Smart Growth Chester testifies against Dollar General

Monday’s Development Review Board hearing was to be an opportunity for a local group to testify on a Dollar General store proposed to be built next to Zachary’s Pizza House.

But, for almost half of the two-hour hearing, it became semantics gymnastics when the developer’s attorney repeatedly questioned one witness on her characterization of New England architecture and on the definitions of words she used. But DRB chair Peter Hudkins interrupted, asking the attorney pointedly whether he knew when the buildings he had used as examples of comparable architecture to promote the Dollar General were built, suggesting that they may have been constructed before Chester even had zoning laws in place.

Artist’s rendering of proposed Dollar General

Smart Growth Chester, a group of residents who say they are interested in attracting businesses that fit the type of growth set out in Chester’s Town Plan, came to address standards that must be met before the DRB can issue a conditional use permit to Zaremba Group to build the 9,100-square-foot store on 1.37 acres next to the vacant pizzeria on Route 103 South.

About 60 Chester residents turned out for the hearing on the conditional use permit, sought by the Zaremba Group, a nationwide developer based in Ohio that is focused on building large shopping centers that house national chain retailers.


David Cooper of Kenlan, Schweibert, Facey and Goss of Rutland, had been questioning Jean Vissering, a landscape architect who specializes in assessing the visual impact of development on communities. Vissering, who was hired by Smart Growth Chester, used a Power Point presentation to illustrate her points, but had to testifying by speaker phone since she has been laid up following knee surgery.

Here is her presentation: view her presentation here.

Vissering had focused her presentation on the Residential-Commercial Special Criteria in town zoning regulations that new construction “adhere harmoniously to the overall New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.” Such buildings, she said, have steep roofs, multiple stories, side or rear parking and are situated close to the street.

To illustrate, she showed both new and old construction in Chester and said that some, such as the Country Girl Diner and the Sunoco building fit the architecture of a time but likely wouldn’t be allowed today. She added that some newer examples of buildings that adhere to the “New England style” include Gallery 103 and the American Legion, both with steeply pitched roofs appearing to be at least two stories in height.

Vissering also presented photos of homes neighboring Zachary’s as illustrations of local architecture that reflects the character of Chester.

But Cooper continued to challenge her characterization of Chester as a “village” and of “historic New England architecture,” asking if there were not some historic buildings in New England that had one one story or a flat roof or were set well away from the street. Vissering replied that while there may be some such structures, they are not characteristic of New England.

Vissering said the Dollar General plan presented a “large box-like structure” with architectural detail that “bears no relation to the surroundings” and includes “large and highly visible parking” with “no meaningful open space.” The site, she added, “is an important gateway location that should reflect the lovely historic building of Chester.”


Pointing to the Country Girl Diner, with its front parking and lack of landscaping, the flat-roofed Sunoco building and the Stone House Antique Mall, with its large parking lot, Cooper said, “Every portion of your testimony that you say is inconsistent (with New England architecture), there are examples of like situations (to the Dollar General plan) in the area.”

Vissering replied that it would be best to try not to “repeat styles (of architecture) that don’t go.”

At that point, Hudkins interrupted, asking Cooper, “How many of those structures were there before zoning regulations?”

“I don’t think that is relevant,” Cooper responded.

“It is relevant,” Hudkins said, “and you should find that out.”

‘Every portion of your testimony that you say is inconsistent (with New England architecture), there are examples of like situations

(to the Dollar General plan) in the area.’

David Cooper

Zaremba attorney


The meeting began when Shawn Cunningham* of Smart Growth Chester presented a video of flooding on the site during Tropical Storm Irene. The video was shot by architect Claudio Veliz. Wayne LeFevre added animation to drawings of the proposed site. You can


Cunningham then used Dollar General’s own 2010 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that refers to its “lean store staffing model” of two full-time managers and three or more part-time clerks. He contrasted that with the “customer service model” that he said is practiced by Chester businesses. Cunningham then challenged earlier testimony by Matt Casey of Zaremba. In August, Casey had said that Dollar General would bring in 10 to 15 jobs. But on Monday, Cunningham called that impossible.

According to Dollar General, he said, in 2010 it employed a total of 89,500 in corporate, distribution center and store locations. With 9,372 stores nationwide in 2010, Cunningham figures Dollar General averages 9.5 employees per store – but many work in other aspects of the business such as at distributions centers and in corporate offices. He then compared the “lean store model” with Lisai’s Market, which has nine full-time and 20 part-time employees in a store less than half the size of the proposed store.

He estimated that instead of bringing money into Chester, a Dollar General store would remove $180,000 to $415,000 annually from the local economy not including job losses at local stores.


Cunningham also said that he believed a Dollar General would adversely affect property values. Second homeowners, he said, choose a town for a lot of reasons, “but shopping at a Dollar General is not one of them. Making the town less attractive to second homeowners, we should be very concerned with. They aren’t tourists. They are taxpayers and they pay at a higher rate,” and “pay full freight for the schools.”

“It seems unlikely,” he said, “that visitors will flock to Chester to visit our Dollar General.”

He added that, “Injuring the character of a picturesque New England town … will reverberate through the tourism economy.”

“If people feel less like stopping in Chester because its suburban strip mall gateway makes them feel that it’s not ‘the Vermont they’ve been hoping to find,’ there is an immediate loss to shops, restaurants and inns.”

‘If people feel less like stopping in Chester because its suburban strip mall gateway makes them feel that it’s not the Vermont they’ve been hoping to find, there is an immediate loss to shops, restaurants and inns.’

Shawn Cunningham

Smart Growth Chester

The Town Plan, Cunningham added, refers to growth at a “pace that does not destroy the Town’s character.” Smart Growth Chester believes, he said, that adding “9,100 square feet of retail to a town whose biggest store is half that size is neither orderly growth nor a wise pace.”

Again reading from the Dollar General SEC filing, he said, “Many of our new stores will be located … where we have existing units. … (which) may result in inadvertent over-saturation of markets.” Cunningham then added, “With a Dollar General and a Family Dollar just 8 miles (away), we could envision a day when an empty Dollar General and an empty pizza house are the greeting we give those coming into town from the east.”

He concluded by saying that while his organization believes that a dollar type store is inappropriate for Chester, there is a need for reasonably priced goods. Alternatives, like the community-owned mercantile that was featured in The New York Times, he said, would fit the bill. Cunningham also wrote about the idea for You can read that here.


Citizen comment is being urged at the the next Development Review Board meeting on the Dollar General conditional use permit. It will be held on Monday, Dec. 12, beginning at 7 p.m. at Town Hall at 556 Elm St.

*Editor’s note: Cynthia Prairie and Shawn Cunningham have been married for 21 years.


— Cynthia Prairie



As always, your comments are valued.


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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has 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, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Chris Walker says:

    More comments from second-owner move-ins that have Dollar General stores near their primary homes. Chester has been taken over by flatlanders.

  2. Marjorie Carey says:

    As a second-home owner, with two adult children who have also bought homes in Chester, I can wait till I return to Massachusetts if I want to waste money at a Dollar General type store. Most of the things sold there are of extremely poor quality, made in China and don’t last long, often breaking before their first use. I have long since stopped buying at that type of store. (But if you want) there is a Job Lots in Walpole, N.H. about 13 miles away. I would consider selling and leaving Chester if it becomes a DG type of town.

  3. Elaine says:

    Kathy, as a second homeowner I also agree with everything you have said. We bring friends and relatives to Chester who spend money at the restaurants, gift shops and inns. We have plenty of dollar stores back home and do not want to visit one in Chester. I think if this store is built you will see another vacant building in a year just like some others in town. These types of stores survive on volume. The tourists driving up RT 103 will not stop at the dollar store, and the population of Chester, VT cannot sustain the volume that is needed for them to survive. I am so pleased to see the town fighting this business. You are doing a great job. Please keep it up.

  4. Kathy says:

    To Shawn and the other talented individuals: Thank you for your energy, time and effort to promote Smart (and sensible) Growth in Chester.

    Thank you to the residents who take time from their schedules and families to attend the hearings — no matter what side of the issue you stand on. It is great to see that there are people who care about their community.

  5. Kathy says:

    As a second homeowner (who does pay higher taxes and contributes to the schools without utilizing them) I and others like me bring family and friends alike into the area who spend their tourist dollars in Chester shops, at Chester restaurants and Chester inns. We don’t get a vote or say come Town Meeting Day — the only way we can express ourselves is through our wallets. I know of several others who are seriously considering selling their Chester homes in the event that a DG (or any dollar store) is permitted to be built in town. If second homes are sold and turned into primary residences, there will be more children in the schools (which might very well result in an increase in your school taxes), more competition for local jobs, and fewer caretaker jobs for those who created service jobs geared toward second homes.

    Should DG be built, you’ve opened the door for an onslaught of national stores — McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Hooters — to name a few.

    But hey, someone saved a dollar on a foreign import that will make its way into the landfill a short time later.

  6. Lew Watters says:

    One of the best meetings I have attended in the Town Hall. Thanks for the excellent presentation. It should open a lot of eyes and change some minds.

  7. Laurie says:

    I am a Grafton resident but I appreciate being kept in the loop about Dollar General and Smart Growth in Chester. I was thrilled to hear that 60 Chester residents showed up for the meeting. I completely support your efforts to keep such enterprises out of our local communities. You are doing a fantastic job of showing you care enough to take action. The flood video and architectural presentation were compelling additions to your case. Keep up the great work!

  8. Bruce Farr says:

    Shawn is clearly fighting the good fight in behalf of Chester. It’s apparent that he’s logged untold hours researching a solid rationale and rebuttal to Dollar General’s plans.

  9. Shawn Cunningham says:

    Thanks to you all for your kind words, but this is definitely a group effort. Scott Morgan, Claudio Veliz and Phillisa Prescott are part of the core group of Smart Growth Chester. Wayne LeFevre lent his video expertise and Ron Jackson provided technical assistance. The next DRB meeting on the Dollar General proposal is Monday Dec. 12th. It’s the chance for everyone to turn out and tell the DRB your views on the project. So mark your calendars!

  10. Cortney Donohue says:

    I second that!!!! Thank you to Shawn, Smart Growth, and everyone else for your support in maintaining an authentic identity for a town with such charm and grace! Thank you also for having this article for reading! Thank you! Thank you!:)

  11. Donna J. McLaughlin says:

    Bravo to Shawn! Thank you for standing up for our town!

  12. Nancy L Pennell says:

    Kudos to Shawn for the work he has done to gather information and deliver a brilliant and articulate argument for smart growth in our town.