Preventing Warehouse & Distribution Center Impacts To Neighborhoods
Getting the benefits of new warehouses and distribution centers without harming neighborhoods
If you’re concerned about the impact of a proposed warehouse or distribution center, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org for a no-cost initial discussion of strategy options.
What is a Warehouse and a Distribution Center?
One source describes the difference as:
“Warehouses are mainly used for storing products until they are needed. Distribution centers store products as well as perform product mixing, cross-docking, order fulfillment, and packaging. Warehouses store products for longer periods of time.”
According to Statista, the number of warehousing enterprises in the U.S. rose from 15,000 in 2007 to 20,000 by 2021.
Warehouses & Distribution Centers: Potential Adverse Effects
While warehouses or distribution centers provide vital services, poorly planned projects can cause harm to neighborhoods and the environment, due to:
- Adverse health effects due to diesel exhaust,
- Excessive truck traffic on neighborhood streets,
- Disturbing levels of noise, and
- Property value decline.
What is it Like to Live Near a Warehouse or Distribution Center?
To answer this question, CEDS studied the neighborhood impact of 67 warehouse-distribution centers located west of the Mississippi River (see map below). Of the 67 facilities, four were proposed but did not appear to be in operation yet. Most of the remaining 63 existing facilities were less than five years old and averaged 150,000 square feet in floor area.
We focused on facilities located within a thousand feet of homes since past research indicated that noise or other adverse effects were unlikely beyond a thousand feet, though adverse health impacts due to diesel exhaust may affect those living a half-mile distant or more.
Of the 63 existing facilities, 78% were more than a thousand feet from homes. And of the remaining 11 facilities, there was an intervening highway, railroad tracks, or industrial area that would have buffered homes from impacts due to all but two of the facilities. This finding was very important:
The vast majority of new warehouse or distribution centers are built in commercial-industrial areas far removed from homes.
We contacted homeowners living near these two facilities who reported excessive noise due to:
- truck engine idling,
- loud music, and
- backup beepers.
The homeowners did not report issues with excessive truck traffic on their neighborhood streets since both facilities were accessed via main roads.
We concluded that due to noise and other nuisances alone, new distribution centers and most other truck facilities should be at least a thousand feet from the nearest home and on sites where access via neighborhood streets is unlikely.
Given that most facilities are not near homes, it appears that finding low-impact locations is not that difficult.
Therefore, local governments should consider amending zoning regulations to require that distribution centers and other high-volume truck facilities locate a minimum of 1,000 feet from residential areas and on main roads (major collectors-arterials) where trucks would not pass through a neighborhood.
Following is further detail on specific potential impacts of a high-volume truck facility.
Diesel Exhaust & Health
There’s a large and growing body of research documenting the adverse effects of diesel engine exhaust on respiratory health. One of the best summaries of this research can be found in the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) 2023 report Making the Invisible Visible: Shining a Light on Warehouse Truck Air Pollution.
In the 2005 California Air Resources Board (CARB) Air Quality and Landuse Handbook, it was recommended that homes, schools and other sensitive land use should be located at least 1,000 feet from any facility that would generate either:
- 100 diesel truck trips per day,
- more than 40 trucks per day with diesel refrigeration units, or
- where diesel Truck Refrigeration Units (TRU) would operate for more than 300 hours per week.
These recommendation begin on page 11 of the CARB Handbook.
In another 2005 report, Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat, from the Clean Air Task Force, the authors wrote “An aggressive program to reduce diesel emissions could save about 100,000 lives between now  and the year 2030.”
In their 2020 meta-analysis A systematic review of the health effects associated with the inhalation of particle-filtered and whole diesel exhaust, six USEPA researchers examined the effectiveness of recent changes in diesel engines in reducing health impacts. The researchers concluded “We identified 26 studies that met both the inclusion and study evaluation criteria. For most health outcomes, the particle filtration methods employed in the included studies did not appreciably attenuate the health effects associated with exposure to whole diesel exhaust.”
In his 2021 report Particulate Policy: An argument for a regulatory approach to transportation-related ultrafine particle exposure, University of Connecticut Department of Public Health Sciences professor and chair Doug Brugge, called for a number of measures to reduce public exposure to ultra-fine particles – those 0.1 microns or less in diameter – emitted from diesel trucks and other motor vehicles. Those at greatest risk live or spend extended time within 300- to 500-feet of highways. However, elevated levels of ultra-fine particles were detected greater than a half-mile distant.
In 2021, the California South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted a regulation requiring that warehouses of 100,000 square feet or more must take measures to reduce the health impact of trucks as well as other diesel-gasoline powered vehicles. The Socioeconomic Impact Assessment for this regulation noted that emissions from a cluster of 2,900 warehouses can affect the health of those living 0.5- to 2.0-miles distant. For the reasons presented in the CEDS analysis, Warehouses, Air Pollution & Public Health, the findings from the 2,900-warehouse cluster assessment is relevant to a single proposed warehouse. Section V, of the 2022 California Attorney General publication Warehouse Projects: Best Practices and Mitigation Measures to Comply with the California Environmental Quality Act listed a number of measures to reduce air pollution and adverse health effects including that new warehouses should be a minimum of 1,000 feet from residences, schools, day care centers, playgrounds, medical facilities or other sensitive land uses described in the California Air Quality And Land Use Handbook.
- “Diesel-powered vehicles, vessels, locomotives, and equipment account for over 60 percent of all nitrogen oxides (NOx) and more than 70 percent of all fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from US transportation sources. Heavy-duty diesel vehicles alone account for 20 percent of all NOx and 25 percent of PM2.5 pollution emitted by vehicles in the country.”
- “Particulate matter (PM) irritates the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and even premature death. Although everyone is susceptible to particulate pollution, children, the elderly, and individuals with preexisting respiratory conditions are the most vulnerable. A recent study found that the rates of nine common causes of death, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and other prevalent fatal conditions, were associated with exposure even at concentrations of fine particulates lower than the current federal standards.”
The Clean Air Task Force created Deaths by Dirty Diesel – Mapping the health impacts of diesel nationwide. This interactive map will allow you to see how diesel emissions affects those living in your area. By comparing your area with others that have higher Air Pollution from Diesel you can help elected officials and your neighbors understand why it is vitally important to encourage greater use of Zero or Near-Zero emission trucks and discourage proposals that would add more conventional diesel truck traffic.
Consumer Reports has launched a program that partners with area residents and other allies to monitor and document warehouse impacts. A 2022 article describes how sensors installed through this program showed that “air quality was moderately unhealthy 30% of the time.” These unhealthful conditions correlated with high levels of truck traffic captured by program sensors. A 2023 article describes how Consumer Reports is also assisting neighborhoods with advancing laws that reduce health and other warehouse impacts. For further information contact Alan Smith, Manager, Consumer Reports Community Leadership, at email@example.com.
The chart below compares noise levels (in decibels) from a variety of sources, including trucks. A number of ordinances require that noise not exceed 55 decibels in residential areas (outside a home).
CEDS conducted a survey of those living near facilities with a high-volume truck traffic. The neighbors reported excessive noise due to truck engine idling, shouting, loud music, backup beepers, etc. While it is possible that noise barriers or other measures might resolve noise impacts, effectiveness may depend upon maintenance or other provisions that could be difficult to enforce. Therefore, the best safeguard is to locate a new truck stop and most other truck facilities at least a thousand feet from the nearest home.
Planning officials should require a noise impact study for all proposed warehouses and other facilities with a high volume of truck traffic, especially if they are within a thousand feet of homes or trucks will pass through residential areas.
Here’s a simplistic example of what such a study might show.
Idling diesel trucks emit noise at 85 dBA (decibels) measured at a distance of 50 feet. In general, noise decreases 6 decibels for every doubling of distance from a source. So, if truck noise level is 85 decibels at 50 feet then it would be 6 decibels lower or:
- 79 decibels at 100 feet,
- 73 decibels at 200 feet,
- 67 decibels at 400 feet and so on.
Simple noise models, such as the Distance Attenuation Calculator, indicate that a separation distance of 1600 feet would be needed for the 85-decibel noise from idling diesel truck engines to drop to the residential property acceptable level of 55 decibels.
If a home is located 400 feet from the portion of a warehouse site where trucks would be idling the noise level could be 67 decibels, which is 12 decibels above the 55 decibel acceptable level for residential areas.
As shown in the following graphic, a 5 to 8 decibel decrease can be achieved for each 100 feet of densely growing evergreens and shrubs between a noise source and a home.
Earth berms and walls are sometimes used to reduce noise from highways and other sources. As shown in the next graphic, these measures only work in the area of the noise shadow created by the berm or wall. In other words, if a berm or wall does not obstruct your view of a noise source from your home then it may do little to keep your home quiet. Section VI, of the 2022 California Attorney General publication Warehouse Projects: Best Practices and Mitigation Measures to Comply with the California Environmental Quality Act listed a number of measures to reduce noise impacts.
The effect of warehouse noise on property value is covered in the next section of this webpage.
Truck noise may be the aspect of a warehouse with the greatest effect on residential property value. With regard to noise and property value, researchers concluded the following in a 2021 study entitled An Analytical Framework for Evaluating Potential Truck Parking Locations:
“Increases in noise pollution are inevitable in such a case where dispersed idling trucks are centralized into the new or expanded truck stops…
Mandated by the Federal Highway Administration, maximum noise levels for large trucks are not to exceed 85 dBA (decibel) 50 feet away. Combined, this data can be used to approximate sound values over different distances. For every 2.5 dBA increase in noise levels above 55 dBA, residential property values are assumed to decrease by 0.2% to 1.2% with wealthier communities, containing higher willingness to pay for peace and quiet, being more sensitive to such increases in noise pollution (Palmquist, 1980). Any truck stop development project will require a noise impact study that evaluates the feasibility of installing noise barriers to remediate the noise pollution problem.”
As noted in the preceding section of this webpage, in general, noise decreases 6 decibels for every doubling of distance from a source. So, if truck noise level is 85 decibels at 50 feet then it would be 79 decibels at 100 feet, 73 decibels at 200 feet, then 67 decibels at 400 feet.
Simple noise models, such as the Distance Attenuation Calculator, indicate that it would require a separation distance of 1600 feet for the 85-decibel noise from idling diesel truck engines to drop to the residential property acceptable level of 55 decibels.
If a home is located 400 feet from the portion of a warehouse site where trucks would be idling the noise level could be 67 decibels, which is 12 decibels above the 55 decibel acceptable level for residential areas. After dividing 12 decibels by 2.5 decibels we get 4.8, which could result in a (0.2% x 4.8) 0.96% to (1.2% x 4.8) 5.7% decline in home resale value.
If the warehouse can be seen from the home then a further decrease in property value may result.
Truck Traffic & Neighborhood Streets
Locating a facility where diesel truck traffic is likely to travel neighborhood streets can expose residents to excessive noise, air pollution, property value loss, and safety issues. Instead, these facilities should be guided to locations with direct access onto main roads that do not pass through residential areas.
Warehouse Truck Traffic Volume
The volume of truck traffic generated by a proposed warehouse can be estimated with guidance presented in Trip Generation, published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE). Trip generation volumes are based upon rates per unit of a proposed land use. Each Trip Generation land use is assigned a code. The code for a more common warehouse type is 156, which is for a High-Cube Parcel Hub Warehouse, which is described in Trip Generation as:
“A high-cube warehouse (HCW) is a building that typically has at least 200,000 gross square feet of floor area, has a ceiling height of 24 feet or more, and is used primarily for the storage and/or consolidation of manufactured goods (and to a lesser extent, raw materials) prior to their distribution to retail locations or other warehouses.”
For every 1000 square feet of Gross Floor Area (GFA), this warehouse type would generate 0.10 to 1.37 peak-hour trips for all vehicle types. Of these vehicles, 12% would be trucks.
So, a 200,000 square foot high-cube warehouse would generate:
200,000 divided by 1000 = 200 x 0.64 = 128 peak-hour trips of which 15 would be trucks
A table of Trip Generation 10th Edition rates is available at: https://www.troutdaleoregon.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/public_works/page/966/ite_land_use_list_10th_edition.pdf
Warehouses Are Not A Light Industrial Use
“Light industries cause relatively little pollution when compared to heavy industries. As light industry facilities have less environmental impact than those associated with heavy industry, zoning laws permit light industry near residential areas. It is a criterion for zoning classification.”
The Complete Real Estate Encyclopedia contains a similar definition for Light Industrial:
“Light industry usually consists of nonpolluting users with moderate energy demands engaged in assembling products, sewing, baking, or cleaning.”
In Putting Atlanta Back To Work: Integrating Light Industry Mixed-Use Into Urban Development, the following distinction is made between light and heavy industry:
“Generally, to locate in a light industrial zone, a business must not produce any loud noises, vibration, noxious fumes, or other hazardous byproducts – beyond the property line. In heavy industrial districts, generally a business must not produce these negative effects beyond the boundaries of the entire district.”
Given that the:
- Air pollution emitted from warehouse diesel truck traffic can harm the health of those living well beyond a warehouse property line,
- Trucks traveling past homes to reach a warehouse can significantly lower property value,
- Warehouse noise has disturbed nearby residents
warehouses should not be allowed in light industrial zones based on the definitions and cautions above, especially when within a thousand feet or so of homes.
Identifying & Resolving Warehouse & Other Trucking Facility Impacts
The first step in protecting a neighborhood is to determine if a proposed trucking facility is likely to cause the impacts listed above using the following checklist.
If a facility site will be more than a thousand feet from the nearest home, then adverse effects to area residents are unlikely.
If the facility will be located within a thousand feet of homes then will the facility generate:
- 100 or more diesel truck trips per day?
- more than 40 trucks per day with diesel refrigeration units?
- will diesel Truck Refrigeration Units (TRU) would operate for more than 300 hours per week?
If you answered yes to any of these three questions then diesel emissions may pose a threat to those living within a thousand feet.
If the facility is located on a road lined with homes then residents could be impacted by truck exhaust, noise, traffic safety issues, and property value loss.
The CEDS Development Project Impact Assessment Checklist provides a number of potential concerns which should be considered.
The next step is to explore options for designing each impact out of a trucking facility project. We call these options Equitable Solutions since they resolve our clients’ concerns while allowing property owners to achieve their goals. It is far easier to win adoption of Equitable Solutions when compared to killing a project.
- Ensuring main project access is off of a major road then preventing truck cut-thru traffic onto a neighborhood street with emergency-services-only access gates or other measures,
- Requiring an attractive landscaped buffer that completely shields trucking facilities from the view of those residing in nearby homes, and
- Winning the use of highly-effective environmental protection measures.
Defeating A Fatally Flawed Warehouse – Distribution Center Project
If a warehouse – distribution center project is so poorly conceived or sited that impacts cannot be resolved, then the only option may be to block the issuance of an essential permit or other approval, like annexation or rezoning. This goal will be far easier to achieve if you can show decision-makers that you made a genuine effort to find Equitable Solutions. This is but one of many components of the CEDS Smart Legal Strategies approach which can triple the likelihood of defeating a fatally, flawed warehouse project for a fraction of the usual cost.
CEDS Initial Strategy Analysis Best Place To Start
CEDS offers many free resources that can guide you through strategies to preserve your neighborhood or the environment. These resources include the webpages listed under Issues We Can Help You Win.
A number of folks find they lack the time to read through then implement the guidance on their own. Instead, they opt to retain CEDS to perform an Initial Strategy Analysis.
For a fee of $1,000, CEDS can analyze your case and identify the most effective strategy for preserving your quality of life. The analysis usually begins with the following steps:
- Verify your concerns regarding project impacts by reviewing actual project plans.
- Assess the proposal for additional impacts. The CEDS Project Impact Assessment Checklist simplifies this task.
- Search for Equitable Solutions that design away each impact while allowing the property owner to achieve their goals. Many of the webpages listed under Issues We Can Help You Win will help you identify possible Equitable Solutions.
- Review the criteria (required findings) for approving the project as set forth in local and state law.
- Compile the evidence needed to show that one or more of the required findings cannot be met based upon unresolved impacts.
- Research the decision-making history of the body required to approve the project. The goal is to identify factors that prompted past denials. These past examples will help increase the likelihood of a denial by structuring your case to show similar factors exist.
- Identify issues likely to generate the widespread public support frequently needed to prompt decision-makers to deny approval for fatally-flawed projects or condition an approval in ways that resolve your concerns via the Equitable Solutions identified in Step 3 above,
- Assist you in mobilizing widespread public support through the methods described in the CEDS Mobilizing Public Support for Preserving Neighborhoods webpage, and
- Identify at least one – hopefully several – attorneys from our Good Attorneys network who practice in your state and have won cases involving similar issues-laws.
The analysis can usually be completed within two weeks of receiving a retainer. About half the time the analysis is the only thing our clients need pay for to win.
For examples of CEDS analyses and for further detail visit our Strategy Analysis webpage. For a no-cost discussion of how an analysis might benefit your effort contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.
CEDS Uniquely Qualified to Help You Preserve Your Neighborhood & Environment
For more than 30 years CEDS has been helping people across the nation protect their communities and the environment from threats posed by development and other project types. To see a map of the many communities we’ve helped preserve click on: CEDS Case Map.
CEDS is one of very few organizations that solely helps people concerned about project impacts. This specialization and our nationwide scope has allowed CEDS to acquire a unique and extensive knowledge of technical solutions as well as strategies that have proven highly success in winning battles other thought impossible.
The CEDS network consists of more than 200 attorneys nationwide along with a long list of other professionals such as traffic and stormwater engineers, land use planners, etc. Because people (not corporations) are our primary clients we’ve learned how to protect neighborhoods at a fraction of the cost you might pay if you hired an attorney or consultant outside our network.
To learn how we can greatly increase your likelihood of success for minimal expense, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.