MALTA — Plans for a massive warehouse complex at the Luther Forest Technology Campus are facing some opposition, including possibly from the industrial park’s only major tenant, the GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip plant.
The Town Board voted 3-2 on Monday to approve the scope for an environmental impact statement to be done by Scannell Properties of Indianapolis, a national commercial real estate developer whose other projects include the million-square-foot Amazon distribution center in Rensselaer County.
Scannell is proposing up to five major warehouse buildings at the technology campus, with a possible square footage of up to 3.5 million square feet, and a potential for creating 2,500 new jobs.
The main environmental issue cited by the Town Board is the traffic impact — and floating in the background is the question of whether the town’s road system could absorb that much more traffic, especially with GlobalFoundries considering constructing a second chip fabrication plant, referred to as Fab 8.2.
GlobalFoundries has spent $15 billion on Fab 8, which employs 3,000 people, and had asked the town to delay the vote on the environmental scope to give it more time to review the matter. A second chip plant could have similar investment and employment numbers.
The review process “is being rushed,” said town Councilman John Hartzell, who voted against starting the environmental review process, as did Councilman Craig Warner.
“We have to step back and take a really close look at this. I don’t know what the rush is,” Warner said.
Town Supervisor Darren O’Connor and council members Cynthia Young and Timothy Dunn, who voted to approve starting the environmental review, said the vote wasn’t on approving Scannell’s requested zoning changes, it was a way to start gathering more information.
The changes sought by Scannell include adding “technology and light industrial, warehouse/distribution centers/last mile centers,” to the list of uses allowed in the tech campus. The environmental review document calls for a major new traffic study to determine whether the existing road network would be “maxed-out” by full development of the land.
“I see this resolution as furthering the search for information, particularly on the traffic issue,” O’Connor said. “I want to make sure that the door to Fab 8.2 remains open.”
Because the 1,414-acre Luther Forest campus, which is located in both Malta and Stillwater, is a planned development district, the changes needed for each specific tenant are negotiated by the Malta and Stillwater town boards. GlobalFoundries has been through that process several times since it submitted its first set of plans in 2006, and Scannell is now starting that process.
“This process in no way resembles that we went through with GlobalFoundries,” Hartzell said. “It’s being rushed, and it’s nowhere near as thorough.”
But Hartzell also said that if he receives satisfactory answers and is convinced the project is right for the town, he will support it.
Monday’s vote means Scannell can formally start the environmental review process, which will not only involve a traffic study and other reviews, but will also be the subject of a public hearing. Once the environmental review is approved, the two town boards can act on the requested zoning changes.
Scannell first made an information presentation on its plans to the Malta Town Board last November, formally applied for approval in January, and amended its application as recently as March 29 — the reason that Hartzell, Warner and GlobalFoundries asked for more time to review the changes.
In a letter to the board on Monday, Brendan Chudy, GlobalFoundries’ director of global real estate, questioned whether having a large warehouse complex on a park designed for high-tech industries complies with the town’s comprehensive land use plan. “We have yet to find any evidence in the record where Scannell affirmatively argues that they are in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan,” Chudy wrote. If the project isn’t in compliance, it “places a heavy, perhaps insurmountable burden on Scannell,” he continued.
Scannell has an option to buy 245 acres to the south of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant, on land now containing scrub pine forest and industrial relics of post-World War II defense research and development use, including rocket engine testing gantries.
If Scannell’s plans do move forward, they would be the first significant development at the tech campus since GlobalFoundries broke ground in 2009. Town officials and regional economic development officials have become increasingly concerned as the once-envisioned computer chip manufacturing and support system complex has failed to materialize, and there were already discussions underway about broadening the allowed uses before Scannell submitted its application.