Trammell Crow Project
"Urgent alert!!! Horrible project on the way!"
Posted on Nextdoor in May of 2019, this announcement is how many of us first learned about Trammell Crow's plans to build a massive 1.1 million SF distribution center at the gateway of our city, next to homes, DePaul Health Center, Westmont Senior Living Community, and steps away from Live Oak High School.
This announcement also opened our eyes to what can happen when we are not actively involved in the economic development process of our city.
Filed with the city as Morgan Hill Technology Park, the project name appeared deceptive at the onset given the site design: 55-ft high single-story buildings, 192 loading docks, 300 big rig parking spaces, and minimal parking for workers with ordinary cars. In the world of logistics, these site attributes are common for distribution centers, not what you’d expect for a tech campus here in the valley.
Are these modern distribution centers now cut and paste developments for Trammell Crow?
Trammell Crow Company (TCC), one of the world’s largest commercial real estate and investment firms, has spent decades building a national reputation as a developer of industrial parks, office towers and shopping centers.
In recent years they also started building logistics centers, another fancy term for distribution centers. Newer projects include The Oaks Logistics Center in Livermore, CA and the I-215 Logistics Center in Moreno Valley, CA, which became an Amazon Fulfillment Center in 2014.
Quick Facts - MH Technology Park
- Multiple parcels located between Cochrane and Half Roads, near 101 interchange and close proximity to:
De Paul Health Center
Westmont Senior Living Community
Live Oak High School
Cochrane Commons Shopping Center
Multiple housing developments
- Parcels formerly owned by J. Fry, used most recently as private tree nursery and agricultural land
- Current zoning includes 31 acres for commercial use and 30 acres for industrial use
- Land purchased on 1/10/2019 by Trammell Crow Company for $31M
- Project Filed with city on 1/29/2019 as “Morgan Hill Technology Park”
- Amendment to long-term General Plan and rezoning requested to allow for a majority industrial usage
- Build out includes 1.1 million sq. ft. of distribution/warehouse space
- Single story buildings up to 55 ft high; telecommunications towers up to 90 ft high
- Specifications for 192 loading docks, revised to 128 for site plans presented at 2nd Preliminary Review on 12/12/2019
- Site plans similar to other TCC distribution centers, except for addition of butterflies for Morgan Hill residents who apparently like insects on their buildings
But is it really a Technology Park?
Most residents would welcome a new tech campus to Morgan Hill. Living and working in Silicon Valley, we are familiar with the concept of a technology park. But Trammel Crow's plans do not resemble a technology park. Where are all the windows? How many loading docks does an R&D or advanced manufacturing company really need? Wouldn't those extra high ceilings waste energy and cost more to heat or cool? Where are all those tech employees going to park?
Our viewpoint: This project name was simply a creative marketing term to cover up a massive distribution center similar to what Trammell Crow has built in other parts of California and around the U.S..
Developer and City Leaders held meetings long before anyone decided to seal the deal
Trammell Crow paid $31 million for the 61-acre former "tree farm" property off Cochrane Rd that borders Hwy 101. The deal closed in January 2019 and just 19 days later, TCC filed a project application with the city, along with architectural renderings for land use. The builder also requested an amendment to Morgan Hill’s long-term General Plan to rezone a total of 57 acres for commercial-industrial (CI) use to implement their plan.
Apparently, TCC was confident the project would be well received by Morgan Hill after their team had been meeting with our city leaders for an entire year prior to completing the land purchase. We can imagine city leaders were enamored with the developer’s promises of job and economic growth. As TCC affirms in their Statement of Project Justification that accompanied the application, "we are very thankful for the support and enthusiasm to date."
First public meeting with Trammel Crow and city planners was standing room only
With a project this significant and revolutionary, and especially close to residential areas, you would expect City of Morgan Hill to reach out to the entire community, at least for awareness. As it turns out, only 174 addresses were notified by mail. But once the news got out through social media, public concern grew very rapidly. This prompted city staff to schedule an impromptu Community Meeting in May 2019 in the hopes of quieting public outcry about the project.
It was standing-room only at City Hall, with several hundred residents in attendance. The city underestimated the degree of concern among its citizens. We had high hopes of getting answers on this project but what we got was mostly city planning jargon and carefully scripted responses. During the question-answer period, several residents asked Trammell Crow if this was intended for an Amazon Fulfillment Center, to which they responded, "there has been preliminary communication with potential tenants, but nothing concrete. Companies like to see construction in process. It gives them a time frame, and it gives them confidence that a development is moving forward.”
As we questioned the architectural renderings, down to the surprisingly detailed diagrams for landscape and storm water removal, we were told repeatedly, "this is only conceptual". OK, why not show us a more accurate design then? We later noticed in the Statement of Project Justification, "It is our intent to construct this project in a single phase and to start construction immediately upon receipt of necessary approvals. We believe market demand is substantial for this product and this location." This product and this location? These are conflicting details for a design proposal that the builder and city both insist is "only conceptual".
Private PR sessions arranged by Trammell Crow
During summer of 2019, Trammell Crow began a public relations campaign with select Morgan Hill groups. As featured speaker at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Development meeting, they provided an in-depth presentation of their project proposal.
Architectural drawings included the same 55-ft high buildings with 192 loading docks and 300 big rig trailer parking spaces. However this time they sold the Chamber of Commerce on the idea that these buildings were designed for advanced manufacturing!
Preliminary Design Review with Planning Commission
The advanced manufacturing sales pitch carried over to the Preliminary Design Review with the Planning Commission in October 2019. TCC representatives started with an elaborate presentation comparing key industries in the Central Valley distribution corridor with the Bay Area innovation corridor. Community members shook their heads in disbelief when told these buildings could not be used for distribution considering proximity to sea ports. It was impossible to believe this would become an advanced manufacturing facility when site plans still showed model specifications of a distribution center.
Next, members of the MH Planning Commission proceeded to get clarification of details on the design. It was obvious they did their homework on this project and asked many discerning questions. Trammell Crow seemed ill-prepared for the level of knowledge Planning Commissioners showed regarding design specifications as they relate to distribution centers and advanced manufacturing facilities.
Our community attendance and participation at the review meetings was phenomenal. Those who shared comments at the podium were all knowledgeable, articulate, and very compelling. Among the speakers was CFO for Paramit who stated: "Advanced Manufacturing, what Paramit does, needs a building about 35’ high (not 55’ high), and only needs about 4 docks per 150,000 SF. So let’s start talking about height and dock restrictions for these Trammell Crow buildings."
For more interesting details on the Preliminary Design Reviews in October 2019 and follow up with design changes in December 2019, check out our Articles pages:
Developer hires PR firm and begins holding private meetings with select Morgan Hill citizens
Trammell Crow hired public relations firm, Pipkin-Marsh Advisors (PMA), with Gary Marsh, Principal and “master storyteller”, to sway public opinion on this project.
The PMA website claims they “develop an effective and inclusive outreach strategy designed to both inform and engage the community”. But it also asserts, “PMA provides community engagement and outreach services designed to produce favorable outcomes by influencing key constituents and community members.”
Hence the reason for these private meetings; PMA’s key strategy is to target the “movers and shakers” of Morgan Hill in the hopes they will influence others in the community and ultimately the developer can build what they want, regardless of impact on our community.
PMA’s website further states, “We have consulted on several controversial and challenging projects in established neighborhoods... we use our people and communications skills to understand adversarial points of view, establish common ground and move people from neutral to favorable positions on proposed developments. We present the facts in the most favorable light with a goal of achieving a smooth approval process and project completion.”
Why can't Trammel Crow give us a Morgan Hill Technology Park that would make us proud?
We appreciate that Trammell Crow listened to us during the October 2019 Preliminary Design Review, collaborated with their team and worked with their architects to revise their site plan. They converted the site to six smaller buildings, compared to the previous three larger buildings; eliminated all trailer storage located at the perimeter of the site; reduced number of loading docks to 128; and eliminated the “cross-dock” feature of two buildings. All loading docks were moved away from the East side of the building as well.
While we applaud these efforts, all we can really go on at this time is the latest site design on record with City of Morgan Hill. Even with revisions, this plan still shows a distribution center, although likely modified to meet the requirements of a "last mile distribution center". TCC representatives still describe the use as "advanced manufacturing". Unless it’s a boat, plane, or bus manufacturer, building specifications for advanced manufacturing are usually in the 25-35 ft height range. A much taller building, with extra "decorative" dock doors, would make climate control cost prohibitive for most manufacturers.
We understand that TCC is aiming for maximum return on their $31 million property investment. We also know they have resources available to do another market analysis and find a better alternative for Morgan Hill - one that could make us all proud. How about a REAL Technology Park, with R&D or corporate offices? And while we do see their creativity in designing buildings with butterfly art, possibly as a tribute to the Monarch butterflies that follow the 101 corridor during annual migration, we'd like that butterfly art to grace office buildings with a lot more windows, not distribution warehouses. We want these buildings to be full of human workers, not robots, who take lunch at nearby eateries and run errands at local retail stores. We hope these workers choose to buy homes in Morgan Hill to reduce their commute times and to raise their families here in a healthy and family-friendly environment. This solution would be the perfect example of responsible growth for our City of Morgan Hill.
More on Trammell Crow - an experienced developer of distribution centers
We know that TCC is becoming well-known and respected for their distribution centers on a national level. We have been following some of their regional developments, including the Livermore project, The Oaks Logistics Center. Interestingly, we’ve learned that Trammell Crow played a similar "bait-and-switch" game, telling the public in advance that the proposal was for the "development of modern professional and administrative facilities, offices, research institutions, and manufacturing operations”.
However, when Trammell Crow brought the project before Livermore's Planning Commission for approval, the wording had changed to “development and production of modern, professional, and administrative facilities, research institutions, manufacturing operations, and related uses, including distribution facilities, all of a non-nuisance type.”
"Research Institutions" had morphed into "Distribution Facilities" with a few keystrokes and no public opposition. Of course, we all know how quiet these "non-nuisance" distribution facilities are! Trammell Crow also had to get a Conditional Use Permit to increase the allowed building height to 55 feet – the magic number we know all too well, based on the Morgan Hill project proposal.
The location of the Livermore development has major differences, however, compared to the Morgan Hill project. The Oaks Logistics Center in Livermore is in very close proximity to a regional airport, water treatment plant, and other industrial buildings. It is also accessed just off busy Highway 84, a wide 6-lane divided road within short distance of the I-580 interchange.
Closest neighbors to this center live in Livermore's Summerset area, across from Highway 84, also called Isabel Avenue. These homes are at least 800 feet from the nearest truck service doors. On the other hand, residents in Morgan Hill's Westmont Senior Living Community would be much closer, a mere 300 feet from the nearest loading docks. Complaints from Livermore residents about excessive noise are described like this: “when those doors get opened, sounds like giant trash dumpsters slamming into the ground”.