PORT JEFFERSON – After a 90 minute debate Tuesday evening that divided the residents of Salem Township, the township trustees approved a request to rezone a residential lot on state Route 47 to make way for a Dollar General.
Trustees Scott Platfoot and Richard Herrick voted in favor of the proposal to rezone 17500 State Route 47, Port Jefferson, from residential to business while Daniel Knoop abstained from the vote.
“It is in the best interest of the township to have something in here,” Herrick said. “A lot of people are looking at what if, what if. Well, we don’t know what tomorrow brings for any of us. You know, maybe in 10 years, 15 years, Dollar General might not be here. But they might be here 30 years from now, too.”
Approximately 70 Salem Township residents attended Tuesday’s public hearing. Those in favor of the proposal argued a Dollar General would increase convenience and economic activity while those opposed said its proximity to Glen Cemetery would be disrespectful, it would infringe on long-established residences and it would increase traffic along an already busy stretch of state Route 47.
While many opponents of the rezoning request said they would welcome a Dollar General in their community, they didn’t think the selected location was the right place for the store.
People on both sides of the debate said a more suitable location would be within the Port Jefferson corporation limits. However, David Scherer, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who would develop the proposed Dollar General, said there’s not enough room in town.
“There is nowhere in town to put this store,” the vice president and capital partner for Compass Development Group said. “The typical store is 9,100 square feet, just like you see here. The lot sizes are just too small in town to do it. Plus there’s a sewer line going through the middle of the alleyway.”
Port Jefferson Mayor Steve Butterfield agreed with Scherer and said lots in town are only 8,712 square feet.
“There’s no lots that I know of that would be big enough to accommodate this building in the village of Port Jefferson,” the mayor said.
Rob Sibert, who collected 417 petitions against the rezoning, suggested the developer could purchase multiple lots in town.
“There are business lots in Port Jefferson,” Sibert said. “There’s actually two stores available right now for sale, commercial lots, both buildings for sale. I understand it would probably cost the developer more money to do that.”
Stating the average Dollar General is 7,400 square feet, Jim Koewler said the Port Jefferson store wouldn’t have to be 9,100 square feet and could fit in town if it was smaller.
Scherer, who has developed 15 Dollar General stores in Ohio, tried to get a rezoning request for the location along state Route 47 passed three years ago, but it was denied at that time. If the store isn’t built there, Port Jefferson won’t get a store, he said.
“Anything you can do to capitalize on some sort of money coming into our township, I think we should jump on that opportunity,” said Chad Rickert, who also praised Dollar General’s contributions to literacy programs in the communities where it has stores.
Mark Comer agreed and said the presence of a store in the community might lead other businesses to Salem Township.
“Change is hard, but the community sure could use some changing to grow,” he said. “And you’ve got a guy that wants to invest. I say take the opportunity.”
Scot Holloway countered that a Dollar General would make other businesses less likely to locate in the township.
“What other business is going to come to Port and going to try to go against Dollar General?” he said. “There’s none.”
Jon Palmer, a member of the zoning board, said Salem Township is struggling financially and needs the economic activity Dollar General would bring.
“I’m sure that this Dollar General store is going to increase tax revenue somewhat and create more money for the township to fix signs, pave roads, maintain the township and as was stated earlier create a job or two,” he said.
Sharon Pence said Dollar General’s low prices would be beneficial to people like her who are on tight budgets.
“I would just love it, and I’m sure a lot of the other senior citizens would love it,” she said. “We are having a hard time now getting to town at least once, maybe twice a month, to get our food supply. We would really appreciate this store.”
Responding to a comment that Port Jefferson is a food desert, MaryLou Yinger said it is not as there are nearby stores in Sidney. Plus, Dollar General wouldn’t offer fresh produce, she said.
“You cannot fix a food desert with a Dollar General store,” she said. “You’ve got to have some fresh fruit, some fresh vegetables before you can fix a food desert.”
Yinger and her husband, Floyd, have lived adjacent to the proposed Dollar General store for approximately 60 years and don’t want to see a store next door.
“That’s zone residential, not business. Residential,” Koewler said. “And that was done for a reason, so that things like this wouldn’t happen.”
Other community members also said it’s not right to build a store in an established residential area.
“I really don’t think (Dollar General is) being a good community neighbor by putting this business in a residential area,” Cott Wenger said.
Jim Mccrary, who gathered 187 signatures in favor of the rezoning, said there is a need for a store since the PJ General Store & Carry Out closed.
“Dollar General would only disturb a few, but it would improve the lives of many,” Mccrary said.
Along with intruding on a residential area, others said it’s inappropriate to have a business so close to Glen Cemetery.
“When one assesses the assets of Salem Township, Glen Cemetery is on top of the list,” Bill Warner said. “It is incumbent on the Salem Township trustees to preserve our assets and Glen Cemetery, in particular.”
Another concern was a store would increase traffic, which residents contend would be unsafe considering the proposed location is in a 55 mph zone with limited visibility.
“It is a limited passing area already,” Travis Reeves said. “So it’s already shown that it’s not a good area to be turning or passing.”
While some people won’t be happy, Herrick said, the township needs a store like Dollar General.
“Change is going to be inevitable,” he said. “It happens everyday. Somebody is going to be happy; somebody is not going to be happy.”
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