West Chester Brownfield to Go Amazon Blue but – Can They Make it Green?

Once home to a penicillin plant, the 30-acre brownfield site on the southeast end of town is looking at a new life as an Amazon distribution center.

According to Amazon’s website they are committed to being “net-zero carbon by 2040” and powered by “100% renewable energy by 2025.” Impressive goals but can its efforts match its now massive scale? Move off the company webpage and reviews are more mixed. While we can’t inspect the entire company we can take a micro look at what is happening at the construction of one warehouse on the east end of town.

Last month, the new Amazon warehouse planned for 611 E. Nields Street went through its first round of reviews by the Borough of West Chester. These included borough engineers, a traffic study, the Borough Planning Commission, Tree Commission and the Sustainability Advisory Committee, which compared the project plans against its established checklist for sustainable development.

“The project scored very well on our checklist and the developer has since committed to installing what will be West Chester’s largest solar array, which could make the building net zero,” West Chester Sustainability Director Will Williams said about the project. “Between that, the LED lighting, environmental remediation, new trees and rain gardens, electric vehicle infrastructure and the eventual tenant’s practice of procuring clean energy through a corporate Power Purchase Agreement, the project will have some serious green credentials we can objectively applaud.”

It’s a good start and made even more promising when you consider the alternatives for the site.

“As long as the borough council stays focused and does not make concessions… then the project should be a net success with plentiful jobs within walking distance or a SEPTA bus line for many.”

-Gillian Alicea, Chair, West Chester Sustainability Committee
In addition to keeping the street trees where they can, developers are looking to plant more than 200 trees at the site.

“While I know the occupant of the building is not a favorable company to many,” Sustainability Advisory Committee Chair Gillian Alicea said in an email. “I am keeping in mind that this land is highly contaminated and would cost millions of dollars to remediate in a way that would make it safe for residential or usable green space, making those highly unlikely options. As long as the borough council stays focused and does not make concessions by granting variances around our legislation, then the project should be a net success with plentiful jobs within walking distance or SEPTA bus line for many.”

In addition to energy improvements the developers are also undertaking a number of stormwater management initiatives.

Flooding and water management

As anyone who has tried to cross from the westside to the east during a rainstorm knows, the area south of Market Street is prone to flooding. In their report to the borough’s Planning Commission the Tree Commission voiced their concern over the site’s lack of interior plantings particularly in the extensive parking areas. 

“The [Tree Commission] was concerned that all this additional impervious coverage within the Goose Creek watershed will exacerbate the already serious flooding problems in this drainage area,” the team wrote in their report to Borough Council. 

While these concerns were not addressed directly, the developers will be planting 205 new trees around the perimeter of the property. They have also pledged to keep as many mature street trees as construction allows.

To further manage stormwater runoff the site will utilize a series of lined underground basins. Stormwater, as well as any Goose Creek flood waters, will be diverted into these basins and several biofiltration areas located mainly around the perimeter of the property. 

“They are trying not only to control the quantity of water off the site but increase the quality as well,” a representative of the project shared at last month’s Smart Growth meeting. 

So far plans for the project seem promising but if you do have concerns about the proposal or its impact on the borough, now is the time to reach out to your council person and make your concerns heard.

“I have spent a lot of volunteer time fighting national developers and the one thing I’ve learned is that waiting until an application is submitted means you’re already playing catch up,” Gillian said.  

The borough also looked at traffic implications, more on that here. Plus, how the borough is planning for its own energy initiatives and where to park your electric car.

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest updates from West Chester.

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