GERMANTOWN — More than 60 residents stormed town hall Monday, reigniting opposition to a controversial plan for the first big-box store in town.
The proposal, a Dollar General retail store on 6 acres at 4301 Route 9G in Germantown, has checked boxes in the town’s Planning Board process for three years amid several meetings packed by concerned and divided residents.
Since 2015, the landowner, North Carolina-based Primax Properties, has submitted site plans, undergone an environmental review and resubmitted plans adhering to the town’s zoning code, Planning Board Chairman Stephen Reynolds said at Monday’s public hearing.
Initially, the board identified 11 potential negative impacts of the store, but after changes to mitigate those concerns, the board approved the review in February.
The store would have a 9,266-square-foot floor plan with 38 parking spots, matching the aesthetic of the Hamlet Commercial Zoning District and Scenic Viewshed Overlay, according to the environmental review.
Primax Properties would lease the space to Dollar General, a Tennessee-based company, on a 15-year term, according to the comments section of the report. The store primarily sells convenience foods and discount household and beauty items.
The planning board held a public hearing Monday night on the revised site plan and property subdivision — two separate sections within the town’s zoning code.
Residents skewered the Dollar General — and board members who approve of the project — during the two-hour public hearing, citing zoning code violations, traffic dangers, low-wage jobs and a possible deluge of chain stores that would ruin the town’s rural character. Germantown has a listed population of 2,083 as of 2016.
“The Dollar General is a malignant cancer,” said resident Steve Savoris during the hearing, citing several stores in surrounding towns. “We don’t have a planning board; we have a diminishment board. By accepting this disgrace, the voting majority has left Germantown unprotected.”
The project violates the town’s recently rewritten comprehensive plan, meant to protect the architecture and character of the town’s rural landscapes, residents said.
“We reaffirmed the idea that we wanted to keep the rural community with locally owned businesses, which Primax is not,” said 15-year resident Carole Neville. “They’ve created a we vs. them dynamic that’s mostly divided on political lines.”
Many residents criticized the store’s size, cheaply-made items and low-paying jobs.
“This building will dwarf all other buildings in town,” resident Pamela Wallace said. “From Hudson to Hyde Park, the 9G corridor has no chain store, no big-box stores and no fast-food places. Approval of this Dollar General will open the floodgates for more ugly chain stores.”
Germantown shoppers can drive to five major shopping centers within 30 minutes, including Widewaters Commons, which has a Walmart Supercenter, according to the project’s 2016 impact analysis report. The nearest Dollar General is 30 minutes away in the city of Hudson, with a nearby CVS Pharmacy and Family Dollar.
Noah Bernamoff, one of four owners of Otto’s Market on Main Street, lives about 400 feet from the Dollar General site. The recently renovated Main Street market employs 17 people and covers health care costs, he said.
“I’m pro-development,” Bernamoff said. “I recognize this is a challenging situation, but you guys have to listen to the facts — consensus of this community does constitute some measure of fact.”
Dollar General plans to hire eight or nine employees, three managers on an annual salary of slightly more than $27,000 and five salespeople earning around $13.29 per hour, according to the applicant’s 2016 independent retail analysis report. The project would produce over $150,000 of total labor income per year, according to the report.
Some residents — citing the limited power of the town’s planning board to halt development if it fits within the zoning laws — suggested tightening the reins to keep big-box stores out of town.
“We need to put a moratorium in place and then rewrite the zoning laws,” resident Jaia Orient said, noting the weak language in the town’s code. “Pitting it as the newcomers — presumably rich — against the old-timers — presumably poor — is B.S.”
“Primax values the public views about the Dollar General project, which is allowable as of right now under the code,” Primax attorney Jacob Lamme said Tuesday. “The views expressed last night don’t reflect the community as a whole. We respect the hard work the planning board has put into the project and look forward to the final vote.”
The town has a few Dollar General supporters, but those voices were not heard at Monday night’s meeting, Reynolds said.
“It’s an emotional issue,” he said after the public hearing. “We’re supposed to be weighing the pluses and minuses and there are reasoned opinions on both sides.”
The public hearing was for residents to speak on the record and not for board members to respond, planning board member Tim Otto said after the meeting, adding he intends to reach out to people to discuss the issues.
“This is an entire process and a lot of times things get taken out of context,” he said. “The acceptance of a draft environmental impact study is just one piece. We were under a time-line constraint and acted to keep within that timeline and go into the findings period.”
When residents asked for Germantown Town Board members in the audience to raise their hands, no one spoke or identified themselves.
Residents can submit written comments to the Germantown Planning Board until the public hearing closes June 18, Reynolds said, stressing the importance of fact-based letters that cite zoning regulations to contribute to the record.
The board is required to vote on the site plan and subdivision by 62 days after the end of the public hearing closes.
“Next step is to make sure everyone writes letters,” resident Norman Mintz said after the meeting. “This whole episode has a life of its own.”