‘Amazon’s Goliath, we’re David’: Round Rock residents want transparency in possible new facility

Williamson County

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Less than a month after Amazon opened its new Pflugerville facility, families in the Greater Round Rock West Neighborhood say they found out Monday night about the company’s move for another on in their area.

One resident, who wished to stay anonymous, contacted KXAN saying they were “blindsided” by the news, which came during a neighborhood association meeting Monday. They say corporate representatives told them they purchased and closed on a property adjacent to the community for a distribution center within the next few years.

“Why didn’t somebody tell us?!” says another neighbor, Brett Covington.

KXAN reached out to Amazon for comment. A company spokesperson said they don’t comment on their “future roadmap and are not yet commenting on any specific operations plans in Round Rock.”

A City of Round Rock spokesperson confirms the meeting was led by representatives from Amazon. She says some city staff were also there to answer questions.

The neighborhood association says they also did not know about the project but are hoping for more communication, moving forward.

“While it would have been nice if our neighborhood had known about this sooner in order to meet and ask questions about this project, The Greater Round Rock West Neighborhood Association understands that Amazon has already closed on the property and will be building a distribution facility. We know that they are working closely with the City of Round Rock to build a facility that meets the community standards and will have a positive impact on the area. We hope and believe that Amazon will be a good neighbor and will work hand in hand with the surrounding neighborhoods and the city to have a facility that has minimal impact both physically and environmentally to the surrounding area.”

Mike Freeman, Greater Round Rock West Neighborhood Association Vice President

But some residents are worried that cooperation won’t happen unless they push for it.

“There may be people who stay angry and don’t want it at all, and there may be people who come around and say, ‘Hey, this might not be a bad thing.’ We don’t have enough information, yet,'” Covington says.

She says now, neighbors plan to come together to gather all their questions and present them to city and Amazon leaders.

“Can we understand what the negative impacts may be?” she says. “Can we be serious about mitigating those impacts? Can we maximize whatever benefits there may be to the community?”

Amazon submitted an application to the city of Round Rock last month to rezone and annex a 193-acre site at 2801 County Road 172 for a warehouse and distribution center. Right now, the site is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, where the city has limited legal power.

The City of Round Rock says Amazon applied for a Planned Unit Development application for this land mid-October. (KXAN map)

“At this time, Amazon has stated that they will voluntarily request annexation which will give us regulatory oversight via the zoning, site planning, traffic analysis, and building inspection processes,” Sara Bustilloz with the City of Round Rock wrote to KXAN News.

Without annexing that land, she says the city would have no zoning, permitting or building inspection authority over what happens on that property, but only signage review and platting.

“With the zoning and annexation process, the city is able to apply all of the typical development standards to the project, such as building setbacks, landscaping requirements, tree protection, loading zone screening, lighting restrictions and land use limitations,” Bustilloz explained.

She added that if the property were developed outside city limits, none of their standards would apply, since counties in Texas don’t have legislative authority to apply zoning regulations to a development.    

She says at previous community meetings, Amazon has said they intend to begin construction within the next three to five years.

If the PUD application isn’t approved, the facility could still be built within county jurisdiction. A spokesperson for Williamson County told KXAN they do “not comment on any economic development projects or prospects with which we may or may not be working.”

“Amazon is Goliath and we’re David. It’s quite likely that it’s going to happen,” Covington says.

She says they want a seat at the table as Amazon moves forward.

“The only leverage, if you will, that the neighborhood has, is to engage the city and say, ‘If you annex them, please make sure you look out for our interests,” says Covington.

She says neighbors’ concerns include traffic, air quality from diesel emissions, and making sure leaders conduct road safety improvements like adding turn lanes and pedestrian crosswalk.

“They may have perfectly good, sound, engineering plans for all of that but we don’t understand any of it, at this point, and the amount of data that was presented last night was insufficient,” Covington says.

Bustilloz says Amazon’s PUD application will eventually be scheduled for a public hearing in front of the planning and zoning commission.

She says residents can find that date posted at city hall once it’s set, and notices will be mailed to neighbors within 300 feet of the property. After that, it’ll go to council.

Bustillo also says prior to those formal public hearings, the city is planning to meet with Amazon and a small group of residents to discuss the project in more detail and try to address concerns and strengthen the PUD requirements.

Amazon already has a delivery station in Round Rock with over 200 full-time employees.

Amazon’s new Pflugerville facility

KXAN checked in with one neighbor who voiced concern about a year ago over Amazon’s fulfillment center in Pflugerville.

“A year later that’s still our number one concern and all of our… worst nightmares have come true,” says Luke Ortega Luper.

He says there is constant stream of trucks on the west side of the facility, near his home.

Veronica Ramirez with the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation tells KXAN that congestion along Pecan Street is due to traffic improvements– some funding by Amazon, like new lanes and ingress and egress.

She says the PCDC is also funding improvements at the intersection of FM-685 and Pecan Street.

A spokesperson for Amazon says they try to make sure their sites don’t disrupt the community by doing things like staggering breaks to avoid rush hour.

“We will investigate any raised concerns as well as ways to address them,” said Amazon spokesperson Daniel Martin.

Luper says he’s glad Round Rock residents are trying to make sure their concerns are addressed before any approvals are made.

“The more input that the citizens can have, the better it is for everyone,” he says.

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