According to a report published by the World Economic Forum, e-commerce sales ratios nearly tripled globally between 2014 and 2019. In 2020, the COVID pandemic was a catalyst that accelerated this already rising trend by requiring traditional brick-and-mortar businesses to quickly shift to e-commerce. As more and more consumers turn to e-commerce for their shopping needs, there is an expectation that the items purchased will arrive quickly. The demand for faster deliveries has created the concept of last-mile delivery, which is the process of getting a purchased item from the warehouse shelf to the customer’s doorstep.
While drones, robots and autonomous cars are likely to play a role in the future of e-commerce deliveries, most e-commerce companies today rely on a fleet of transportation vehicles for last-mile delivery fulfillment. Last-mile warehouses that rely on over-the-road deliveries generally require a greater number of parking spaces, not only for the delivery drivers and other employees of the facility, but also for the delivery vehicles that are stored on site. This has caused some municipalities to amend their zoning ordinances with respect to the number of on-site parking spaces required for warehouse and distribution facilities.
Until recently, the Town of Oyster Bay required that “warehouse, distribution and storage” uses provide one parking space for each employee, plus one space per commercial vehicle kept on the lot, but not less than one space per 1,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area. However, following the Town’s approval of a 204,000 square foot Amazon warehouse delivery station with 1,603 parking spaces on the former Cerro Wire site in Syosset, the Town amended its parking regulations.
On June 14, 2022, the Oyster Bay Town Board voted to adopt Local Law No. 6 of 2022, which, among other things, revised the off-street parking and loading requirements for certain land uses, including warehouse, distribution and storage facilities. The new parking requirement requires one parking space per employee, but no less than one parking space per 500 square feet of gross floor area, whichever is greater. This new standard effectively doubles the number of parking spaces required for all new warehouses and distribution centers within the Town.
Critics of the new parking regulations argue that they penalize traditional warehouse and distribution uses that do not operate in the same way as last-mile warehouses and, therefore, do not need the same number of parking spaces in order to operate. This point was made to the Oyster Bay Town Board at a May 11, 2022 public hearing by my Farrell Fritz colleague and fellow blogger, Philip Butler, who said:
“There is a difference between something like an e-commerce or last-mile warehouse and what I’ll refer to as traditional warehouse and storage uses. This [proposed law] is a rising tide that is going to raise all ships, and that becomes problematic for traditional uses that do not operate at the same volume as an Amazon or last-mile warehouse.”
While there is certainly a rational basis for the new Oyster Bay parking regulations, the one-size-fits-all approach is problematic because not all warehouse and distribution facilities operate in the same way as an e-commerce warehouse of last-mile distribution facilities. For traditional warehouse and distribution facilities that do not require a large number of parking spaces for their operations, compliance with the new parking regulations unjustifiably restricts the size of buildings. This limits their functionality and may cause companies to operate elsewhere, which negatively impacts revenue to the Town and other local taxing jurisdictions. Constructing and paving a parking lot that is larger than is actually needed, and installing the drainage infrastructure necessary to capture the storm water runoff from the lot’s additional impervious surfaces also increases construction costs. Last, but not least, where additional parking is not actually needed, there is an environmental cost because areas that could be set aside for open space or additional landscaping must now be paved.
A better approach to addressing the parking challenges associated with the growing number of e-commerce warehouses and last-mile distribution uses is one similar to that used by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), which recognizes that there are different types of warehouses, and associates a different trip generation number with each. Instead of lumping all types of warehouse uses together for purposes of calculating the number of parking spaces needed, municipalities should amend their codes to recognize the variety and intensity of operations of the different types of warehouse uses and assign a different parking requirement to each. This will better ensure that each use will provide the number of parking spaces commensurate with the nature of its operations and no more pavement or other impervious surfaces than is necessary.