Op-Ed: How to stop warehouses from blanketing New Jersey

Amy Goldsmith | April 28, 2021 | Opinion, Planning
‘It’s going to take gumption on the part of local officials’
Amy Goldsmith

It doesn’t matter if you are an urban dweller, bird watcher, suburbanite, or lover of rural areas and forest, the consensus is growing to stop warehouse development from taking over the state.

If warehouse sprawl is to be curbed in New Jersey, it’s going to take gumption on the part of local officials to stop enacting zoning laws that allow for warehouse development in areas often designated as “light industrial.”

While a bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) puts a spotlight on the proliferation of McWarehousing in New Jersey, the bill’s proposed advisory board would be just that — “advisory,”  without the authority to stop a warehouse proposal in its tracks.

The negative impact of warehouse development doesn’t begin at the structure itself. It starts at the ports and cities adjacent to them where about 20,000 diesel trucks leave the gate every day. While this development currently is gaining attention as it sprawls into the suburbs, the environmental and public health injustices to inner city communities — which are largely Black, brown, and poor — have gone unchecked for decades.

From one end of New Jersey to another, urban, suburban, farm, and forest communities have been walloped with warehouse proposals and community and environmental groups have punched back with strong opposition. Many local officials have jumped on the warehouse bandwagon as a vehicle for tax ratables and jobs, and a type of development that doesn’t require building schools and educating more children.

Diesel emissions

The thousands of trucks traveling in and out of the Newark port each day spew diesel emissions into neighboring communities. The emissions are inhaled by residents, truck drivers, and the workforce. Diesel emissions, which contain the fine particulate known as black carbon, have been linked to asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke and neurological disorders. It is estimated that they cause 21,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.

Diesel emissions are heavy, low to the ground and easily breathed. We are suffocating ourselves, and particularly the elderly, those with preexisting health conditions, and children, whose lungs, organs and immune systems are not fully developed.

Online shopping is unlikely to change in the future, and in fact, will most likely expand. It’s time, however, to put the brakes on warehouse development in the Garden State. Whatever happens to Sen. Sweeney’s bill as it makes its way through the Legislature, future planning must include repurposing empty malls, factories, and office space as a first location of choice for warehouse development rather than going to property that has not been previously developed. The structures must be emissions-free and energy self-sustaining. Trucks traveling to and from them must be electrified and the facilities must have electric charging stations. This can happen — and is happening in Europe where large corporations are working to make their distribution centers carbon neutral.

It will take a concerted and unified effort between elected officials and the electorate itself to curb warehouse sprawl. The first step is to elect local officials who will be tough on zoning laws that allow them in the first place.

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