Cafaro: Wetlands no obstacle to Amazon HQ

Courtesy of the Cafaro Co. This map shows the proposed area next to the Eastwood Mall being pitched by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber as a potential site for Amazon’s new headquarters.

HOWLAND — Although much of the property near the Eastwood Mall Complex being pitched to Amazon for the company’s second headquarters is designated wetlands — protected by state, federal and, in some cases, local regulations — local leaders don’t expect that to be a major obstacle to the potential project.

Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co.-owned Enterprise Park at Eastwood, said the company purchased the bulk of the land two years ago with development in mind. He said when it comes to the portion of the site’s designated wetlands, the standard procedure of either not building on them or, “if there is a need to build in that area, create equivalent wetland areas to replace them” would be followed.

“Whether it’s Amazon or any other company or developer, it has always been the plan to see that property developed,” he said.

Last week, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber announced that in partnership with commissioners in Trumbull and Mahoning counties and Warren and Youngstown officials, the 105-acre site was chosen as the one in the area closest to meeting Amazon’s specifications.

Fourteen potential properties between the two counties were considered.

Sarah Boyarko, the chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, said that with any property, how wetlands are handled depends on how the site will be used.

“Those issues are worked out during the planning and as the potential developer moves forward with looking more closely at the property for their project,” she said. “The Cafaro Co. bought the property for development and we’re confident they will handle everything that needs to be done in the most appropriate fashion.”

Mike Settles of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said “moving” wetlands isn’t uncommon when it comes to development projects. He said before the start of a project, the site is evaluated to determine the impact it will have on the environment, along with a study to determine the size and quality of the wetlands.

Depending on the project and what work needs to be done, the developer applies for the necessary permits to proceed.

“There are steps to take and a process followed,” Settles said. “Those steps depend on the individual project, the wetlands that are present and other factors.”

Settles said there are a number of ways to compensate for the loss of wetlands and streams.

In some instances, through a mitigation process, the wetlands are moved, meaning an alternative wetland area is created elsewhere on the site or even offsite.

But the wetlands have to be equal to or exceed the loss in terms of size and quality.

“The goal being we don’t want to see a loss of wetlands in the state,” Settles said. “People come to us, we have meetings to see if it’s feasible for development to proceed and go from there.”

In May 2015, Eastwood North LLC, a Cafaro subsidiary, purchased 80 acres behind Eastwood Field for $675,000. At the time, the company already owned 25 acres close to Eastwood Field.

Most of the greenfield property is in Howland, but a portion is in Niles and one side reaches to Warren’s city limits. The land is zoned commercial and any development there has to go through a township approval process.

Initially, Cafaro, which also owns the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles, said the Enterprise land would be a mixed-use development and the company was considering constructing multi-family dwellings like apartment buildings or condominiums, office space and retail sites that would eventually be marketed for lease.

Boyarko has said the property’s size, walkability, sense of place and access to highways and other amenities are just some of the reasons Enterprise Park would be a good fit for Amazon, which needs between 100 and 250 acres.

The Seattle-based corporate giant announced last month that it was seeking a location for its second North American headquarters and would invest $5 billion and create 50,000 new jobs over 10 to 15 years with the new campus.

Adam Sedo, with Amazon’s corporate communications department, said the company is not commenting on the proposals received so far.

Amazon has said it is looking for a location with strong local and regional talent — particularly in software development and related fields — as well as a stable and business-friendly environment. The company, which reported having more than 380,000 employees worldwide, is looking for its second headquarters to be equal to its Seattle campus, which has 8.1 million square feet, 33 buildings and more than 40,000 employees.

The company estimates its investments in Seattle from 2010 through 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city’s economy.

The chamber is submitting its proposal to economic development organization Team NEO and JobsOhio, which has an existing relationship with Amazon and is coordinating submission from across Ohio to Amazon.

The Mahoning Valley is among a growing number of communities trying to attract Amazon. In Ohio, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati have joined cities positioning separately to attract the Seattle-based company’s HQ2.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, drafted a letter to Amazon, signed by both Ohio senators and all 16 representatives of both parties, advocating the state.

Proposals are due by Thursday. The company said it will choose and announce the location in 2018.