July 10, 2023 Leigh Martinez

How to Protect PA Communities and Environment from Distribution Center Development

PennFuture Releases Living With Logistics: A Model Logistics Use Zoning Ordinance for Pennsylvania Municipalities to help local officials manage the influx of massive logistics facilities.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023: STROUD TOWNSHIP, P.A — From the Lehigh Valley to Lancaster, the Poconos to Pittsburgh, the logistics industry is leaving its mark on the landscape of Pennsylvania. With the rise of online marketplaces in the past two decades, the demand for fast-ship goods increased significantly, requiring e  massive distribution and fulfillment centers that focus not on storage but shipping. 


The result is a new type of land use that swallows vast swaths of land with impervious surfaces and relies on a steady stream of shipping vehicles to move goods continuously. These facilities generate traffic and noise, and impact the aesthetic and natural environment in ways unimaginable twenty years ago. With online sales in the U.S. surging past $1 trillion in 2022 , this pattern of development shows no signs of stopping.


Today,  PennFuture released the Model Logistics Use Zoning Ordinance and Guidebook to assist municipalities in updating zoning ordinances originally drafted long before this pattern of development was even a remote possibility. Drawing from PennFuture’s engagement with community members, participation in local land use hearings and appeals in Northeastern Pennsylvania (now firmly established as the logistics hub of the East Coast), research, and review of existing and proposed zoning ordinances,the Model Ordinance provides an excellent starting point for municipalities across Pennsylvania as they bring their zoning ordinances into the twenty-first century. 


“Our engagement with local efforts to control logistics development in the Poconos has made clear that most existing zoning ordinances are simply inadequate when it comes to regulating the massive, traffic-intensive facilities that are popping up all over the place,” said PennFuture Staff Attorney Brigitte Meyer, who authored the Model Ordinance and Guidebook. “Municipalities need to review and update their ordinances to address the impacts of the modern logistics industry, and they need to do it now before Amazon shows up on their doorstep with plans for a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center.”  


PennFuture’s Model Logistics Use Zoning Ordinance aims to assist municipalities in this task by providing definitions that distinguish between logistics uses based on their most impactful characteristics – size and traffic generation – and offering proposed regulations tailored to mitigating these characteristics’ environmental and community impacts. The accompanying Guidebook supplies information about today’s logistics industry, explains factors municipalities should consider when choosing where to allow logistics uses, and provides tips on how to use the conditional use/special exception approval process to maximize the opportunity for municipal review and public input on proposed logistics facilities. The Guidebook also provides factual and scientific support for the Model Ordinance’s provisions.


"According to a poll commissioned by Our Pocono Waters in March 2022, we know that the overwhelming majority of residents want elected officials to do more to protect the pristine waterways in the region because they are concerned about the current wave of development of distribution centers. Now that municipal officials have this tool at their disposal, we are hopeful that they will utilize this model ordinance to defend the special protection creeks, streams, and wetlands in the Poconos because water does not respect municipal boundaries. What happens to these headwaters impacts local residents and our neighbors downstream,” said Donna Kohut, Our Poconos Waters Campaign Manager


“PennFuture’s model ordinance provides a comprehensive set of standards that will give Municipalities the zoning tool they need to understand today's logistics industry and provide for this use, while still protecting our communities and environment,” said Lynn Kelly, Coolbaugh Township supervisor. “PennFuture's contribution to Monroe County is truly priceless."


“In reading PennFuture's newly released Model Ordinance and Guidebook I was extremely impressed how they went into great detail in describing the parameters by which  these warehouses and logistic centers need to comply ,” said Lisa Buchholz, president of Pocono Regional Citizens Group. “Having gone to many meetings in various Townships in the Monroe County area, I am always struck by the official claims of powerlessness when faced with massive development proposals. I often  feel  the developer has the upper hand and everyone else is playing catch up.  When adopted, this model ordinance  can put the power back in the hands of the people and out of the hands of corporate entities.”


Abigail M. Jones, Vice President of Legal & Policy at PennFuture, added: “While PennFuture’s focus on developing this Model Ordinance and Guidebook comes from our work protecting Exceptional Value and High Quality streams and wetlands in the Poconos, communities across the Commonwealth have to respond to the influx of these massive logistics facilities - many being built ‘on spec.’ We hope that this is a resource that all municipalities in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties can utilize to protect the health of our most sensitive community members and environmental resources.”


PennFuture is excited to provide this resource for all municipalities across the Commonwealth that desire up-to-date land use regulations to protect their communities and their environment in an ever-changing logistics landscape.


To learn more about the Model Logistics Ordinance and Guidebook, please click here.



About PennFuture: 

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) is a member-supported, statewide environmental advocacy nonprofit and watchdog fighting against potential threats to PA's clean air, pure water, and healthy climate. Since 1998, PennFuture has combined legislative advocacy and legal enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels, educational outreach, and civic engagement support for just and equitable environmental outcomes that improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. 

PennFuture has stood at the forefront of major environmental milestones in Pennsylvania as a bold and vigilant defender of communities against pollution and environmentally harmful policies.

We have offices across Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Erie, and the Poconos.



Leigh Martinez

Communications Director, PennFuture