Act 250 panel gives Dollar General land-use permit

By Cynthia Prairie

The District Environmental Commission on Wednesday gave the Zaremba Group the necessary land-use permit to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on 1.4 acres on Main Street in Chester.

Still, the commission also placed several requirements on the developers and the store itself, including: adding a “Stop Ahead” sign on Route 103 heading south as it approaches the Maple Street/Main Street intersection, as well as adding street markings indicating such; installing bicycle racks; constructing a sidewalk between the Dollar General and Main Street Pizza; and obtaining approval from the commission before the store hangs “banners, flags, and other advertising displays” except for real estate marketing and a “grand opening” sign, which can only stay up for two months.

The commission added several requirements including: installing bicycle racks; constructing a sidewalk between the Dollar General and Main Street Pizza; and obtaining approval from the commission before the store hangs “banners, flags, and other advertising displays” except for real estate marketing and a “grand opening” sign, which can only stay up for two months.

In July 2012, Zaremba had suggested the “Stop Ahead” sign since Route 103 near Maple Street is a high crash location.

Also, the Dollar General can only turn its outside lights on 30 minutes before opening and must turn them off no more than 30 minutes afterward, the commission stated, upholding a condition – one of 35 – that the Chester Development Review Board had put on the corporation, which had requested 60 minutes on either end for the lights to be on.

Requests to Dollar General headquarters in Tennessee for comment Thursday, Feb. 28 and this morning, Friday, March 1, were not answered.

Update: In an email statement this morning (Friday, March 1), representatives for Dollar General said that the company “looks forward to joining and becoming an active member of the Chester community following the ACT 250 decision … Dollar General understands the unique needs of customers in rural areas and provides great values on products customers use and rely on every day in compact retail locations.”

The statement continues, “Dollar General greatly appreciates and respects Chester’s unique charm. Dollar General has been extremely thoughtful in the placement and design of the store to preserve the town’s character … (and) further serves as a good corporate citizen as part of its mission of “Serving Others” through … (its) Literacy Foundation and in-store events that directly benefit local organizations and schools.”

In opposing the Dollar General plan, the group Smart Growth Chester had contended that Chester zoning regulations required that new construction “adhere harmoniously to the overall New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.” The group said that that meant it needed to look and function like the Victorian-era Chester Green and surrounding businesses, which are owner-occupied.

Fits in with the surrounding community

However, the three-member commission, in its 25-page findings, found that the planned building instead fit in with its surrounding area, which is zoned residential-commercial and sits about a third of a mile from the Green. Linda Matteson, coordinator for the Environmental panel, said that the commissioners’ decision was unanimous and that if there had been disagreement, it would have appeared in the documents. The commission hearing occurred over two days — one in November 2012, the other in January.

Artist's rendering of the proposed Dollar General store.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Dollar General store.

The commission wrote, “There is a distinct change in the development pattern beginning at the northwestern end of the RC District and continuing to the intersection with Pleasant Street.” It added, “Beginning where South Main Street intersects with Maple Street and continuing southeast, building setbacks vary; and several buildings are set back further from the road. The space between buildings also increases. Several properties have large parking areas …” The panel cited the “high level of architectural variation within” the immediate area.

The commission found that the proposed Dollar General, which would be wooden-sided with a brick knee-wall, have faux windows, a faux cupola and a faux hayloft door, was similar in appearance to other gable-ended structures and size to several other commercial structures in Chester, including the Chester Hardware.

Jim Dumont, an attorney who is representing Smart Growth, said Thursday it was “very unfortunate” that the commission “disregarded” the Chester Town Plan and the regional plan. “The law is that the developer has to prove that it meets the regional plan. There is no proof of that,” Dumont said.“Zoning, planning and Act 250 aren’t just (there) to keep things the way they are,” he said referring to the commission’s view that the proposal fits in with the surrounding area. “They should be aspirational.” While they did talk about zoning and the town plan in the findings of fact, he said, they didn’t specifically address the parts “that we cited.”

“The idea behind a Dollar General is to take money out of the local economy. They don’t buy anything local, they don’t contribute in any real way to the economy.”

Shawn Cunningham
Smart Growth Chester

Dumont called it “disheartening” to work for citizens who work hard and volunteer their time and money on community issues such as this when their arguments are not addressed by the panel.

Zaremba has been working since spring of 2011 to build a Dollar General in Chester. But it has been met by a long DRB process, opposition from town residents and the Act 250 hearing. And the process still is not over, since Smart Growth Chester has vowed to appeal the DRB decision.

Opponents to continue fight

Shawn Cunningham*, of Smart Growth Chester, said that, from the beginning his group “expected to take (the fight) as far as necessary to stop the Dollar General.” Smart Growth is in the process of appealing the DRB approval to the state Superior Court Environmental Division and will be appealing this decision as well. No court date for the DRB hearing has been set, but the group’s brief is due to the court in late March.

Asked if his organization can approve of the project with the restrictions placed on it, Cunningham replied, “No, the idea behind a Dollar General is to take money out of the local economy. They don’t buy anything local, they don’t contribute in any real way to the economy. All they do is take money out of the economy. That is not what Chester needs.”

*Shawn Cunningham is married to the reporter of this article.

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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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