Citizens voice concerns
PITTSFORD—On Sept. 27 at 9 a.m., following a site inspection, the Environmental Commission of the Natural Resources Board held a warned hearing in the meeting room of the Pittsford town offices to discuss a Dollar General store proposed for the parcel at the corner of Plains Road and Route 7 in Pittsford village. The 2.78-acre parcel has a 356-foot property line along Plains Road and currently contains a large, two-story vacant older house, a weed-choked concrete slab, and a patch of wetlands.
Representatives of Pittsford BTS Retail LLC—the applicant for an Act 250 permit—included Matt Casey, senior development manager of the Zaremba Group, an Ohio-based shopping center developer acting on behalf of Pittsford Retail, and engineers Jeremy Matosky and Abby Dery of Trudell Consulting Engineers of Williston. The Zaremba website (zarembagroup.com) features a map of the U.S. showing states in which it has done projects, and lists 16 projects in Vermont, all for Dollar General, although the existing Rutland stores don’t appear in the list.
Commissioners for the District 1 Environmental Commission included Chairman John Liccardi, Vice-chairman Mike Henry, and Amanda Beraldi.
Liccardi, a professorial-looking man in an olive shirt, jacket and tie, opened the hearing with the admonition that the purpose of the session was to accept evidence on five criteria and that no decision would be made on the basis of that day’s inputs. He remarked that the only qualified statutory party present was the applicant, Dollar General—but that changed later during the hearing as residents suddenly realized they could have party status and petitioned for it on the spot. He also explained that the burden of proof lay with either the applicant or the opponents to the project, depending on the criterion under discussion.
Liccardi then shepherded the hearing through each of the five criteria under discussion.
The applicant had requested the following criteria for discussion, all of which placed the burden of proof on the applicant and all of which the applicant stated did not require further mitigation: wetlands protection (1G), the impact on “primary agricultural soils” (9B), the impact on public property including roads (9K), and “settlement patterns” of the surrounding neighborhood (9L).
Abby Dery led off with an overview of the project with the aid of drawings. Dery said that the proposed building will be 9,100 square feet with 41 parking spaces as “required” by current zoning. The plan keeps the south part of the parcel—a wetland—in its “natural state.” When asked by the commissioners how the land was used before, Dery said she did not know. (The local people later said it had been pasture land with a pond, and the concrete “pad” in the ground was the floor of a barn.)
Criterion 5 (traffic and transportation), which placed the burden of proof on the opposition, was the criterion that drew the most reaction and comment from the audience. Dery stated that a traffic study had been prepared according to state guidelines, and that the distance of the driveway from Route 7 “met the adequate standard for safety.”
The only driveway into the parking lot will be on Plains Road, 240 ft. off Route 7.
An audience member recalled that the Environmental Court denied a developer’s application 15 years ago partially because Plains Road does not enter Route 7 at a 90-degree angle and also because VTrans had not completed promised upgrades to Route 7, and still has not. It was commented that a large truck will have to make a wide swing to turn onto Plains Road from the north, and also that visibility on Route 7 to the north is “less than optimal” due to the blind hill. Traffic turning onto Plains Road from the north was called “an accident waiting to happen” as cars will try to pass on the right around a turning car.
Dery agreed that a 90-degree angle is “best,” but the proposed project will not change it, and in any case that intersection is not a “historic high-crash location,” a statement contested by someone who pointed out that there had been two crashes nearby on Route 7 this summer.
After officially closing the hearing, Liccardi allowed a time for concerns and comments off the record.
The general sentiment was, “Why Pittsford?” Some seemed to view the project as intrusive if not predatory in nature, a “smaller Wal-Mart” that could open the door for a strip mall. Several people felt that given there are two other Dollar General stores “within an eight-mile radius,” a Pittsford location is “not a good fit,” out of scale for the community. It was observed that Chester lost its fight against Dollar General, although they were able to require a smaller building. “It’s crazy that you take a rural Vermont area, old barns and homes, and put a 9,100-sq.ft. warehouse store in the middle of it,” someone said.
It was questioned how the benefit of the project “outweighs” traffic and water quality issues, the burden on the town’s resources, competition with long-time local businesses, and the safety risks. The low-wage jobs and poor quality merchandise were also questioned. It was felt that there is no high-volume customer base here to warrant such a store, and that it would competes with local family-owned businesses.
Some wondered if Pittsford would end up saddled with an empty building should Dollar General fail, and asked if Dollar General could be required to restore the site to its original condition in that case?
Dollar General has not purchased the parcel, which is within the Village zone.
Citizens voice concerns