The developer behind the failed Dollar General proposal in Columbia vows to appeal the Tuolumne County Planning Commission’s 5-1 decision Wednesday night to deny a development permit for another proposed store, this time in the community of Lake Don Pedro.
A year after unsuccessfully attempting to build a Dollar General store in Columbia, the Texas-based Cross Development was back in front of the commission Wednesday night looking to build one at the northeast corner of Las Palmas Way and Highway 132 in the Lake Don Pedro community.
“We’re not here to choose winners and losers,” said Commissioner John LaTorre, “but the problem in this case is if any big corporation came here and put in money to build a store and then a few years from now closed it, the devastation to the community would be complete.”
The proposed location is next door to the existing Don Pedro Market, which has served the La Grange and Lake Don Pedro areas for about 30 years. The market includes a gas station, deli and hardware store.
Between 200 and 300 people showed up for the tense meeting that lasted three hours.
Seven in attendance spoke in favor of the project, including the developer, Joe Dell of Cross Development. More than 20 people at the meeting voiced their opposition, while two shared their thoughts from a neutral perspective.
All those who spoke were given three minutes each to state their case.
Prior to the meeting, the county sent out notices to 18 adjoining property owners and received five responses against the project. The county also received a petition containing more than 1,000 signatures from those who were opposed.
Many of the arguments against the project were similar to those heard during last year’s debate over a proposed Dollar General store in Columbia.
People spoke out against the Tennessee-based retail giant’s business practices, the impact the store would have on nearby businesses, and how it would change the character of the small, rural community of less than 3,000 full-time residents.
“Dollar General represents everything that is bad and evil in the corporate world,” said Kim Martin, of Don Pedro. “I urge you to educate yourselves on Dollar General and what they represent and what kind of business we would be bringing here.”
Another concern raised in the letters to the county were regarding six RV homes currently situated on the land, which is owned by Foothill Land Development, LLC, which will have to be moved to build the proposed 9,100-square-foot store.
The county responded that the conditions on the land say the RVs are not allowed to stay on site for more than six months at a time.
Some against the project also spoke to how the Don Pedro Market and its owner, Jimmy Aljamili, have been an integral part of the community. Many in the audience burst into applause as they relayed their stories of goodwill.
George Harper, a Madera-based attorney who represents Aljamili, spoke on behalf of his client and said he knows the addition of Dollar General would likely put the long-running market out of businesses based on its profit margins.
“We are local people, we employ local people, and we support local causes in the community, he said.
However, those in favor of the project argued that the store should be allowed to move forward because it would provide a closer, cheaper options for certain products.
Keri Eversole, of Don Pedro, said she typically drives an hour away to Atwater to get groceries at a more affordable price or that are unavailable at the local market.
“I’m fortunate to be able to travel to town when I have to get supplies, but I know a handful of people who can’t and who are on food stamps and don’t have the means to get the lower cost items to feed their families,” she said. “I believe it’s a win-win situation.”
Dell, of the Texas-based Cross Development that builds and leases stores to Dollar General, also focused on the aspect of competition.
Some of the products offered at the market, including gas and hard liquor, won’t be offered at Dollar General, Dell said. While there will be some overlapping products, he believed the competition would benefit the shopper.
“This is not about whether or not Dollar General belongs in the community,” he said.
At one point, while those against the project were speaking, a man who had spoken earlier in favor of the Dollar General became irate and began shouting profanities and calling people communists before being ushered out of the building by county officials.
After hearing from everyone on both sides of the argument, the commission spent another roughly 30 minutes deliberating amongst themselves.
County staff didn’t make a recommendation on whether to approve the project but provided the commissioners with findings for both approval and denial to help aid their decision.
Findings for approval included being consistent with the county General Plan and Ordinance Code, while findings for denial included it not being consistent with the other development in the area and would be detrimental to local residents.
Ultimately, the board voted to deny the permit on the grounds the project would hurt the community.
“Progress is hard to stop,” said Commissioner Mike Gustafson. “Sometimes you can stop it, sometimes you can’t. It’s clear to me that this community is not supporting this project and it probably shouldn’t go in.”
The lone supporter, Commissioner Jerry Baker, said he believed the developer had followed all of the county’s rules and regulations in voting against denying the permit. Commissioner Cole Przybyla was absent.
Bev Shane, the director of the county Community Resources Agency, said Dell has 10 days to file an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.
Dell said he would be filing an appeal but declined to take any other questions.