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Retail Mecca Deptford to Review Amazon’s Use of Retail Parking for Vehicle Storage in Shopping Center

Retail Mecca Deptford to Review Amazon’s Use of Retail Parking for Vehicle Storage in Shopping Center
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Last year dozens of Amazon and rental delivery trucks (and associated personal vehicles) started appearing at the Deptford Crossings parking lot, located on Clements Bridge Road.  Over the year the number of vehicles stored at the location has grown and this has apparently caught the attention of Deptford officials as a potential zoning violation… and continued use of vehicle storage would require variances.  On February 4th, representatives of Amazon and the shopping center will appear before the Deptford Zoning Board to explain their situation and ask for zoning adjustments.

No one is saying Deptford wants to stop this practice, but in the town’s mind it is a change of approved use and that needs to be reviewed.  If a resident can get questioned over a shed being too close to a property line, a multi-million dollar development can be questioned when they decide to unilaterally change their property usage from approved zoning!

A couple factors are in play here.  First the property is zoned for commercial retail use, not warehousing and storage… and Deptford feels that keeping Amazon delivery vehicles (and employee cars) at the property has changed it’s use from commercial retail to warehousing.

Additionally, many don’t realize that the number of parking spaces (and handicap spaces) for a commercial development are regulated by towns to make sure there is enough parking available to support the needs of the businesses.  One key determination of available spaces is the total square footage of building space… and it doesn’t matter if the buildings are empty or not!  (although most towns seemed to have missed the mark on zoning those original “classic” Wawas!).  And while we have’t spoken directly to Deptford officials, the hearing notices indicates the deal with a company to store up to 300 hundred vehicles in the parking lot effectively takes them out of use for the core shopping center, and changes the zoning approval that the shopping center owners were originally given!   In fact, Deptford Crossing’s own marketing brochure calls out “Parking: 800 Spaces”

parking 800 parking spaces required for existing shopping center, 762 parking spaces remaining for shopping center due to proposed use by Applicant… The Applicant is proposing to utilize 300 existing parking spaces on the site for the parking and storage of delivery vans and personal vehicles of drivers

Amazon Helped Create Empty Stores, and Now They Use the Parking Lot for the Amazon Delivery Team.

Alanis Morissette would notice the irony.

While the Deptford Crossing shopping center still has several large tenants such as Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and Ollies, the amount of empty stores has increased significantly over the years.  The opening of the newer and better located Walmart/Sam’s Complex down the road was an initial impact, online retailers such as Amazon are making it tough for traditional retailers across the country to keep traditional walk-in stores open, and to add to the difficulties for Deptford Crossings… a new planned shopping center expansion over by the Deptford Target seems to have wooed away three of the larger tenants once the new shopping center is developed.

So with a growing number of empty parking spaces, Deptford Crossings property management made a deal with Amazon Services for them to store trucks and employee vehicles in the parking lot.  Somewhat sadly ironic, in that Amazon has definitely played a part in the reduced need for physical stores in America, and in one of South Jersey’s core retail sectors they are repurposing one of the impacted shopping centers.  Talk about kicking you when you are down.

The need for this came from Amazon renting warehouse distribution space in other area buildings for product storage and routing, but not having enough parking at the site for trucks and employee vehicles.  Area news website South Jersey Observer had the story on Amazon taking over a building in the nearby Bellmawr Industrial Park which has very limited parking and is a key driver for the need to store vehicles in Deptford.   While I don’t know the specific flow, trucks are kept at the Deptford parking lot where employees start their shift… and then will leave their personal cars at the lot.   Drivers are delivering product which could come from a variety of area Amazon facilities, but Bellmawr’s lack of parking makes it a key source of product.  Security guards are employed to protect the vehicles.

It’s also interesting to note that this is not the first time Deptford has asked the Deptford Crossing team to speak to officials.  A few years ago Deptford considered a redevelopment plan for this property (and the “Pathmark” center) to the extent of eminent domain takeover and condemnation! (PDF)

The specific working of the Zoning meeting states that the shopping center new use is warehouse and vehicle parking/storage is not a principal use.   There are also requirements for the number of parking spaces, and the new usage will reduce the number below the required amount.

 Use Variance approval (Sec. 17.1(B)(1): warehouse use not permitted in BC-2 Zone; Sec. 27(A)(4): vehicle parking/storage is not a permitted principal use (multiple principal uses not permitted); Sec. 27(B): parking 800 parking spaces required for existing shopping center, 762 parking spaces remaining for shopping center due to proposed use by Applicant) and such other variances, relief and/or waivers that may be required upon an analysis of the plans and testimony at the PUBLIC HEARING

Public comments are allowed at the hearing:

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at 7:00 PM
Deptford Township Municipal Building
1011 Cooper Street, Deptford, New Jersey 08096