Dollar store plan sparks passionate defense

In Germantown, calls for delay of new outlet rebuffed by supervisor

GERMANTOWN—The Dollar General retail store proposed for Route 9G, just north of the hamlet, was the subject of much of Monday’s Town Board meeting. About 50 residents filled the meeting room, standing or sitting on the floor when they had to.

Former Supervisor Roy Brown, reporting for the town’s Economic Development Committee, said that his committee would like to see the Town Board and the Planning Board study the economic impact of Dollar General before any application is approved. Within 30 miles of Germantown, there are already 14 “dollar” stores in addition to convenience stores, he said.

“Just because we’re discussing Dollar General doesn’t mean we’re anti-business,” he said. “Germantown has been very proactive toward business in the last 10 years—look at Main Street and all the home businesses.”

An increase in sales tax collection from Dollar General’s presence would not necessarily come back to Germantown, Mr. Brown explained. Columbia County keeps half of all sales tax collected and returns the other half to towns in proportion to their population. Thus, Greenport, with its malls and chain stores, collects the most sales tax but does not earn the most.

Mr. Brown was also one of several people at the meeting who noted that seven years have passed since the town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted, and he urged the board to appoint a committee to review the plan.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Stephen Reynolds, chair of the Planning Board, reported that the consensus of his board was to send a letter to the town, which Mr. Reynolds read, asking that a committee be appointed to review the Comprehensive Plan. On page 2 of that 82-page plan, he said, is the guideline to review and assess the plan every five years. “Changes in town justify such a review,” he said.

In response, Supervisor Joel Craig, formerly a Planning Board member for 17 years and chairman for most of that time, acknowledged that the Planning Board “often had a thankless task. But you’re coming to me in the middle of a project saying: we want different tools.

“You’re here to uphold the law,” said Mr. Craig. “Those aren’t suggestions or guidelines, that’s zoning law.”

He also noted that at its March meeting, the Town Board had declined to consider a moratorium on new building and a review of the Comprehensive Plan.

After several other residents had supported a review of the plan, Mr. Craig read a statement.

“Adopting a moratorium at this point is akin to hanging ‘Closed for Business’ on the Welcome to Germantown sign,” he said. “It would scare off potential businesses and also send the message that if we don’t like you, we will change the rules to prevent you from doing business.”

The current comprehensive plan is the product of a diverse group of residents who came together to create “a vision that would stand the test of time,” said Mr. Craig. “It has also been said that our zoning is outdated. But since the 2011 adoption of the zoning law, the Planning Board has handled 10 minor subdivisions, 1 major subdivision–that was minor, 6 special use permits, 3 site plan reviews for solar panels and a site plan review for a brewery that was withdrawn before completion.

“The Planning Board has never finalized a commercial site plan review,” said Mr. Craig. “How can we say our zoning is outdated when it has never been tested?”

He also said he had “heard some comments bemoaning the type of customers a Dollar General will attract,” he said. “Anyone voicing these views has no understanding of the makeup of this town. Every day people in this community struggle to make ends meet. To them saving a few dollars makes a difference.

“We all have legitimate questions about this project,” he said, “but worrying about the type of customers who frequent a Dollar General is an elitist attitude that has no place in this discussion. Not-in-my-backyard is never a good rationale for making zoning decisions, and concern over one project should not be the basis of a comprehensive plan.”

Virginia Sibbison, who often attends Town Board meetings, thanked Mr. Craig for his remarks.

Councilman Donald Westmore thanked Dollar General “for this discussion. The original goal of the Comprehensive Plan was to have a difference in businesses between Main Street and Route 9G,” he said. Speaking in favor of a review of the plan every five years, he said, “Times change quickly in the 21st century. In 30 years none of us can predict what this town will look like.”

But, he said, there seemed to be two general goals: sustainable economic vitality and retaining a small-town, rural character. He suggested that a workshop be held soon. “We need ideas. People should read the Comprehensive Plan, the zoning law. We need to set the framework for the next five years, without specifics about Dollar General,” Mr. Westmore said.

When the meeting ended, most people stayed, talking to each other in small groups.

The meeting of the town Planning Board that had been scheduled for April 30 will not be held because Pri-Max, the developer of the Dollar General store and the subject of the meeting, will not attend.

 

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