JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Residents in Johnston expressed concerns Tuesday night regarding a controversial proposal to build a massive retail distribution center off of Route 6.
The company behind the project, Bluewater Property Group, is eyeing approximately 4 million square feet of property to house the facility, which is located off of a busy section of Hartford Avenue near I-295.
The Johnston Town Planning Board unanimously approved the development during a special hearing Tuesday night.
The project is rumored to be an Amazon.com facility, however, neither the town nor the developers have mentioned the company by name while discussing the plans.
The proposed facility was first brought to light earlier this year after flyers were anonymously distributed to residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the property where it would be built.
Joshua Garofano of Bluewater Property Group provided insight as to how the business would operate. While he wouldn’t say whether Amazon.com would be moving into the facility, he did say tractor-trailer trucks would be coming and going quite frequently.
“This facility strictly will be for tractor-trailers,” Garofano said.
Garofano explained that tractor-trailers would be bringing products to the facility to be stored. He also added that items would be sorted and shipped to other facilities from the Johnston location.
John Bolton, the attorney representing Bluewater Property Group, called a series of witnesses during the hearing to address the public’s concerns regarding both environmental and traffic impacts.
One Johnston resident that spoke during public comment asked Bolton how many vehicles would be coming and going from the facility at a time. Bolton estimated it would be anywhere between 400-500 trucks throughout the course of a day.
“The maximum per hour could be 30, but it could also be 10, so it’s not 30 per hour over the course of 24 hours,” he said.
Bolton also said the facility would create approximately 1,000 jobs, and employees would be arriving at and leaving the site in multiple shifts.
Another resident asked how the construction of the facility, as well as the influx of tractor-trailer trucks once its completed, would impact traffic in the area.
“Route 6 can be a parking lot and so can I-295,” the resident said. “So I’m wondering how 30 trucks an hour and maybe 250 and 450 employees per shift isn’t going to impact our lives.”
In response, Bolton said a traffic study was conducted and determined what roadway improvements would need to be made near the facility to alleviate any potential congestion.
“We have substantial data that we used as a basis for our design,” Bolton explained.
In an effort to accommodate the influx of tractor-trailer trucks, the proposal suggests several adjustments, including adding a double left turn to the nearby on ramp to I-295.
One resident expressed concerns about wildlife migrating from the property to nearby neighborhoods once the land is redeveloped.
“There have been black bear sightings in the area,” he said. “When we start encroaching on their territories, they start coming closer to people’s homes.”
Scott Rabideau, an expert in wetland science called to testify by Bolton, admitted that, while the project eliminates some wildlife habitats, not all of the land on the property would be cleared.
“Most of the wildlife … will be able to migrate to the areas that are left,” Rabideau explained.
Nicole Rielly, a civil engineer, also noted during her testimony that, of the 196 acres of property being considered, 43% of the land would remain in its natural state.
The Johnston Town Council still needs to sign off on the project as a formality before construction can begin, but Planning Board members don’t expect them to object.
Mayor Joseph Polisena tells 12 News he expects the proposal will brought before the Johnston Town Council “within the next few weeks.” At that point, Polisena expects the developer to reveal the company behind the project.
“There is going to be financial stability in this community for the next 20 years,” Polisena said.
Bluewater Property Group said they hope to have the facility up and running come spring 2023.