Rock Hall Dollar General Proposal Headed to Kent County Circuit Court

Share

The Rock Hall Planning Commission on Wednesday approved final plans for Howard H. Crossan of Oxford Chase Retail to build a Dollar General at the abandoned PNC bank site on Route 20, between Pasta Plus and West Marine.

The vote came after three hours of protests from a full house of angry residents who echoed one after the other that the Planning Commission had not applied the economic litmus test to the corporate chain’s potential to adversely impact locally owned businesses—as required by the comprehensive plan.

Residents worry that the presence of a large corporate chain would unfairly compete with Bayside Foods—Rock Hall’s longstanding locally owned grocery store that offers its employees paid vacations, retirement, healthcare, and a living wage.

By comparison, opponents said, the Dollar General relies almost exclusively on part-time workers earning the minimum wage and without health care benefits. The chain also has immense purchasing power to undercut Bayside Foods, which cannot buy direct from suppliers and must go through a wholesaler.

“It’s back to that ‘price of everything and the value of nothing’ mentality,” muttered an audience member.

Residents also charged that the Planning Commission incorrectly approved the project as “variety store” and not a “grocery store.” A variety store has less stringent zoning requirements.

Anne Ogletree, the attorney representing Bayside Foods, submitted published documents into evidence that Dollar General’s business model has evolved to that of a grocery store, with 71 percent of its retail revenue gained from groceries and other consumables. Crossan says that only 14 percent of the chain’s retail space is allocated for grocery items and other consumables.

Ogletree said the Dollar General is classified as a grocery store under OSHA law and the federal standard.

Also submitted into the record was a petition of over 400 signatures from residents opposing a Dollar General in Rock Hall.

Ogletree told the Spy that classifying Dollar General as a “grocery store” would change the parking requirements and leave the commission no choice but to reject the site plan, which the Planning Commission approved for 38 spaces under the “variety store” classification.

As a grocery store, Ogletree said the proposed 9,200 square foot building would require 92 parking spaces—one parking space for every 100 square feet.

Residents also voiced concern about the effect on real estate values and what affect Dollar General would have on tourists entering the town from Route 20.

“If you do some research, I think you will find that these stores come into communities and real estate values go down,” said Kathleen Johnson, owner of the Black Duck Inn. “I deal with tourists and none of the people that come to my bed and breakfast are interested in seeing a Rock Hall with a chain dollar store gracing the entrance to our town. People who come here repeatedly every year are going to have adverse affects about coming back just because they see there is a box store—the thing they are trying to get away from.”

“The one thing we have is our beauty,” Johnson said. “[The Dollar General] is going to change our community from the day it is committed, forever!”

After three hours of comments and questions from an agitated audience, Ogletree made closing remarks that the Planning Commission had ignored one of its mandates to apply the comprehensive plan to consider the financial impact on local businesses and the community as a whole, and  she referred to Section 8 of the town’s site plan review policy.

“The objectives are ensuring a desirable, harmonious, and appropriate use of land in accordance with the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan,” Ogletree read from the Comprehensive Plan.

“The economic objectives of the comprehensive plan are every bit as important as what kind of siding is on the building and whether or not there are 34 parking spaces or 46 parking spaces,” Ogletree said. “In fact it is more important because what your are doing tonight is deciding the future of your town.”

She said Dollar General’s proposal does not meet the economic requirements of Rock Hall’s Comprehensive Plan and cited a recent case in Baltimore County that unanimously upheld the mandates of a comprehensive plan in zoning decisions–beyond just mere guidelines.

“The court found that if a comprehensive plan is used to measure development in the ordinance and in the code, and it says that in your code, then it becomes more than just a guide, it becomes a mandatory requirement…and it is something you need to consider,” Ogletree said.

Oxford Chase Attorney Dan Saunders told the Planning Commission that the site plan conformed to the guidelines the commissioners established at the onset of the project, and that the commission was constrained only to consider whether the plan submitted met the zoning requirements. Saunders referenced earlier comments by Kent County Planning Zoning Director Amy Moredock, who said the site plan had met all zoning requirements.

“The sole task before us is whether this plan satisfied this ordinance,” Saunders told the Planning Commission, “And it does.”

He said the town’s comprehensive plan cannot offer protection to Bayside Foods.

“The fact that the comprehensive plans says the town should support local businesses does not translate and cannot be translated that the town shall keep out competition so that local businesses can thrive,” Saunders said. “That is not what it means, and it can’t be what it means. Even if it said that, it would be stricken because it would be an illegal law.”

He said blocking Dollar General’s application to help Bayside Foods would violate anti-trust laws.

“It’s prevented under Maryland law and it is prevented under federal law,” he said.

Ogletree told the Spy after the meeting that the decision would be appealed to the Kent County Circuit Court on the grounds that the planning commission failed to consider the economic interests of the community as written in their comprehensive plan.

“The Rock Hall comprehensive plan has a series of areas of concentration and one of them is economics. And it says that to produce a sustainable community, one has to support local business,” Ogletree said. “They don’t want chain stores because it puts out local businesses.”

She said support of local business is made clear in page 28 of Rock Hall’s comprehensive plan and recent case law affirms that when a comprehensive plans is referred to in a municipality’s development ordinance, it must be considered in the site plan review process by the planning commission.

Ogletree referred to page-3 of the comprehensive plan which governs all development ordinances of the town.

She said the appeal would be filed in the next few days.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Karen Levin says:

    Can’t wait for the Dollar General to come to our town. FABULOUS! !

    • Gerry Maynes says:

      Hi, I guess that you are just as excited about the 25 mile plus round trip ride you will take to purchase fresh meat and produce in Chestertown after Bay foods closes Simply Genius !

  2. I am really proud of the 400 Rock Hall citizens who are looking out for a local business that has been a huge part of the town.

  3. Robert Sweetman says:

    I thought Rock Hall was one of the brightening and shining lights in Kent County that was actually progressing into the 21st Century versus other areas, i.e. Chestertown….Maybe I was a bit too premature to see this, as it’s quite apparent the Business “Karma” mindset which has cursed downtown Chestertown these last few years has now spread to Rock Hall.

    It is truly saddening to see this entrenched mindset of protectionism and fear turn into an emotional tug of war amongst local in a small town….

  4. Petey S. Bestmom says:

    Trying to use the argument that Dollar General is more of a grocery store than a variety discount store is ridiculous. True, when the dollar stores got certified to take food stamps it caused them to increase the square footage to allow for (mostly) canned goods in the grocery line. Also milk (comnmodity where there is very little profit) and a small section for frozen convenience items. Big deal.
    Bayside Foods will have to do what other stores do when faced with unexpected and unwelcome competition. Re-invent – offer what the competition can’t – maintain a first-rate deli and seafood department, build a name for quality meat and custom butcher services, put in a salad bar, hot soups, build better and bigger hot & cold subs and price them a bit below than R.H. Liquors. Whatever it takes. So they lose a few sales on canned green beans and boxes of spaghetti to the dollar store across the street. They will more than make up for it IF they position themselves for local market demand.
    Maybe the lawsuit is a**backwards. Citizens should file a Circuit Court lawsuit to show the Rock Hall comprehensive plan is clearly anti-business and discriminatory against outsiders.

    • Gerry Maynes says:

      Hi, all of the Growth of Dollar Stores in the last five Years is in Groceries. Even Walmart, has been worried enough to kick around opening Dollars stores to recapture this segment. This is what the economy has done to the business. Walgreens has gotten into the food business , Sav A Lot and other bottom feeders have become competition. The consumer is broke and looking to spend less money. So, I suggest that your read Supermarket news or MNB on line to educare your self on this situation. You would be surprised.

  5. By ignoring pertinent facts and rushing to judgment, Rock Hall’s planning commission failed to exercise “due diligence,” thus jeopardizing the very town it’s supposed to serve.
    The commissioners failed to consider the likelihood that Bayside Foods will be forced to close, with these ramifications: Rock Hall’s local economy will immediately contract by 17 percent and $1 million of annual household income will evaporate as 34 locals lose their jobs and benefits.
    By brushing aside the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the commission (1) failed to protect established businesses from unfair competition by outside mega-bucks corporations intent on gutting our local economy; (2) failed to protect the town as a sustainable economic entity; and (3) is subjecting our town to the considerable expense of a lawsuit.
    The hearing lasted four hours. During that entire period, not a single, solitary Rock Hall resident spoke in favor of a “dollar store.” Our mayor is dead wrong. These “mini-Walmarts” are not welcome in Rock Hall.

    • Gren,

      Planning Commissions are not in the business of choosing which businesses can operate and which cannot. Zoning Codes are based on a long legal history driven by the need to separate nuisances., not dictate economic opportunity. Zoning Codes, which Planning Commissioners adjudicate (they don’t MAKE law, they interpret it) are largely precluded, under the U.S. Constitution…5th Amendment, I believe, from TAKING business opportunities away from any U.S. citizen (or CORPORATION, fortunately or unfortunatley).

      I am sure that this is an emotional moment for all of 400 people. For me, I will continue to visit BaySide Foods from time to time to pick up some great and quality deals from one of Kent County’s two excellent “bookend” butcher shops. The other being Otwell’s in Galena, of course.

      Change happens.

      Ken Noble
      American Institute of Certified Planner, American Planning Association (Chicago and Washington, DC)
      Worton, Maryland

      • @Ken Noble
        As a property owner and resident of Rock Hall, it is not encouraging that our mayor and other town officials consider a “dollar store” an economic plus. If a “dollar store” is a plus, what, pray tell, is a minus?
        But it’s downright scary that said officials appear giddy about the prospect of TWO “dollar stores,” the economics of which an alert second grader might question.

        • Keith Thompson says:

          Gren, is there a local buyer/renter for the PNC property? If not, I think that a commercial property remaining vacant for an extended period of time would go down in the minus column.

      • Carol Knight says:

        Ken Noble.. you may have to strike Otwells off your list of bookend butcher shops. They are struggling to survive, first from the Walmart in Middletown and most recently from the Dollar General which opened in Cecilton…

    • Chrissy Price says:

      There was no need to speak at the February 13 meeting because it wasn’t about being for or against the Dollar Stores. That meeting had been held in November 2012 and was already approved. The meeting was only about if it fit the physical plans of Rock Hall, and it did .. so it was approved. By the way there Are Rock Hall Residents who are in favor the a Dollar Store but they knew that meeting was not for that. The Mayor and Council are on track of what Rock Hall needs and over half of the residents want. Turning down the allowance of a permit would have subjected our town into a lawsuit they would loose. This is a subject of growth and fairness to All Businesses in Rock Hall.

  6. Michael Hildebrand says:

    And we wonder why Kent County has the economic situation it has. It you want jobs and prosperity, you have to allow new growth and competition. In an earlier article here on this site, it was stated that the median income in the county was about $37,000; one of the lowest it the state. How far will that kind of money go in these times? Fact is poor income needs a place to shop too! I am not saying that people should not support Bayside Foods because they should, but people should have a choice as to where they want to shop. I am also sure that the people who are unemployed would agree that those jobs, part time or not, would be better than nothing at this point.

  7. Shawn Ferguesson says:

    As a local resident, I would like to make a proposal that may not have been considered. A clause to the lease of the property not allowing food items. It is not an unfair restraint of trade when the town cannot support an additional food outlet to rpotect the only one needed. The ideas presented by Mr. Bestmom are completely out of touch with the costs involved or even the chance to outsell the outlay of setting up and stocking such an arrangement. A reasonable limitation to the new enterprises variety would solve the problem without unduely hurting either.

    • Joe Diamond says:

      Shawn,
      Your gonna get a fight on that one. Many would say selecting / protecting some business and blocking others is not a proper role for government. The way the game is played, once local zoning, health and structural permits are acquired and various licenses are in place anyone can open a business.

      Joe

    • Gerry Maynes says:

      They would not open. Their mix is set up to sell groceries. That what brings in the people to purchase all the other stuff they sell atg higher margins. That would be like asking Acme not to sell Meat.

    • Petey S. Bestmom says:

      @Shawn – think we may be mixing up apples with oranges here. Placing a clause in the lease re food items? Isn’t the property under consideration a PNC REO parcel? It is on the market to sell, not be leased out? Maybe something here has changed and there is to be a lease arrangement? Please clarify, I was not at the hearing.
      Anyhow, I think what you are getting at is a far different animal. In the Kent Plaza, there was some sort of restriction written into the lease of the Acme store to the effect that no other tenant could sell frozen food items. Apparently that is considered legally binding. That is why when the Dollar store there moved to larger quarters at the other end where Fashion Bug & Hallmark used to be there was no frozen food dept. set up like in other Dollar Tree stores.
      That prohibition originated with the owners of the shopping center. I don’t see the same situation here as the PNC is a stand-alone property, isn’t it.
      Here’s another variation on what you are proposing: When Food Lion expressed interest in building a new store in Millington it was already standard O.P. that all new Food Lions have an in-store pharmacy. As it happened, ooops, the then-mayor of Millington was also the owner of, guess what, yep, “Millington Pharmacy”. Thru whatever maneuvers, it was made clear to the Food Lion home office that they would never, ever, ever get a building permit in Millington – unless they agreed to forego the pharmacy.
      The Food Lion corporate lions agreed to this condition, and, voila, a Millington Food Lion store sprang into existence.
      If the owners of the Bayside Foods supermarket are smart they will figure out a way to co-exist with discount variety stores by offering the buying public the things the discount stores cannot. There may be some cost involved to re-stock the store inventory but they don’t have to do it overnite. They have the luxury of time to plan and program new products and marketing efforts. Obviously, they know the basics: If the competition is selling paper towels and cat food 30% below their prices they needn’t devote so much display footage to paper towels and cat food.

      • Gerry Maynes says:

        Hi, It couldnot have been to hard for FoodLion to agree not to put a Pharmacy in its Milington store since no Foodlion in the entire chain in our region offersw such service. Delahazie their parent company is currently replacing as many FRoodlion stores with their low service Bottom Dollar Stores.
        As far as not selling Cat food or cutting back on Cat fooed and expanding on towels go. You have hit on a briliant plan on how to screw up a Supermarket and watch it close for a lack of customers Walmart and Acme tried it, saw3 volume falll an d quickly increased SKUs to maintain their customer base.

  8. Robert Sweetman says:

    Mr. Whitman – Not doubting your comments, but could you point to or provide the economic data that supports your statement that by having a Dollar General Store move in, and the Grocery Store closes, that it will contract Rock Halls Local Economy by almost 1/5th? (17 %) Can you also provide the proof that the Dollar General Stores main intent is to “Gut” the Local Economy?
    Chestertown has almost 4 times the population that Rock Hall has. Chestertown has 3 Dollar type Stores. It also has 2 Grocery Stores, one which started operations & sales while those 3 dollar stores had developed a foundation of retail business, prior to it opening.
    A lot of Rock Hall residents work in Chestertown, and most likely a large number of those folks probably shop in the grocery stores & dollar stores in Chestertown at times before returning to Rock Hall from working in Chestertown… (Yes, I have seen some shopping in the “GASP”…Chestertown Dollar Store! )
    This argument against a retail business opening in Rock Hall that mimics “Some” grocery store functions will decimate the town’s economy is moot and misleading in it’s emotionalism. It’s fear mongering and protectionism at it’s best….

    • Jeff Carroll hasn’t lied to me lately, and if he says a “dollar store” would threaten his profit margin —- let alone TWO “dollar stores” — I believe him.
      And because I believe him, I am working with a group of residents who are doing what we can to prevent even one “dollar store” from locating here.
      This type of predatory commercialism is exactly what the town’s Comprehensive Plan says we don’t want, and the town government has been remiss in allowing the two stores’ applications to get this far.

      • Robert Sweetman says:

        I know Jeff. Went to school with him. He’s a Fine Man, and successful Business man. But even you very words indicate that you have no understanding of the very nature of Business, that being competition. I believe Jeff has been and is a smart and savvy businessman. I think he’s earned enough knowledge in the world of business “Doings” that he can compete and thrive against another business or two because what he offers is not the same merchandise and personal service that they will offer. Competition is the name of the Game in today’s business environment, not protectionism.

  9. Sara Lingerman says:

    Mr. Bestmom is correct in his statements about reinventing. Like it or not any retail business that wants to stay alive has got to keep up with changes and constantly reinvent its self. That is what retail is all about. It is the reality of today’s fickle consumer. I agree with all of his suggestions for store changes 100% and have said as much myself. It may cost to make changes, but what is it costing in lawyers fees to fight this? I’ve been through this several times in my years of retail, and change is good. Diversify and you will thrive….

  10. S. Martha says:

    I understand that the process has started to contest this. Too bad the money is not being spent on upgrades on the store. The money could be spent better else where. Once again something is going to change in Rock Hall and a few are stopping the process. I grew up here, I do not understand why change is a 4 letter word here. With out change… only comes death. If every change continues to be stopped, then Bayside will not have to worry about RH, we will be deserted. Just look at main street… empty empty empty

  11. The village of Joshua Tree, CA is also engaged in a battle against the building of a Dollar General in our community. Please consider signing our change.org petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/uphold-a-community-s-right-to-decide-their-fate. There are many other communities across the country with similar stories (Sheffield, MA, Ocoee, FL, Chester, VT to name a few). If your community is interested in partnering with us in a nationwide “Occupy Dollar General Movement” please post a comment to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/nodollargeneraljoshuatree/. Thank you!

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.