Emotions run high at Alta Sierra town hall on Dollar General store
Strong emotions erupted this week at a town hall meeting on a new Dollar General store plan in Alta Sierra.
Angry and even pleading outbursts came as a majority of about 125 residents at the event at Alta Sierra Country Club on Monday night said they didn’t think that a corporate chain retail store would fit in with the rural neighborhood quality that many people moved to Alta Sierra to enjoy.
“I don’t want to see it,” said Gary Weber. “I’m not going to beat a dead horse on the issues of traffic, or removal of trees.
“I’m just like a lot of people,” he added. “We just plain don’t want it.”
Joshua Simon, developer of the planned 9,100-square-foot Dollar General on Alta Sierra Drive east of Highway 49, insisted his vision for the store was as a “general store, not a dollar store,” where people could pick up basic household items at competitive prices close to their homes.
“I do think this is the highest and best use of that site,” said Simon, president of Arizona-based SimonCRE. “It’s not a 24-hour gas station; it’s not fast food — it’s a general merchandise store.”
Simon said his firm has asked Nevada County to cancel the scheduled April 8 continued public hearing on the plan’s permit approval to give additional time for refinements. A new date will be set for May or June, he said.
The continued hearing was approved by Nevada County Hearings Examiner Brian Foss after a contentious public hearing on March 11.
But despite reassurances from Simon and Mark Gilchrease, Dollar General district manager for the local region, residents at the town hall were visibly upset, reflecting sentiments in a recently created Facebook page, “Against Dollar General in Alta Sierra.”
“I don’t feel this is the right thing for this neighborhood,” said Annamarie Trager. “The traffic there is already horrendous, and the left turn lane already is backed up.
“This is the wrong thing for our community,” she said.
Others referred to the proposed store as an “eyesore,” selling merchandise that was “tacky” and “trashy.”
“I went into the Grass Valley store (in the Brunswick Basin),” said one woman. “I saw candy, I saw cookies, I saw snacks — I also saw a pushup bra and a thong bikini.”
Simon, however, told the group the Alta Sierra store exterior would be more attractive than the metal-shed-type building used at the existing Dollar General store in Grass Valley.
“I’ll be using more natural materials,” he said.
Other improvements in the new store design presented Monday were additional landscaping and a 6-foot-high masonry wall along the Little Valley Road frontage to buffer noise and increase privacy.
The Little Valley Road entrance has been removed in the new plans after neighbors said at the March 11 hearing it would create a hazardous traffic situation.
“The whole point of this store is as a convenience,” said Gilchrease, who was involved in opening a store in Marysville. “You can pick up a few items and you don’t have to go to town.”
A least one person at the town hall said he was in favor of the project because he thought it would be good for business in general.
“All the other businesses have been driven out,” said Michael Brady, proprietor of the Healing Garden.
Simon said he also has a “stack” of letters from residents in favor of the project, but that most of those were not at the town hall meeting.
“A lot of times, it’s the people with the concerns who show up,” he said. “I love that the residents came out and are involved in their community.”
Nevada County Supervisor Ed Scofield, whose 2nd District includes Alta Sierra and who attended the town hall, said the proposed store site has been zoned C-1 (convenience store/commercial) for “30 or 40 years.”
“As long as it fits the C-1 zoning, and it’s not a (marijuana) dispensary or a porn shop, it can go there,” he said. “The county doesn’t have any say what goes in there as long as it fits the zoning.”
Because the site is less than one acre, a full environmental impact review is not required. Also, since the building is less than 10,000 square feet, approval is by an administrative county zoning official, rather than the full Nevada County Planning Commission, Simon said.
He said there were 11,000 Dollar General stores in operation throughout the country and many were well-received.
“Just because something is legally allowed, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, in the sense of being in the world,” retorted one woman, who declined to give her name. “It would be more appropriate to have a local business there, not a corporate entity.”
Crystal Ghassemi, corporate communications executive for Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General Corp., said the company, founded in 1939, operates in 43 states. California operations began in 2012, she said.
In addition to the Alta Sierra and Brunswick Basin stores, Dollar General is “reviewing potential locations” in Penn Valley and Rough and Ready, as well as Foresthill and Colfax in Placer County and Georgetown in El Dorado County, she said.
“We look forward to productive conversations with community leaders and citizens about our store designs, the products we carry, the positive impact on the communities we serve and additional matters throughout the due diligence process of each store,” Ghassemi said.
The firm also has a Dollar General Literacy Foundation that offers grants for nonprofits, organizations and schools within a 20-mile radius of the stores.
But residents at the town hall were more concerned about their country lifestyle in Alta Sierra, which features tree-lined curving roads, no sidewalks and unique single-family homes.
“That (store site) is at our main entrance,” a resident named Carol, who declined to offer her last name, told Simon. “We take great pride in our rural community — please don’t come here.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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