KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
ARLINGTON -- Aesthetics was the number one concern among residents who attended a Planning Commission meeting Thursday when preliminary plans for a Dollar General store on Route 7A were shown to the commission.
Gary Biales, executive vice president of Zaremba Group, a developer for Dollar General, said he was there to get feedback from the commission and community on the building design as well as answer questions. He said no formal proposal has been put before the commission, and he is working with Speath Engineering Manchester to draft a plan that conforms to town zoning bylaws.
If approved the Dollar General will go where the Arlington's Southside Cafe is now, he said. Owned by Bryan Pello of Shaftsbury, the cafe, which is part of a plaza off Route 7A, would be torn down.
Purchased an option
Biales said Dollar General has purchased an option on the properly but will not buy it from the owner until the necessary permits are approved. He showed the audience of about 25 to 30 people a conceptual drawing of the building, which fit the typical Dollar General box shape but with a slightly peaked roof and some awnings. He said it was not the final design and one of the goals of his presentation was to get feedback for a better one.
"We've done this before; we've modified buildings for certain locations. I'll be honest with you, you can't satisfy everybody," Biales said.
The closest Dollar General to the proposed site is on Route 7 in Pownal Center. Biales said that building is typical of Dollar General stores. "That's what this one is not," he said.
The public feedback was overwhelmingly negative and many were highly skeptical that the final design would be any more to their liking. Other residents lamented Arlington's lack of a design review board.
Biales said current drafts have the building's entrance in the front with parking also in front and to the sides. "We will try to disturb as little as possible of the existing trees," he said, adding that some design features such as a peaked roof have to be limited for customer safety reasons.
He said that in addition to a town permit the project will need to go through the Act 250 process and the driveway will need a permit from the state Agency of Transportation. Biales said the goal is to submit to the Planning Commission an application that requires no variances.
As for the distinctive Dollar General sign, he said it would 4 by 8 feet, and whether it's internally lit or externally depends on what the town allows.
The commission did not ask questions of Biales, members indicating they would wait until an application was before them before making inquiries. The commission set it's next meeting for 7 p.m. on Nov. 29. Commission Chairman Dan Barber said the meeting would be officially warned in the normal channels and would be on the town website.
According to Town Clerk Robin Wilcox, the Southside Cafe building or "Arlington Plaza" is assessed at $361,000. She said the property is 3.5 acres. Years ago it housed the Happy Days Play School and more recently was the home of Battenkill Aquatics Physical Therapy, which since moved to Bennington.
David Ingrim, owner of Southside Cafe, said Friday was the last day of the restaurant's operation. He said his lease is good through November and he would be selling off the business equipment.
Ingrim said his multi-year lease was up this year and his intention had been to sell the business anyway. He said Pello was also looking to sell the plaza and so would only offer a monthly lease option, making it difficult for Ingrim to sell. Ingrim said he is not being forced out and this is in fact an ideal time to pack in his business as restaurants typically don't do well over the winter and pick up in the spring.
Ingrim said he plans to work for others until his children are out of school then perhaps open something in another state. He said Vermont is not a good place for small businesses.
"They keep inventing ways to make themselves more money, but they don't come up with anything to help small business," he said.
Ingrim said has been running a restaurant in Arlington for 19 years. The last 12 were the Southside and before that he was owner of the East Arlington Cafe.