The Georgia Planning Commission recently denied a site plan application for a Dollar General store in the town’s South Village Core, but an attorney for the developer said the store will resubmit plans and address the board’s concerns.
In a letter submitted January 25, attorney James Goss asked the board for reconsideration.
The town’s vision for the SVC, a zoning district established in 2010, is a dense, walkable living and shopping area reminiscent of a traditional Vermont village, Planning Commission Chairman Peter Pembroke said.
“This was the first big test of that new zoning district and the regs that went along with it,” Pembroke said last week.
A representative of Zaremba Program Development, an Ohio-based real estate company, and project engineer Andy Hoak of local firm Ruggiano Engineering presented the Dollar General concept before the commission in October. After two hearings, the board voted 5-2 to deny the application. Only Suzanna Brown and Geoff Sweeney voted in favor.
The developers proposed subdividing an existing 15-acre parcel on the eastern side of Route 7, on which currently sits Homestead Campground. The general merchandise store and parking lot would take up a 1.5-acre lot closest to the road, abutting Georgia Market, the plan indicates.
After meeting for a combined hour and a half of executive session discussion over the three public hearings, the commission ultimately decided the proposal didn’t meet its vision for the SVC.
Dissenters largely argued the project was smaller in scope than desired for a dense, mixed-use area. Regs call for multiple-story buildings; the 1,900-square foot space is just one story with a two-story facade.
“It says that all the buildings should be two-story buildings on the front, facing Route 7, but it doesn’t say that it has to be two stories that are being used,” Brown said in favor of the applicant.
The commissioner realized developers interpret the rules differently than the PC intended.
“They came in with the false front idea, and when you read it, you can see why they could interpret it that way,” Brown said.
The written decision states the Planning Commission eventually OK’d the faux-second story but made it clear the proposal does not contribute to the PC’s mixed-use vision.
During the hearings, commissioners and landowner Ray Bouffard asked the developer to build a connector road between the proposed store and the developments to its north, including Bouffard’s Georgia Market. Such would help make the SVC attractive for pedestrians and cyclists and to move traffic off the busy state highway.
In December, Hoak said the concept posed logistical problems with the current layout. The PC’s decision indicates the applicant said the connector road “is not legally feasible.” They cited unspecific liability issues, Georgia Planner Mike Ferrone said.
The plan did include a five-foot cement sidewalk that would extend north and south along Route 7, but the proposed path doesn’t line up with the approved plan for a walkway in front of Georgia Market, Ferrone said. Aside from another small path along the parking lot, no other public spaces were proposed.
Landscaping also posed problems for the developer. Regulations promote greenery, and though the plan showed some shrubbery and trees between the building and Route 7, the plants were not tall enough for the zoning district.
According to meeting minutes, Scott Holman of Zaremba said plans would have added more landscaping, but SVC zoning regs required more parking than the store wanted. The rules call for one space per 200 square feet, plus one spot for each employee.
The PC can waive the parking requirement if the applicant justifies this with analysis, but Zaremba didn’t undertake such a study, the decision says.
The commission also didn’t like that the plan didn’t incorporate enough erosion control and stormwater management, like a rain garden. One drainage swale to manage stormwater runoff was included in the proposal, Pembroke added.
Brown voted for the application to highlight the zoning regulations’ gray areas.
“I thought that with some suggestions from the Planning Commission, they could have easily become more compliant,” she said.
The Planning Commission is currently rewriting its zoning regulations and plans to present a new draft for public review late this spring. Brown said the Dollar General hearings underscored some problems that should be cleared up in the new draft.
Pembroke agreed: “It wasn’t that someone came in and wanted to build a 30-foot skyscraper. It was a little here, a little here that added up to a preponderance of opinion about the project,” he said.
Pembroke said the PC had very thoughtful discussions about the project. He added he believes public perception of the Dollar General is negative; meeting attendees felt it wasn’t a good fit, he said.
According to minutes, townspeople expressed concerns about water and sewer issues associated with increased development in the area. Pembroke said if Georgia envisions higher-density development in its SVC, “water and septic is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed by the town.”
Other people said the town doesn’t need another general store in town, especially because Dollar General has outlets in the neighboring town of Milton as well as in Richford.
Brown agreed: “There are a lot of other things missing in the area that might be fit for our downtown,” she said, adding her personal opinion doesn’t affect her decisions on the board.
“The Planning Commission doesn’t get to decide which business comes to town,” she said.
If the applicant re-submits, a new hearing will be publically warned in the Milton Independent, Ferrone said.
Editor’s note: The version of this article that appeared in print mistakenly said there is a Dollar General location in St. Albans. There is not. The online version reflects the edit.