DRB approves Dollar General proposal

By Cynthia Prairie

The Chester Development Review Board has approved the proposal for a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on a 1.4-acre empty parcel southeast of Main Street Pizza, former home to Zachary’s Pizza House. The decision was 3 to 2, and voted on Monday night, April 16.

The DRB did place 35 conditions upon the Zaremba Group, the developer for the Dollar General building. Among the conditions that Zaremba had said it would agree to during the hearing process are: horizontal natural wood clapboard siding as opposed to vinyl; new sidewalks and curbs along Main Street; and a fire suppression sprinkler system.

DRB chairman Peter Hudkins said the developers “did offer clapboard but they wanted to stick with vinyl siding.”

The natural brick knee wall will remain, as will the faux windows, both on the main entry side of the building. The DRB also is requiring that Dollar General turn its outside lights and signs on no more than 30 minutes before opening and turn them off no later than 30 minutes after closing. Zaremba had suggested one hour on either end.

Other conditions include: a prohibition on outdoor displays of products and merchandise; indoor storage of all shopping carts at all times; perpetual care of landscaping; reimbursement to the town for the expense of  traffic management should problems arise; restrictions on the time and manner of delivery trucks unloading and conditions covering the maintenance of the building in the event of its closure.  Take The Telegraph Poll here.

In addition, the DRB ordered that the silver maple in front of the proposed store must be trimmed and maintained rather than cut down as Zaremba had proposed. If the tree dies, the applicant must replace it with a “6 inch caliper minimum of an appropriate variety.”

Despite the approval, the process has a long way to go. Opponents have vowed to appeal and, since the site already falls under the jurisdiction of  Act 250, the project still must go through that process. According to the state website, Act 250 is a “public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and developments in Vermont.” It takes into account 10 criteria that govern air and water pollution, wetlands, streams, shorelines and floodways as well as erosion, water supply, aesthetics, whether the development will be a burden on the community and if the development conforms with local and regional plans.

Shawn Cunningham*, of Smart Growth Chester, a group that has been fighting the proposal since last summer, said, “Of course, I’m disappointed, but not surprised. … I think the Development Review Board took its time and was diligent, but in the end didn’t believe that the current (Chester) zoning regulations gave them the tools to protect the community from a retailer that will do irreparable damage to the town’s economy and image.”

To help in its initial phase of opposition before the DRB, that organization had raised $11,000 through grants and donations to hire a legal adviser and landscape architect who specializes in assessing the visual impact of development on communities. Cunningham said that Smart Growth has nearly enough funds to mount an Act 250 challenge.

“This is far from over,” Cunningham said, “… we will file an appeal with Vermont’s Environmental Court and strenuously contest this application in the Act 250 process.”

Opponents have 30 days from April 17 to file an appeal with the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division.

When reached Wednesday, the Zaremba Group’s Matt Casey, who has represented the Dollar General Corp. at the DRB hearings, directed all questions to Dollar General corporate headquarters, as did Christopher Ponessi of Speath Engineering, the project’s engineers.

Tawn Earnest, a spokeswoman for Dollar General, said, “We’re pleased with that development and look forward to being a part of the community.”

“We’re pleased with that development and look forward to being a part of the community.”
Tawn Earnest
Dollar General spokeswoman

Claudio Veliz, an architect who is also a member of Smart Growth Chester, said, “I’m delighted that there were two instead of just one vote against (the Dollar General store.) … It certainly sends out the signal that Dollar General will not have an easy time of it and that goes for any other corporate entity that tries to bully its way into a community such as ours.”

Scott Wunderle, who has served on the board since its creation, said a split in the vote such as this is rare. Besides Wunderle, Bruce McEnaney also voted against the Dollar General; voting in favor were Hudkins, Dan Ferguson and Harry Goodell.

Cunningham urged Chester residents “to help ensure that this won’t happen again by coming out and commenting on the newly revised zoning regs at the Planning Commission’s public hearing.” That hearing is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday June 4th at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

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

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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. Nancy D. Moore says:

    Chester is one of the quintessential Vermont towns we love to visit. The recent dollar store debate is worrisome. We would hate for Vermont to turn into another Connecticut or New Hampshire with big box stores. The way these stores will sneak in with loopholes will be the beginning of the end. It will be unfortunate. Vermont is the only State worth living and saving and visiting in the Northeast and I hope the inhabitants will continue to cherish and protect its uniqueness. Without its uniqueness, beauty and charm, there will be no reason to visit or to move here and Vermonters will be the biggest losers while corporations will profit on your backs.

  2. First, I’d like to give kudos to those who have opposed this, and continue to do so.

    Second – why are the rest of us not at these meetings to stand up for what WE want? It may not have the same tone and significance of “Occupy Wall Street,” but it is the same thing. WE THE PEOPLE – have to get out and make NOISE.

    We need stop relying on “others” and start taking direct, proactive measures. Let’s not “hope” that ACT250 will stop this, let’s study ACT250 and find all the ways in which it could possibly apply and ENSURE that it gets stopped.


  3. Gail S. Gibbons says:

    I think we all thought they had better sense. Obviously, they didn’t. To Scott and Bruce: Thanks for having guts and a conscience. To the rest of you: I’m so disgusted with you. How could you?

  4. Chris Curran says:

    Kudos to Scott and Bruce for standing up for right. I’m disappointed in Dan and Peter, I thought they had better sense. I hope this gets overturned like the Zoning Board of Adjustmen’s big quarry debacle. I hope the town doesn’t expend any funds to support the DRB decision.

  5. Mike says:

    Indeed heartbreaking. Many thanks to Smart Growth Chester for their efforts to date. I hope your meager coffers allow for some professional guidance on the Act 250 process. Keep in mind that it is more than an up or down vote and the state’s conditions on the permit can do a lot to alleviate the varied harmful aspects of such an addition to our town. Thank you to Mr. Wunderle and Mr. McEnaney for your courage.

  6. Greg Hart says:

    Certainly a disappointment but definitely not a surprise. Mostly disappointed in myself. I attended only the last meeting and by then it was clearly too late as far as this phase. I was however encouraged to hear that Smart Growth Chester has plans for a strong and viable appeal and I plan on being more active and aware to aid in that process. This is a wake-up call to the residents of Chester. It’s not too late to fight this and to prevent anything similar in the future.

  7. Wayne says:

    Apologies for letting emotions get the best of me. What I would like to say in hindsight is thank you to those who fought, and continue to fight, for those of us who cannot.

  8. Wayne says:

    Me? I guess I’m a bit naive, but I am surprised! What is the thought process behind their thinking? Of course, with all this extra money just flowing into Chester’s coffers, not only will our taxes go down but the school budgets should no longer have to worry, right? Right? That’s the only reason I can see why they would want to pass this monstrosity. I think they ought to put a McDonald’s right next door. Maybe one of those Taco Bell/KFC’s. How about a check cashing service with a big green neon dollar sign? Oh well, now we’ll have to figure out what to do with the building when it no longer fits into the corporate plan and they abandon it for higher profits elsewhere.

  9. Jimmy Neissa says:

    Thank you for the informative update. We are very disappointed in the outcome of the vote. We do believe this will change the character of the town to one which so many of us try to avoid and why we originally settled on Chester as a community to spend much of our free time in. We look forward to supporting the vigorous appeals and all initiatives that can help to overturn the DRB’s decision.

  10. Melody Reed says:

    Also disappointed but not surprised. Keep up the good fight.