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The Amazon warehouse is expected

his 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfilment center sits on about 104 acres of land in Gaines Township.

his 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center sits on about 104 acres of land in Gaines Township.

The Amazon warehouse is expected to have a direct impact on schools and traffic in the region.

Pull quote:
“We anticipate there’s going to be increased activities of all sorts.”
Adam Paarlberg, Caledonia Township Planning Commission chairman 

Amazon warehouse expected to affect traffic patterns, need for school funds

Thornapple Kellogg school officials considering bond request 

Hunter Dood
Staff Writer
If Thornapple Kellogg school officials are correct, the opening of the Amazon fulfillment center in Gaines Township will increase student enrollment in the district.
Amazon, the e-commerce powerhouse, is finishing its 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center on the corner of 68th Street and Patterson Avenue in southeastern Kent County, a Gaines Township official confirmed this week.
The land was purchased from Steelcase Inc., and the building sits on approximately 104 acres, Matt McKernan, assistant planner for planning and zoning in Gaines Township, said. 
The warehouse, announced nearly a year ago, is expected to add as many as 1,000 jobs. Reports have indicated it will open in the fall.
“It is my best opinion that we will see growth in enrollment,” Thornapple Kellogg Superintendent Rob Blitchok said.
The school district, which includes Middleville and parts of Gun Lake and Freeport, has been growing every year, Blitchok said.
Now school officials expect that Amazon warehouse will only add to that growth.
Blitchok said the district is considering asking voters to approve a bond request to help pay for additional classrooms to accommodate the growth.
That bond wouldn’t increase residents' tax rate, he noted, but it would keep the rate at the same level for a longer period of time. The expected increase in property values in the Thornapple Kellogg school district would allow them to extend the district debt levy for another three to five years without changing the tax rate. 
If the school district were to vote for a bond, he said, it would be for approximately $36 million, which would be raised in that three- to five-year timeframe.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Blitchok said. “We’re going to take this challenge head-on.”
However, Paul Wing, the chairman of the Agriculture Preservation Board in Barry County, said he sees reason for concern.
The Barry County Board of Commissioners recently approved amendments to the county's farmland preservation ordinance and created an open space preservation ordinance to protect against unrestricted development.
“We need to develop, but not on good farmland,” Wing said. “So, I am concerned about [Amazon] being on potential farmland.”
Caledonia Township officials acknowledge the Amazon facility will have an impact on their community from a growth perspective, but they have not come up with any definite proposals in their planning documents to address the project.
“We haven’t made it a specific agenda item,” township planning commission chairman Adam Paarlberg said. “Of course, there’s going to be a spillover [from the growth] into our township.”
Tim Bradshaw, a township trustee who also serves on the planning commission, is a representative in a group known as the Four Corners, consisting of officials from the City of Kentwood as well as the townships of Caledonia, Gaines and Cascade. They meet periodically to discuss issues of mutual concern in the four communities.
“It hasn’t been a focus, honestly,” Bradshaw said of the group’s discussions. “I think all of the communities are going to be surprised. 
“With 1,000 new jobs, it’s going to create at least a short-term housing boom,” he said. “All of these people need to live somewhere.”
“The second (impact) is the traffic all around the entire area is going to change, drastically – a thousand trips [for employees],” Bradshaw said, “not to mention all the trucks” that will be using M-37 and other nearby roads.
Amazon added a fulfillment center in a much larger city, Kenosha, Wis., in 2015 and Kenosha Development Coordinator Brian Wilke said they haven’t had many issues with it; Amazon officials did everything they said they would. 
But traffic can be an issue around the shift change and around the holidays, he said. 
“We’ve had county sheriffs out directing traffic at times. We didn’t expect that,” Wilke said.
In Gaines Township, McKernan, the planning and zoning department official, said Amazon had improvements in mind for the area to create better traffic flow.
Amazon suggested the Kent County Road Commission re-stripe lanes on eastbound 60th Street and 68th Street at M-37, creating a shared through/right-turn lane at those intersections. All road work is being funded by Amazon, he said.
Gaines Township officials concluded that the improvements made in the traffic impact study conducted by Amazon “should adequately address traffic concerns and result in acceptable levels of service.”    
“Truck traffic won’t be noticeable,” Gaines Township Supervisor Robert DeWard said.
According to the Gaines Township staff report from the Amazon approval hearing, the warehouse added a new spine road to “ensure segregation of delivery truck traffic from car traffic.”
According to DeWard, those trucks will be traveling north on M-37 away from Barry County and toward M-6 and the airport.
Brad Lamberg, managing director of the Barry County Road Commission, said he doesn’t foresee Amazon warehouse traffic becoming an issue for this county.
“I don’t see a big impact on county roads in Barry County,” Lamberg said. “If anything, people will try to avoid M-37 more than they already do.”

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