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Updated Dollar General Proposal

The Zaremba Group returned to the Chester Development Review Board Monday night, Oct. 10, with altered plans for a proposed Dollar General Store for the Zachary's Pizza House site that it claims are in line with the town plan and its zoning regulations.

Before those issues could be addressed, however, the DRB approved the subdivision proposal for the Main Street property pending receipt from the developer of corrections on the site plan.

'BARN LOOK'

Matt Casey of Zaremba Group, which is the developer, and Chris Ponessi of Speath Engineering then presented the altered plans to attempt to get the necessary conditional use permit. Those alterations include using wood siding as opposed to vinyl and adding a cupola and a faux hayloft door to give the 9,100-square-foot space a “barn look.” In addition to the faux windows flanking the glass front door, faux windows would run down both sides of the building. Plans are to add shutters to the front faux windows as well as the side windows.

Board member Scott Wunderle questioned the use of faux windows, saying that a barn look doesn't necessarily call for any windows. And member Bruce McEnaney asked why the developers weren't taking advantage of the solar gain from real windows. Member Dan Ferguson remarked that shutters “should look like they actually cover windows.”

Board members also questioned the building's ability to handle snow. Ponessi responded that they've moved the building 4 feet to the south – away from the current Zachary's parking lot – to accommodate snow sliding off the standing seam roof and into what would be Dollar General's side parking lot, as well as added snow breaks on the roof.

But McEnaney said that “stock buildings” such as these – with no internal columns where the load is borne by outside walls via trusses – cause him to be concerned “no matter what the builders say.” McEnaney said later that, last year, buildings collapsed in Central New England that were designed by competent architects and constructed by competent companies.

LANDSCAPING CHANGES

Ponessi also said that changes have been made to the landscape plans including adding a stockade fence and an arborvitae along the utility pad and around the dumpster. Plantings around the front and along the side would also include rhododendron, apple service berry and maple trees. He added that these plans compare favorably to other businesses such as Country Girl Diner, Jack's Diner, the American Legion, Stone House Antiques Center, Chester Hardware and the gas stations, which have no screening. Bartlett Tree Service, Ponessi said, examined the large silver maple at the front of the property and recommended that it be taken down since the company believes it won't live another five years even with trimming, pruning and cabling.

TRAFFIC CONCERNS

David Saladino, of the consulting firm RSG Inc., said he did a “cursory” traffic analysis and thinks that traffic will increase 2% to 3% during peak hours, including restaurant traffic.

DRB chief Peter Hudkins asked if Saladino had made comparisons with other ski areas, to which Saladino replied that the numbers “are a bit conservative.” At that point Michael Normyle, Chester's zoning administrator, suggested that Saladino add foliage season to the study. And board member Wunderle added that foliage season is busier, but the concentration of traffic is greater during ski season. There are “two-hour blocks when you can't get through town,'' he said.

CITIZENS CONCERNED

The floor was then opened for public comment. Shawn Cunningham, of Smart Growth Chester, said one of the concerns of his group was 6” of running water that flooded Zachary's parking lot during Tropical Storm Irene and flowed into the proposed building site. He said he would bring video to the next meeting.

DRB members then began to discuss the effects of “box retailers” upon a small community. McEnaney said, “Every dollar that is spent (at a box store) is taken from somewhere else.” He then asked what percentage of products by category Dollar General sold. Matt Casey of Zaremba said that while he did not have sales figures, 40% to 50% of a Dollar General's floor space is dedicated to food. The remainder is dedicated to “everyday items:” paper products, detergents, toiletries and clothing such as socks and underwear.

Resident Kathy Pellett stood to express concern about the money that would be going “out of the community to a national chain.” Tom Hildreth, who sits on the Planning Board, said box stores are “in fierce competition” with one another. “Letting one in means another is going to be knocking on the door,” he said.

Referring to the zoning requirement that a building fit in with the character of the community, Cunningham said that Chester's character isn't just what it looks like. “The economic character,” he said, “is local ownership of business,” with only five or so businesses on Main Street being owned by an outside entity.

And Carrie King asked about the lifespan of a Dollar General and why officials with the Dollar General aren't in Chester to answer questions, but instead send representatives who cannot. Cunningham agreed.

The next DRB meeting that will continue to discuss the conditional use application for the Dollar General will begin at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at Town Hall on Elm Street.

--- Cynthia Prairie

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Comments

Carrie's words convey what I wish to say. Thank you for your coverage of events as they unfold. The Chester government website Agendas and Minutes section is fine for looking up archived materials, but trying to learn about current issues is not as easy. I might be overlooking a link, but for example, I could not find the agenda for last night's DRB meeting on the site.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

I agree with Shawn that there would be a negative economic impact on the Chester community. We currently have local businesses that provide many of the items that are sold by the "box stores" who could be negatively impacted. These businesses are much more valuable to the nature of our community than an outside entity who is only interested in siphoning off business for their corporate and stockholders interests and/or looking for another location to display their logo. This also has the capability of opening the floodgates for further development by other "box stores" and destroying both the quaint small town atmosphere that Chester is known for and decimating our small downtown businesses. What would Chester look like with closed storefronts on the Green? Who would want to come here? What we really need is a drugstore in Chester.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Thank You Carrie for asking the right question!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Did anyone ask the Zaremba Group why Dollar General would want to locate so close to an existing DG store, when there are other locations farther from Springfield that might bring them more business -- as opposed to siphoning away some existing business from Springfield? What is DG's long-term vision for the Springfield store? For Chester?

Should Dollar General be allowed to raise their barn, be prepared for other corporate swallows to swoop in.

Say goodbye to ice cream and Mountain Man and hello 31 Flavors and Taco Bell. Goodbye Pizza Stone, Hello Pizza Hut. Goodbye Heritage, Hello Subway. Goodbye Chester Hardware and Chester Hardwoods, hello Home Depot. Goodbye quaint inns, Hello Holiday Inn.

Hooters on the Green has a nice ring...

Monday, 17 October 2011

I would like to make it clear that when I spoke at the DRB, I was expressing the opinion of a private citizen, not that of the Chester Planning Commission.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Let's think about this. There has clearly been a lot of chat around town about Dollar General coming to Chester. Personally, as someone who drives the extra miles to go to Dollar General in Springfield to get "every day items", I think Chester would benefit from this type of business. The other stores in town won't suffer, and those that do...well, let's be honest. Chester isn't exactly known for practical, every-day stores that most of its locals shop at. Most "small businesses" currently in Chester are geared toward the tourists. For those of you who remember, Lisai's and Gould's were both in town and Lisai's flourished...and what it all comes down to is BUSINESS PRACTICES and the products that are offered. People "complain" about the extra traffic, volume of people, etc. that a store like this would bring...isn't that what we want? In a town so small, you would think that the extra business would be appreciated, not to mention the extra jobs that it would offer, especially during economic times like this. As someone who was born and raised in this town, I'd like to see Chester take the opportunity at letting a business in that would offer some sort of expansion to take place instead of repeatedly turning away potential growth. I will still support the local businesses like Lisai's, the Pizza Stone, Heritage, etc. ... Dollar General doesn't sell fresh cuts of meat, oven-hot pizza, or freshly baked goods. But until this town decides to actually let businesses start coming in, I WILL continue to shop in Springfield at Dollar General like I always have.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I am in agreement with Jen. I also might point out that there is a very large number of people in Chester who are not affluent and that dollars spent at a Dollar General do support our local community. They do so in tax revenue and local jobs. Is Jiffy Mart and Sunoco a local business? No but they do serve a local purpose with a positive outcome. I for one see more and more home sales and foreclosures. It is very sad. So when I see a business opening and willing to change their standard appearance to come here and accommodate the local community by doing something different as well as providing items at a cost that truly is affordable, and local jobs I can't see how we can afford to say no. Vermont is so against business it may be our undoing. There has to be a balance. Oh we can pay ridiculous prices at Shaw's or we can travel to NH Claremont or Keene to go to Market Basket and Walmart. I know I am not alone in this comment. We take our business elsewhere, wouldn't it be nice to take it here. As for Lisai's, Pizza Stone, Heritage and boy do I miss Jack's. You bet I will still go there. No one beats Lisai's meats, Pizza Stone's atmosphere and food and Heritage's bakery and, simply put, Jack's local yocals at breakfast time. If the business meets the zoning I think we should not practice reverse discrimination.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

In response to Jen and Mary Jane,

Thanks for your comments and insight. I think it's wonderful that so many of us are taking an interest in the future of our great little town.

I wanted to respond to your comments and concerns to provide a little more information. But, before I forget I wanted to invite you to attend the next Development Review Board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, at Town Hall. Much of what I have to say here will likely be expanded upon and presented thoroughly at that meeting. It will be the most important meeting to date and it's critical that we have a large turnout.

I am working with a group called Smart Growth Chester. We formed immediately after attending the second DRB public hearing for the Dollar General proposal. We are, as the name implies, very interested in promoting economic and cultural growth that serves our community in an environmental and sustainable way. We are very much pro-business, and would like to attract companies that can provide needed goods and services, have healthy employee and environmental practices, provide good jobs with benefits and help to ease our tax burden. It's also important to do this in a way that maintains a quality of life and aesthetic that makes Chester attractive to more new businesses, homebuyers and forward-thinking individuals.

After many weeks of extensive research into the business model, practices and history of DG, we are convinced that they do not meet any of the above criteria. While project advocates say that DG will provide for 10 to 15 jobs, we discovered that only two of the jobs are full time. Also, generally only two people at most work at any one time. We will expand upon that at the meeting.

But, we are also aware that stores like DG provide much needed low cost items. Our group is discussing alternatives to meet this need.

Regarding the issue of DG helping to expand the tax base and decrease our tax burden: A large portion of our current taxes that pay for all the wonderful amenities we enjoy in Chester come from local retail businesses, shops, inns and restaurants. These businesses are supported in part by our tourist trade. This could be severely jeopardized as the gateway to our town turns into commercial strip development.

And this is a good time to mention that one of our key motivations is to set precedent. If this project is developed it will be very difficult to stop other national chains from coming in, which history shows could eventually lead to the demise of our local family owned businesses and in-turn caring employers and jobs.

Another large source of taxes comes from property owners, many of whom are attracted to our town for its quaint beauty and local flare. It would only take the loss of just a few of these people who build or improve homes -- adding to the tax base -- to offset the taxes paid by DG. So, the argument that DG will provide jobs and taxes does not really hold up.

Finally, we are working with and getting guidance from Preservation Trust of Vermont. It turns out that Chester's Town Plan is very strong and clear. The zoning regulations come from the intent of the Town Plan. The Town Plan and the 'plans' and intentions of the DG proposal are inconsistent. We hope to demonstrate this at the next meeting.

We look forward to having some open forums where we can all sit down together creatively to develop strategies for attracting exactly the kind of businesses we want and need. It's very exciting to me that so many people in our community have risen to the occasion and are willing to work toward a better Chester. In the end, we are all on the same side.

Thanks for listening. I hope this was helpful. I look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, 28 October 2011
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