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Dollar General denial

Dollar General denial

At a packed planning commission public hearing last Thursday evening, the commissioners voted unanimously against the first challenge to the Barboursville Village Overlay District’s (BVOD) guidelines. 

With a 5-0 vote, the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of a proposed 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on a 1.235-acre site at the intersection of Route 20 and Route 33. The proposal before the commission included rezoning and special use permit applications.

The BVOD does not allow a store as large as the proposed Dollar General. Furthermore, the property, owned by David Rutt of Barboursville, is zoned Commercial 1—limiting any building in the district to 4,000 square feet. By conditionally changing the zoning to Commercial 2, an 8,000-square-foot facility is permitted by-right. If the applicant—a Tennessee developer named Tim Dunaway—cleared the rezoning hurdle, he’d still need a special use permit to build the 9,100-square-foot national chain store on Rutt’s Barboursville parcel.

After nearly 20 speakers, it didn’t take the planning commission long to make its recommendation to the board of supervisors.

District 4 Commissioner Donald Brooks made a motion to recommend denial of the rezoning application that District 1 Commissioner Jason Capelle seconded.

“I struggled with this a lot,” Capelle, a Barboursville resident, said. “I’ve been a big supporter of the BVOD and thought they [the developer] did a good job with the façade of this building. But my primary concern is that intersection where the vehicles would go in and out.”

The correlation between the proposed building’s square footage and increased traffic through the Route 20 and 33 intersection was too much for Capelle to overcome.

“What are we getting with this?” he asked. “We may get some new tax money on the structure, but not much tax money because much of their product is available four or five miles away in Gordonsville.

“When I look at the risk-reward, I see a much more dangerous intersection as the risk and the reward is we don’t have to drive a few miles to Gordonsville.”

District 5 Commissioner Jim Hutchison said violating the concept and the work the county had done on the BVOD was “unacceptable.”

“We have our standards and they’ve been set for a reason,” he said. “They’re bigger than a dollar store and those standards are our community and its citizens.

“This is a terrible location [for a store],” he added.

Turns out, it wasn’t Dunaway’s first choice.

In the applicant’s comments before the commission, he said he first looked at another site in Barboursville—across from Dee’s Market at the other intersection of Route 20 and Route 33—but that fell through. Dunaway said he met with District 1 Supervisor Mark Johnson before submitting the special use permit application and acknowledged Johnson’s immediate concern was the size of the proposed building.

Aside from the size of the structure—which he admitted was beyond the recommended and permitted size for the BVOD—Dunaway said his team worked to meet the conditions for new commercial development in the district, including a post-and-beam-style storefront with lap-siding and stone work, restricted lighting and substantial landscaping and screening.

Ultimately, he said, Dollar General’s marketing department was adamant that to make the store work, it had to be 9,100 square feet.

“The only issue we kept bumping up against was the smaller building size and [marketing] felt they couldn’t do it,” he said. “We feel this could be a good first project for the BVOD and tried to make it meet the terms as effectively as it could.”

Still, Dunaway understood the size of the proposed store was the primary reason he was standing before the commission Thursday night but said Dollar General determined the smaller stores simply were not profitable.

“It’s the one thing where we’re not compliant,” he said.

Most of the 75 people in the audience were well aware of that point.

Three years ago, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the Orange County Planning Commission held countless work sessions, town hall meetings and public hearings to craft the BVOD.

The district fulfills objectives outlined in the county comprehensive plan by providing standards to protect and enhance the character of the area which complement the requirements of the underlying zoning districts. Proposed regulations are intended to foster a higher standard of non-residential building design and site design respectful of the cultural and historic nature of Barboursville and produce development that complements the character of the area.

Bill Speiden, a former planning commission member, challenged the commission to stick to its pledge in the BVOD, pointing out the ways the proposed store would be in violation of the district adopted in 2016.

“You created the village concept for a purpose to protect our rural atmosphere and that purpose should be adhered to,” he said. “You should leave the village concept intact and not alter it at this first intrusion.”

And the floodgates were open. More than a dozen other speakers implored the commission to protect the rural nature of the Barboursville community and its gateway to the county’s tourism attractions. Other suggested it was the wrong store in the wrong place and the county has enough dollar-type stores already. Still others expressed grave concerns about the impact a major commercial retailer would have on traffic at a primary intersection.

“This store would be seven miles from Ruckersville, six miles from Gordonsville and 10 miles from Orange—all of which have dollar stores,” Jack Snyder said.

Beth Nichols echoed that point later in the hearing. She and her husband, Fred Nichols, have two art galleries on the Governor Barbour Street side of the subject property. “There are so many similar businesses nearby. Barboursville doesn’t have the population to support this and I can’t imagine people driving from Charlottesville to this Dollar General.”

“A great location for this would be Ruckersville,” suggested Bruce Gupton, adding, “Why would we want to benefit a landlord and corporation in Tennessee?

Somerset-area resident Mark Warren commended the commission for its work on the BVOD and called it a “proud time for our community,” but said Dunaway’s special use permit was “a pretty big ask.”

He suggested the applicant’s claim the store would generate new jobs would actually cull jobs from nearby Dee’s Market and Royal Market on Route 33. He said any potential sales tax revenue benefits would be offset by fewer sales at those same stores and Dollar General really wasn’t offering anything to benefit Orange County.

Kevin Passarello of Gordonsville challenged the commission on the application’s failure to meet the legal requirements of a rezoning or special use permit.

It’s not a matter of subjective opinion, but a matter of law, he said.

“If you spot-zone a C-2 building, it creates the very conflict the existing zoning seeks to avoid,” he said, suggesting Dollar General cannot demonstrate any public good to meet the legal threshold for rezoning.

Even if the property were rezoned, he continued, the applicant still would be required to satisfy the burden of a special use permit.

“Would it further the comprehensive plan? Would it affect the public’s health, safety and welfare? Would it be compatible with its surroundings? Would it impact the environment and historic resources? Would it be a detriment to surrounding properties?” he asked. “Nothing in this conforms with the requirements Dollar General would have to meet to get a special use permit.”

Gail Babnew, an architect, said when a commercial or retail use is incorporated in an area where there are no commercial projects, it establishes the character of the development that follows. “I appreciate the effort to dress up this Dollar General, but once a big box store, always a big box store.”

Chris Hawk, the land use officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, submitted a litany of written concerns to the commission but focused his remarks Thursday on two issues—traffic and the size of the proposed store.

He cited the existing volume of traffic on Route 20 and Route 33 and the projected increase if a store was constructed on the parcel.

Route 20 serves as an arterial highway between the Albemarle County line, Barboursville and Orange, he said, with 5,000 vehicles traveling through Barboursville each day. Route 33, which serves as an arterial highway between Gordonsville and Ruckersville, receives 11,500 vehicles daily.

“Between 2016 and 2019, there were 46 crashes within a one-mile radius of this application, resulting in three fatalities,” Hawk said, suggesting a new store at the proposed site would drive up those figures.

His second point—echoing many of the sentiments of previous speakers—referenced the proposed size of the store.

“The size requirement desired by the applicant is 9,100 square-feet—no budge—to make it a successful location,” he said. “Why then should the county budge on the application and the fiscal and transportation impacts as well as the potential increase in traffic and fatalities associated with it?”

Charlie Seilheimer reminded the commission that it established guidelines that distinguish towns from villages. “Barboursville is a village and you have an overlay district that you set the criteria for,” he said. “What are they giving you? Nothing. But they’re asking you to go back on everything you agreed to and put in that plan. It doesn’t make sense.”

Only Rutt, who owns the property, spoke in favor of the proposal during the public hearing, suggesting the proposed design looked more like an L.L. Bean store than a Dollar General. He noted nearby properties—including the former Stonefire Station, Barboursville Volunteer Fire House and Lam’s Lumber Yard were all within the district and much larger than the proposed store.

Ultimately, the commission recommended denial. Chairman George Yancey, who like Capelle commended the applicant for his efforts to comply with most of the BVOD restrictions, said traffic concerns, the size of the store, the location and the lack of correlation with the overlay district were reasons he could not support the application.

The commission voted to recommend denial of the rezoning, making the special use permit a moot point.

Amid clapping and cheers, a good-natured Rutt offered from the back of the room, “Anyone want to buy a nice piece of property in Barboursville?”

The board of supervisors will schedule a public hearing to consider the rezoning and special use permit application at an upcoming meeting.

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