DRB member speaks against Dollar General

By Cynthia Prairie

Navigating a bumpy sea of issues – from the placement of catch basins to water connections for a sprinkler system to expected noise levels – the Chester Development Review Board held what it promised would be its final meeting last night, Monday, March 12, on a proposed conditional use permit to allow construction of a Dollar General store.

The plan is to build a 9,100-square-foot store on Zachary’s Pizza House property, south of Zachary’s building and directly across the street from the Country Girl Diner on Main Street. The store would be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Chris Ponessi of Speath Engineering, standing, addresses alterations to the Dollar General plan while DRB member Scott Wunderle looks on. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Despite the surplus of technical details, the meeting was not without drama. DRB member Scott Wunderle commended Speath Engineering and the Zaremba Group, which would be building for Dollar General Corp., saying, “I think you’ve done a good job addressing the concerns we’ve had.”

He then switched gears, saying he wanted to read his own personal statement into the record.
“While the physical characteristics of the 9,100-square-foot retail store may be in keeping with other nearby structures,” he read, “the introduction of a national chain discount retail box store is something that currently does not exist in Chester. As such, the tradition of locally owned and operated retailers who repeatedly give back to the Chester community will be altered. In a community that benefits from the generous donations of the existing retailers in town” to many community events, “the proposed Dollar General will contribute nothing to our culture or sense of community.”

He added, “The shift within the village may be subtle, but is profound.” He then expressed concern that approving this big box store would be an invitation to others to move in.

The proposed Dollar General will contribute nothing to our culture or sense of community.

DRB member Scott Wunderle

The audience of about 45 residents erupted into applause.

DRB Chair Peter Hudkins then asked Matt Casey, of the Zaremba Group, what Dollar General would contribute to the community, what it contributes to the communities that it locates in. To which Casey replied, “It varies.” But Casey emphasized, “Dollar General wants to be part of the community.”

Although citizens weren’t allowed to testify during the meeting – Hudkins told the crowd that they had had many meetings beforehand in which to do so – Shawn Cunningham*, who has testified on behalf of Smart Growth Chester, was allowed to offer a statement.

Dollar General wants to be part of the community.

Matt Casey, The Zaremba Group

Quoting the town plan, which he called “exceptional,” he said, “Does it appear, from objective evidence, expert opinion, public opinion or common sense that the proposed use in the area proposed will be good for Chester and the majority of its residents?” Cunningham said his group has proved that on all four points a Dollar General would not “be good for Chester and its residents.” He cited evidence of flooding, the current zoning regulations, expert testimony that said the building design “does not adhere harmoniously to the New England character of the center of town,” the negative economic impact on established, locally owned businesses and public opinion. He also received sustained applause.

On Tuesday, Cunningham said, “Dollar General wants to be part of this community, but we’ve never seen anyone from Dollar General in Chester.”

Dollar General wants to be part of this community, but we’ve never seen anyone from Dollar General in Chester.

Shawn Cunningham, Smart Growth Chester

In interviews before the hearing, several opponents said why they are against the Dollar General.
Carole Reeves said, “Anything that would harm our precious Lisai’s (grocery store) is not OK. I think it (a Dollar General) would detract from their business.”
“It doesn’t keep the money in the community,” said Sage Jewelry owner Michele Bargfrede.
And Jane Davis said, “I don’t think it fits the character of Chester or of the town plan.”

The DRB said it will deliberate for the next 45 days before issuing its decision about whether the Dollar General store will be given a conditional use permit to build.

Steve Zind of VPR reported on last night’s meeting. You can read and listen to his story here and to another version here.

*Shawn Cunningham is married to Cynthia Prairie.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Judith A. Bravin says:

    PLEASE do not let this happen. We moved here from New York after our retirement for the wonderful and peaceful life here. Yes, we know Vermont as the endangered state and we do not want such changes. I will not patronize Dollar General should it become a reality. We have Dollar General “in our backyard” in Springfield…thank you…

    Judith A. Bravin

  2. Bruce Farr says:

    I continue to be extremely impressed with what you’re doing with The Chester Telegraph, Cynthia. In the realm of local Vermont news sources, it’s beyond virtually anything out there: highly informative, graphically and functionally well-designed and exceedingly well-written. Keep up the good work!

  3. Judy Verespy says:

    Thank you to all who attended, and especially to Scott and Shawn who spoke so eloquently about this important issue! Thanks for the great reporting as well.

  4. Wendy Schwarz says:

    Thank you for the excellent report. We were not able to attend, but you bring us right up to date. Knowledge is everything!

  5. Wayne says:

    Second on the RSS. If you need any help, let me know!

    On the store front, if you will, I also second and am grateful for you guys doing all of this for those of us who are unable or just too lazy to attend!

  6. Kathy says:

    Thank you so much for providing coverage of issues important to all residents and property owners in Chester. You’ve made it possible for those of us who can not make meetings to have an clear perspective as to what has transpired.

  7. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Thanks Scott, If we get more requests for an RSS feed, I will be happy to add that. In the meantime, you can subscribe to The Chester Telegraph news alerts on the homepage. Right below the advertising is a subscription form! And be sure to like us on FB!

  8. Scott J. Morgan says:

    Great reporting. Is there a way to subscribe to news feeds with an RSS feed via email or Facebook? Thanks!