DUNEDIN — The City Commission preliminarily approved plans Thursday for a Dollar General store over the objections of a dozen citizens who said they fear the store's potential impact on traffic, flooding and property values.
Commissioners said they sympathize with the residents, but explained that law forbids them from denying the application unless it directly violates city code.
A second public hearing and final vote on the store, proposed for 1326 San Christopher Road at Pinehurst Road, is set for Dec. 20.
"It's not about how we feel or what we think," said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. "There's nothing here that tells me I can vote against it from a legal standpoint."
The decision came three weeks after the Local Planning Agency, a board of volunteers that makes land-use recommendations to the City Commission, unanimously sided with opponents in rejecting Dollar General's request.
A half-dozen supporters, including the current property owner, turned out Thursday to persuade commissioners to ignore the recommendation.
In addition to cleaning up blight from a boat storage facility operating now on the site, supporters said the Dollar General would add convenience for elderly people afraid or unable to travel major roads for basic food or household items and spur economic development.
"I just really hope potential jobs aren't lost over concerns about (traffic from) a bread truck," said Pete Macchione, a north Clearwater resident who works at a Dunedin telemarketing company on Douglas Avenue.
Opponents argued that erecting a 9,100-square-foot store on the property historically known for producing runoff that floods adjacent properties would only exacerbate the problem.
The proposed Dollar General would be the third discount retailer within a two-mile radius. Neighbors worried it would fail, leaving yet another vacant building that drags down property values.
And if the business does survive, they fear it would bring noise, road damage and increased traffic from patrons and frequent delivery trucks; cut business for two nearby mom-and-pop convenience stores; and generally destroy the neighborhood's small-town feel.
They urged the property owners to donate the land for a park or for the city to hold out for a higher-wage business, like a doctor's office.
"I live in Delightful Dunedin, not Discount Dunedin," said Cecilia Funderburk of Patricia Avenue.
City Attorney Tom Trask, however, said case law forbade the City Commission from relying on non-expert speculation. The developer's attorney added that a city traffic analysis showing the store wouldn't significantly impact traffic had already accounted for deliveries.
Commissioners asked city staff to ensure tasteful landscaping and measures to discourage flooding from runoff.
Developers have agreed to add a concrete wall or other buffer between the neighbors. Their plan also includes a stormwater retention pond — a feature they say will improve the site, which didn't require the flood prevention mechanism when purchased decades ago.
In other action
• Commissioners preliminarily approved $127,000 in financial assistance to Achieva Credit Union. City staff proposed the matching grants and waived fees as part of efforts to persuade Achieva to choose Dunedin early this year when relocating its corporate headquarters away from Clearwater.
The development agreement would require Achieva to stay at least five years and to provide receipts to collect its funds through reimbursement. The city expects to recoup its contribution in four years through property taxes, employee spending and increased exposure.
A second public hearing and final vote on the agreement is set for Dec. 20.
• City leaders gave the final okay on architectural plans for Dunedin Eco Village, an affordable housing townhome project on Lorraine Leland Street. City leaders expect developers to break ground in March.
• Bujalski was named Dunedin's new vice mayor. Commissioners annually rotate the mostly ceremonial title. Duties include attending events and leading meetings in the mayor's absence.
Continuing a tradition started last year, Ron Barnette, the previous vice mayor, passed on a "mini gavel."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.