Homeowners, most of them African American professionals, said they moved into the neighborhood because of the amenities they expected it to offer, including professional office space, and had received little notice about a zoning change that would allow some of the space instead to be used for a massive warehouse.
“Did you all talk about the environmental impacts?” Gabrielle Brown, who recently bought a house in Westphalia with her husband, asked developers Wednesday night. “What I have noticed — it’s not singling out Amazon — is that businesses tend to put their industrial locations in black communities. They tend to put their corporate facilities in other locations that don’t look like this room right here.”
In the audience, there were nods and claps.
Two government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential business negotiations, told The Washington Post earlier this month that Amazon is exploring building a 4 million-square-foot merchandise logistics center in Westphalia.
Duke Realty, which is one of Amazon’s primary landlords, would not say which of its clients is pursuing the project. But officials from the realty company said at the meetings that the facility would be five stories tall, include nearly 2,000 parking spaces and employ up to 1,500 people.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission gave the project approval with conditions Thursday evening, after an hours-long hearing during which members expressed reservations about the appearance and size of the facility, and the way in which the developers had interacted with the community.
“I don’t like what I’m hearing,” said commission chair Elizabeth M. Hewlett. “I am hearing concerns about feelings being dismissed, and that I cannot tolerate.”
No representatives from Amazon attended the meetings, and a spokeswoman for the retail giant declined to comment. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Addressing the residents Wednesday night was Ed Fleming, president of the east region for Walton Development and Management, the developer of Westphalia, and Mike Davis, senior development services manager at Duke Realty, which purchased the parcel for the logistics center from the Walton Group.
Fleming at one point said the logistics center could be a source of second jobs for Westphalia residents, or employment for their young-adult children. The suggestion sparked an uproar.
“Oh no,” one woman shouted.
“Second jobs?” another asked incredulously.
Chinonye Whitley, who works at the National Science Foundation, cradled her infant son in her arms, listening.
“I don’t want my children to work there,” she said. “We have computer scientists and engineers — we have tech capacity — and there is a real lack of minority representation in STEM fields. But the only thing Amazon is offering us is a warehouse?”
Whitley said she had concerns about what she has heard about working conditions in Amazon’s logistics centers elsewhere and whether such a facility would pose a safety risk in her neighborhood. “The community is not gaining anything,” she said.
Prince George’s applied to host Amazon’s much-publicized second headquarters and was the only applicant from the D.C. area not picked as a finalist last year. In the end, the company chose predominantly white Crystal City in Arlington, Va., for the headquarters, which will house up to 25,000 employees earning an average salary of $150,000 a year.
On Wednesday, Davis said if Duke Realty receives the approvals it needs to move forward, construction on the logistics center could begin as early as this fall.
He told residents that measures would be taken to mitigate noise and light from the facility, including sound barriers. But he said large trucks would enter and exit about every 10 minutes, around the clock.
Fleming said that a grocer, hotel, shops and some offices are still planned for Westphalia t and that news reports about the possibility that Amazon will locate there appear to have spurred new interest. He said he has received three calls from retail developers about coming to Westphalia in recent weeks.
County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) met with civic leaders in Westphalia and the surrounding communities this week and plans to meet with the developers next week about the project, said spokesman John Erzen.
“They have said this distribution center is going to be the catalyst for the retail and the restaurants that residents were promised, and we want to do everything we can to hold them accountable,” Erzen said.