Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Residents oppose Dollar General store proposed in Dunedin neighborhood

DUNEDIN — Virtually everyone at the meeting, including the property owner, agreed that the rainwater-filled vessels scattered about a San Christopher Drive boat storage facility are an eyesore.

Yet a proposal to raze that business and build in its place the fourth discount store within a 2-mile radius seems equally unappealing to residents.

They laid out their concerns at a recent meeting of Dunedin's Local Planning Agency, a volunteer citizen group that makes land-use recommendations to the City Commission.

Neighbors told the group they support the idea of a different business taking over the boat storage property, but they fear that a Dollar General store proposed for 1326 San Christopher Drive at the Pinehurst Road intersection would bring lots of noise and traffic congestion.

In what seemed a contradictory argument, they also said they think the store would have too little business to survive.

Committee members said they also were concerned about Dollar General's long-term viability at the little-traveled intersection. The committee unanimously recommended that the City Commission deny Dollar General's application. Commissioners will consider the application and the opposition to it during a public hearing Thursday.

"I don't know there's ever been so much passion and unity by the neighbors and people who have come forward," board member Steven Sandbergen said of the three residents who spoke at the Nov. 14 meeting and two others who wrote letters to the city. " 'Not In My Back Yard' is rearing its head and I heard what they said."

The developers working on the proposal say Dollar General is making a nationwide push to open 600 to 800 Dollar General stores over the next few years.

Austin Cox of Palmetto Capital Group said Dollar General, which likes to locate its stores near schools, is eyeing a 25-year lease at the San Christopher site. Company spokeswoman Crystal Ghassemi said the chain — whose 2012 goal was to open 625 new stores and to relocate or remodel another 575 — reviews demographic trends, traffic patterns and competitive factors when considering a new location.

She said 70 percent of Dollar General stores are in communities with populations under 20,000.

City staffers and boat storage owner Ronald Retterer say the proposed 9,100-square-foot store would cure code enforcement issues at the property. And Dunedin Planning Director Greg Rice said the store fits the city's goal to expand "walkable" live-work-play neighborhoods beyond downtown.

"There are some older folks ... where you're giving them the opportunity to walk to get these basic items," like food and household goods, Rice said. "And if you look at the demographics in that area, people are struggling."

Offering the lone voice of public support was Bill LaFlam, who said he owns a business at San Christopher and Robin Hood Lane. He said the retailer would help Dunedin broaden its tax base: "The dollar stores now seem to be the only ones that are making any money."

However, other residents said most people in the neighborhood shop at major grocers on State Road 580. They doubted that the Dunedin Academy and Dunedin High School students they see walking San Christopher would provide enough of a clientele for the Dollar General.

Residents also fear adding an estimated 12 to 20 store patrons at a time and weekly delivery trucks to the mix of traffic at San Christopher and Pine­hurst, which they said is already dangerous because of speeders and people unfamiliar with the abrupt left-turn configurations.

A nearby apartment complex owner feared his tenants would be subject to noise, odor and light pollution.

Furthermore, residents said, businesses in that area tend to fail, and they fear Dollar General will suffer a similar fate, especially with so many discount stores nearby. There's a Family Dollar at 1420 Main St. and a Dollar Tree at 928 Patricia Ave. The City Commission recently approved plans for a Dollar General at 1260 Belcher Road, and there's another one about four miles away inside a shopping plaza on the Dunedin Causeway.

And if the Dollar General does survive, they fear it would hurt business for the two mom-and-pop convenience stores on corners adjacent to it.

"It doesn't belong there. It's a residential neighborhood," said Mary Horrell of Sleepy Hollow Court.

Committee members said they were torn between the public comments, which they acknowledged might not reflect the viewpoint of everyone in the neighborhood, and the desire to improve the area.

Ultimately, vice chairman Dan Massaro said he was uncomfortable with the idea of a store in a residential neighborhood. Board member Daniel Dennehy questioned why so many discount stores seem to be going up in Dunedin, and requested research proving this particular location wasn't chosen solely because of its affordability.

"For a business like this, you have to have tens of thousands of people drive by this thing — not on a monthly basis, every week," Dennehy said. "I'd hate to see this thing being shuttered in a couple years just because no one knew it was there."

No one seconded Dennehy's motion to postpone a decision so developers could bring their market data to the committee's next meeting. A subsequent motion to reject the plans passed unanimously.

If the City Commission grants preliminary approval Thursday, the county would also have to rule on a request to change the land use designation on a sliver of the proposed site from residential to commercial. If that's approved, the application would go back to Dunedin commissioners for a vote on final design plans.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153, [email protected] or on Twitter @KeyonnaSummers. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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