board's approval means the town board could consider Trammell Crow's request as soon as Dec. 13, said Patrick Wetzel, Lawrence's town administrator.

Who is it? There are clues.

Municipalities do not need to know who will use a building in order to consider requests to change zoning for a development like this warehouse, but many residents said who will use the building is important to them.

It is one of the few resident questions Trammell Crow has declined to answer to date, saying the project is only in the early stages of development.

"We anticipate sharing more information on who the tenant is once we get further along in the development process," Trammell Crow wrote.

That didn't stop several residents from saying they suspect it will be an Amazon warehouse.

Planning documents, project details and construction plans submitted to the city don't identify the tenant, but they do provide a few clues that support that suspicion.

Building plans include examples of the colors and materials to be used on the building. These documents note that the blue strip across the top of the building is a specific color, Pantone 2995C , and that the same blue will be used for the tenant's logo on a monument sign on the site. The color has been included in planning documents for other Amazon buildings, and is referred to on some websites as Amazon Prime Blue .

The building plans also closely resemble a 2.9 million-square-foot warehouse being built for Amazon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota . That building also includes a 635,000-square-foot footprint, five floors and 1,200-plus parking spaces.

Trammell Crow's responses to frequently asked questions about the project included a note that the tenant has a non-idling truck policy and has set a goal to be net carbon neutral by 2040, which matches Amazon's timeline for achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Shelly Magnin, a Noah Road resident who lives 200 yards from the proposed site, said residents need to know who the user is in order to gauge their commitment to sustainability measures.

"When we don't know who we're dealing with, how can we trust their ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) standards?" Magnin asked.

Magnin said she would rather see a mix of commercial and industrial uses that benefit the town's residents beyond tax base growth. She said Trammell Crow was doing what it needed to to get the project approved while residents "just want to stay where they've been for 20 years."

"I still have some significant concerns," Magnin said. "This is an irreversible, long-term decision."

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or . Follow him on Twitter at @GBstreetwise .

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Massive warehouse in Lawrence goes to town board with an unanswered question: Who's coming?

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