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Northgate could be ‘prime’ site for Amazon

What’s 820,000 square feet, takes up 84 acres and would be located in Northgate Commerce Park?

Could it be an Amazon fulfillment center?

While no one is saying for certain at this point, a public notice with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlines a proposal by Atlanta-based Seefried Development Services to construct the multi-story facility at 2020 Northgate Commerce Parkway. Seefried Development Services has built several Amazon fulfillment centers around the United States, including two in Richmond.

The Virginian-Pilot was first to report the development in a story posted to its website July 6.

The fulfillment center would be built, according to the proposal, “to meet increasing e-commerce demand to serve the Hampton Roads region. Diagrams submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers show parking for about 1,750 employees and around 200 trucks.

The project would also include drive aisles, stormwater facilities, associated grading and storage.

In a statement, Suffolk Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes did not comment specifically on the proposal, but noted that Northgate is zoned M2 — heavy industrial — “and a distribution or fulfillment center use would be permitted by right.”

“A use of this type would require site plan and building plan permit approval,” Hughes said. “No permit application has been made to the city of Suffolk at this time. If and when an application is submitted, it will be reviewed by staff to determine if any additional approvals may be needed.”

Hughes said he was not able to provide any additional information at this time.

Amazon, which is aggressively expanding its fulfillment distribution facilities across the United States, confirmed in May plans to build a 1 million square-foot fulfillment center to open in 2020 in Kernersville, N.C., according to the Winston-Salem Journal. An 855,000 square-foot St. Louis, Mo.-area fulfillment center is expected to open in time for the winter holidays, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, and will hire about 1,500 people.

Seefried’s chief development officer, Jim Condon, who is listed as the contact for Seefried in the Army Corps of Engineers public notice, has experience on seven different Amazon development projects, including two 1 million-plus square-foot buildings in the Richmond area.

Amazon, in its 2018 annual report, said, “We seek to expand our fulfillment network to accommodate a greater selection and in-stock inventory levels to meet anticipated shipment volumes from sales of our own products as well as sales by third parties for which we provide the fulfillment services.”

As of Dec. 31, 2018. Amazon was leasing nearly 154 million square feet in fulfillment centers across North America, according to its 2018 annual report.

Vince Little, a public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers — Norfolk District said it had received five comments on the proposal. He said those comments are under review and it would take up to three months for the district’s regulatory officials to review comments and draft a permit-decision document.

“After consideration of public comments, Norfolk District will begin writing up the memorandum-for-record document to support a permit decision,” Little said.

Amazon did not return a request for comment.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ notes that the project would directly impact 5.84 acres of palustrine — or non-tidal — emergent wetlands, 2.25 acres of palustrine scrub-shrub wetlands and 1.03 acres of palustrine forested wetlands — located within the Bennett’s Creek/Nansemond River watershed. The nontidal wetlands drain into Bennett’s Creek, a tributary to the Nansemond River and the James River within Northgate Commerce Park.

“Due to the fragmented wetlands, the extent of the agricultural ditches throughout the site, and the proposed size of the fulfillment center, complete avoidance of the wetlands is not practicable,” according to the permit application.

The public comment period on the proposal ended Friday.

Besides obtaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the project would also need a Virginia Water Protection Permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, as well as a permit from the Suffolk Wetlands Board.

Northgate Commerce Park has more than 200 of its 430 acres available, with site sizes that range from 3 acres to about 100 acres, according to the city’s Economic Development website.

Earlier this year, T.A. Sheets, a construction utility, bought 30 acres in Northgate to build two buildings totaling 30,000 square feet for an office, warehouse and shop facility. Construction on that project began in March. Hampton Roads Moving and Storage also announced it would expand its 60,000 square-foot Northgate facility by just under 25,000 square feet.

A ribbon cutting for Blue Bell Ice Cream, which opened a 14,000 square-foot branch distribution center earlier this year in Northgate, will take place Wednesday.