UPDATE: ‘Preliminary party status’ granted to 28 in Dollar General case

28 seek ‘party status’ in opposition to Dollar General

Bulletin:

Early Friday evening, the District Environmental Commission #2  sent out notice that “preliminary party status” has been granted to the 28 Chester residents and second-homeowners who are objecting to the construction of a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on Main Street. Preliminary party status will allow those who sought party status to state their cases, based on the Act 250 criteria that they petitioned under. At the Act 250 hearing of Nov. 9, the three-member Environmental Commission will then decide if the parties do indeed have party status. According to the notice, “Pursuant to 10 V.S.A. § 6085(c)(6), the Commission will re-examine its party status decisions prior to the close of the hearing and will state its final party status decisions either in the decision it issues on the case or in a separate memorandum.”

READ THE FULL MEMO HERE.

By Cynthia Prairie

Twenty-eight Chester residents and/or business owners have petitioned the District 2 Environmental Commission for formal “party status” in opposition to the proposal to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on Main Street in Chester.

Dollar General, the Goodlettsville, Tenn., small-box giant, opened its 10,000th store this year. It currently has 15 stores in Vermont, including one in nearby Springfield.

Gaining party status would give a person “the right to participate in Act 250 proceedings and the right to appeal a district commission decision,” according to the state manual on participating in such proceedings.

The petitions were presented to the three-member commission on Tuesday, Oct. 16 and Wednesday, Oct. 17, when a preliminary hearing at Town Hall in Chester was held specifically to address the issue of who could have party status. The commission, according to the manual, will decide on party status based on whether the petitioners have shown that they have a “particularized interest” in the outcome of the case “distinguishable from the interests of the general public.”

About 17 residents and business owners showed up for the 9:30 a.m. hearing, including Select Board members Tom Bock, Derek Suursoo and Bill Lindsay. The Select Board has automatic party status.

The District 2 Commission is made up of Stephan Morse, former Vermont House speaker and former head of the Windham Foundation; chair Michael Bernhardt, a former member of the state House from Londonderry, and Stanley Borofsky, owner of the Sam’s outdoors stores. Also in attendance was Linda Matteson, who is the Vermont Natural Resources Board commission coordinator.

Matt Casey, of the developer the Zaremba Group, and Rutland attorney David Cooper represented the project. The almost 90-minute hearing, which could be described as both formal and casual as the commission attempted to lead the parties through the day’s process, began with Matt Casey giving an overview of the project, including what the facade would be made of and how the ingress and egress would be altered to accommodate both the former Zachary’s Pizza House (now Main Street Pizza) as well as the Dollar General.

Each attendee was given a green sheet of paper that outlined the 10 criteria that the commission will consider under Act 250 guidelines.

Chair Bernhardt then asked audience members to introduce themselves. As they did so, several voiced their objections to the project. Lonnie Lisai, owner of Lisai’s Chester Market, handed in his own petition seeking party status for himself and his wife, Virginia, and Michele Bargfrede, owner of Sage Jewelry on Main Street, is seeking party status with Claudio Veliz and Diane and John Holme.

Bargfrede said, “I’m a business-owner, and I feel it will negatively impact … Chester is a destination and I don’t believe that the aesthetics of the building will fit in.”

Following Lisai, commission member Morse said that as the head of the Windham Foundation, he at one time had leased the Grafton Country Store to Lisai, but that there was no economic involvement and the relationship ended a while ago.

After Shawn Cunningham* of Smart Growth Chester handed in petitions for 22 of the 28 seeking party status, Bernhardt said, “We will take this submission and review these requests then issue our decision” about party status. A decision is expected to be rendered soon.

Cooper objected to the criteria used seeking party status saying “they are all generalized objections. … not mandatory to the Town Plan.”

But Bargfrede said, “I object to his objection because I am a small business owner and I do think it’s in the Town Plan.”

Cooper also objected to Claudio Veliz’s contention that he passed the site every day on his way to work, saying that he “Googled” Veliz’s address to discover that his business and home were both north of the Dollar General property. Veliz, whose apartment is south of the Dollar General site and whose office is across the street from the Whiting Library, responded, “Apparently, Google is wrong.”

During the hearing, Cooper objected to the submissions almost as a matter of rote. When approached after the hearing to seek details of his objections, he refused to comment saying, “There is no way you are going to tell me you are unbiased.” He then noted that The Chester Telegraph could expect no comment from anyone associated with the project.

At the end, Bernhardt moved the time for the next meeting to 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9, beginning with a site visit at Zachary’s Pizza House, across from Country Girl Diner on Main Street. The hearing, Bernhardt said, will begin following the site visit, “no later than 10 a.m.” at Town Hall, 556 Elm St., and hopes to confine testimony to one day.

That hearing will include expert testimony on all sides, including, Cooper said, an engineer, a traffic and an aesthetics expert.

Jim Dumont, the attorney representing Smart Growth Chester, said that at this juncture his expert testimony will come from Jean Vissering, a landscape architect who testified during the Chester Development Review Board hearing that the project did not fit in with the overall character of the town of Chester.

*The reporter of this story is married to Shawn Cunningham.

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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. McB says:

    Thank you for this article. I feel it’s well reported and although you have your own opinion, You always state only the facts and let the reader draw his own conclusions. It is great to see a local “paper” that is reporting all the news, not just the pretty stuff. As always well done!