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In defense of Family Dollar

I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you all regarding the Family Dollar store that’s been proposed for Moretown. First, let me disclose that I hope to be involved with the construction of the project when the time comes and that, while I am a member of the Waterbury Planning Commission, I am not speaking as representative of the board. The planning commission has taken no position on this project.


The store is proposed to be built in a section of Moretown that’s zoned for retail and has been designated for commercial growth. There has been and will continue to be commercial enterprises in this neighborhood for some time to come, hopefully. The capital for this project is coming not from some foreign investment group or intimidating mega-franchise but from a couple of local working guys who are in the real estate business.

Real estate investment requires a lot of patience. Quite often you have to live 200 years to see a real profit, and along the way you hope that nobody tries to change the rules on you. Property owners’ rights, rule of law and some consistency in the ways our regulations are applied are all essential for every one of us. You can’t change the rules for this or for that.

Family Dollar’s business model is more or less the opposite of a Wal-Mart or Costco. Instead of a huge 100,000-square-foot complex planted in some former cornfield a half hour’s drive from anywhere, they target downtown areas in smaller communities around the country. They just set up in a long vacant storefront in Orleans and have been well received. The store in Moretown will have approximately 6,700 square feet of retail area.

In the absence of any objection to the building design or landscaping plan that’s been proposed, folks opposed to the store seem to be hoping they can drive down the project, based on the clogged roads and failed intersections that Family Dollar will suddenly create. They might want to speak with the Duxbury Design Review Board that just approved (a long overdue) resurrection of the State Farm Complex, that I understand, involves 300 plus/minus parking spaces. They might want to speak to all the parents who feel compelled to drive their li’l darlings to school each day, as opposed to having them ride the bus (a personal pet peeve of mine) or they might just relax. Once gas is over four dollars a gallon people start thinking about it. Soon, when we’re up to six dollars a gallon, you’ll see a real thinning of the herd. That’s when a lot of folks within walking or bicycling distance might really be thankful they have another choice when it comes to food purchasing. We all drive, we are all guilty, let she who is without sin cast the first stone.

There are a few bona-fide benefits to this project that I think no one could contest. In addition to being a central and accessible option to folks in the Waterbury and Duxbury villages, there would of course be a few new employment opportunities. Ten to 12 positions would be created; in addition, there would be work for the building trades for the few months of construction. There would certainly be a bump in Moretown’s grand list.

From what I see, there’s not a lot of commercial tax base in town, and that landfill’s going to top out in the not-too-distant future. Moretown might be happy for a bit more diversity when that happens. Generally, we in a (so-called) free society consider competition to be a good thing; some of us in Waterbury felt a little abused when there was only one grocery store in town. More options, more better.

Lastly, I just can’t help but comment on the hypocrisy of the permitting process; in the seven years I’ve been a planning commission member, I’ve gotten a real education. This project proposes an allowed retail use, whether it’s a Family Dollar or a Saks Fith Avenue, retail is retail. The yuppy/NIMBY/vegans among us would be all aquiver with anticipation if a Whole Foods, or better yet a Hunger Mountain Co-op, were being proposed for the same spot.

The Family Dollar is just a store, wanting to be built on a spot that the community has decided is appropriate for stores. Can we lighten up a bit?

 

Joel Baker lives in Waterbury.

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