KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
ARLINGTON - A Dollar General proposed for the site of the former Arlington's Southside Cafe off Route 7 won approval from the Planning Commission Thursday, but must comply with a set of conditions.
The "Dollar General" sign, which will be in the parking lot on a pole, must be 12 feet with black trim. Some added landscaping work will be done to the southwest and northwest corner of the property, lights will be turned off half an hour after the business closes (Which would be around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. depending on the season, according to the developers), the parking lot will include paved space for 33 vehicles, leaving space for 13 spots should the store need more parking, and no merchandise or shopping carts will be stored or displayed outside.
The Planning Commission had been considering requiring a gable vent on the western face of the building, but Commissioner Donald Umlauf disagreed, saying there was no reason for it and no requirement in the bylaws, despite Gary Biales, executive director for Zaremba Group, a developer for Dollar General, having agreed with the requirement. The Commission was eventually able to reach a consensus on the requirements, and Biales said they would do the gable vent anyway.
Biales said the business still needs an Act 250 permit, which he expects to submit an application for after the first of the year. The Planning Commission announced its decision during the meeting, but has 30 days to issue an official permit.
Biales and Christopher Ponessi, an engineer with Speath Engineering based in Manchester, were at a Planning Commission meeting last month to present the idea of the Dollar General store and get feedback from the community. That feedback was virtually all negative, with the main complaint being the proposed store's appearance. The typical Dollar General store is a square building with an internally lit yellow sign with black letters. Biales had anticipated that design would not be liked in Arlington, and had brought drawings of a building with a peaked roof. It was not met with enthusiasm, but at Thursday's meeting it was apparent that the latest draft was better received.
"I think a lot of us were worried it was going to look like the one in Pownal," said Stephanie Moffitt-Hynds, one of the 35 to 40 people who attended the hearing.
The nearest Dollar General to Arlington is the location off Route 7 in Pownal. It was also built through Zaremba Group and Speath Engineering, and is what Biales said is the default design for Dollar General stores. The Arlington design deviates in a number of ways, using a peaked roof and other architectural design flourishes.
Biales showed drawings that would call for the existing building, which once housed the Southside Cafe as well as other businesses, to be demolished. The Dollar General store would be closer to Route 7 with the entrance to the building facing north, and the entrance to the parking lot remaining unchanged. The heating and ventilation systems are to the south side of the building, while supply loading is done on the east side, hidden from the road. The developers say the building will not need a storm water permit and existing storm water and septic systems will be used with some slight changes. The Dollar General sign will not be internally lit, said Biales, adding that's what causes the "neon" effect many find unappealing.
Many people still expressed concern over the design. Jack Lee, who said he has lived near the proposed site for 26 years, was not in favor of it and raised issues about lighting. "I don't think I deserve to see lights from my house," he said.
Biales said the lights would all be facing down, and as per zoning regulations no light can shine off the property line. Biales said on a number of occasions he was not seeking any kind of variance from the town's zoning authorities and wanted his permit to comply with all regulations. He said this is why the parking lot is larger than what Dollar General wishes, to comply with town parking requirements.
"I know I have nowhere to go with this, but we as a town have to think about this," said Lee.
"I think your pictures are very deceptive about the pride Dollar General takes in its buildings," said Nancy St.Onge, a resident. She said the other Dollar Generals she has seen are not well maintained and litter is often found around the outside, along with displays and shopping carts.
"You did a nice job, but I don't want you in this town," said John Neville, an Arlington resident. He asked the Planning Commission if they had the authority to stop Dollar General from doing business in Arlington and if not, what board would.
Commissioner Chris Heins said the Planning Commission reviews applications based on architectural plans and zoning bylaws. "The owner of the store is immaterial," he said, adding that Dollar General has the right to do business in Arlington as long as it follows the law, just as anyone else would.
Efforts had been made by residents to block the Dollar General application. According to Select Board member Cynthia Browning, who attended Thursday's meeting as an observer, St. Onge and some other residents had approached the board after the Dollar General plans first were announced in October and asked the board to pass an interim zoning bylaw that would prevent a businesses of Dollar General's proposed size from opening on Main Street while the Planning Commission studied the impacts of such a business.
Browning said the board took no action for two reasons, one being that according to its attorney, to enact such a bylaw the town would have to be already conducting such a study, and the Dollar General application had been submitted already. She said Arlington town government has always taken a "less is more" approach to zoning and furthermore felt uncomfortable taking action against a specific business.
Zaremba Group has purchased an option on the property, listed as "Arlington Plaza" in town records, and has said Dollar General will buy the 3.5 acre property once permits are in places. According to Biales, most Dollar General locations are leased, making this one somewhat unusual.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr