By Julia Purdy
PITTSFORD—The fourth Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on the application to build a Dollar General store on Plains Road in Pittsford village convened Monday, March 26, in two segments: a site visit and a presentation indoors at the Lothrop School gym. Both were open to the public.
ZBA chair Stan Markowski opened the hearing with an invitation to testimony and expressed the hope that a decision could be made that night. After approximately four hours, including a well-attended site visit, a presentation by the developer and testimony from residents, the deliberative session was not held. It is scheduled for May 14.
The applicant, Pittsford BTS Retail LLC, screened an hour-long PowerPoint to buttress its arguments that the project meets all regulatory and town plan requirements. But the 28 residents in attendance remained skeptical, especially on truck traffic, the reconfiguration of the intersection of Plains Road and Route 7, the economic impact on the town, and the visual impact of the store.
At the site visit, vehicles filled the yard below the old Kelly house as Jeremy Matosky, president and senior engineer for Trudell Consulting Engineers, answered questions and with the aid of the site plan pointed out corners and boundary lines, the proposed footprint, site features and alterations to Plains Road.
The indoor hearing featured visuals, which have been entered into the public record, including a full-color, 48-page booklet of the PowerPoint.
Matosky led the developer’s presentation by saying they are “consistently trying to improve this project and listen to public concerns.” He asserted that the project meets town plan targets for economic development, which he said “has been virtually at a standstill for the last 30 years.”
The PowerPoint also appealed to public sentiment to support the developer’s marketing effort. The text explicitly blames Act 250 for “overreach” that prevents Pittsford from “new development that fits Pittsford’s character,” it also cited the loss of young workers and promised new employment opportunities. According to developers the project falls under the Smart Growth concept, which aims to conserve unspoiled areas by concentrating development along main arterials.
In what he called “a big change from earlier applications,” Matosky also promised that the developer will absorb costs of improvements to the Route 7 intersection.
For 90 minutes, Matosky then led the hearing through Section 1003 in the Pittsford Zoning Ordinance. He stated he believed that all specific elements of the ordinance have been met or exceeded regarding building height, fence height, parking and loading, and location of the loading area.
He addressed previous concerns by saying truck circulation would be improved through “minor parking lot changes,” sidewalks would line Route 7 and Plains Road, the proposed crosswalk would have advance warning signs, stormwater would be treated onsite, and parking lot lighting would be unobtrusive.
Matosky addressed, in detail, truck circulation, turning radius and the intersection improvements, which will feature turn lanes on both Plains Road and Route 7, as well as realigning Plains Road to meet Route 7 at a more perpendicular angle. Plains Road would also be widened at that point specifically to accommodate tractor-trailers turning in to the Dollar General parking lot.
The siting of the building remains unchanged and includes 7,613 square feet of grounds, Dollar General’s standard 9,100 square feet of building, and a maximum building height of 26 feet 10 inches.
The planned realignment “closely follows” a VTrans plan that was developed some years ago, he said.
David Saladino, Vermont director for VHB Transportation Systems headquartered in Massachusetts, gave a brief traffic summary. He stated that traffic projections show “no significant increase in volume” in the afternoon with Dollar General in place compared to the current traffic flow, and that VTrans “concurs” with this conclusion. His traffic studies were all done in winter; one VTrans study was done in June and the results were then extrapolated. Saladino said that “car stacking” on Plains Road while waiting to turn onto Route 7 was also expected to be minor.
Continuing on to Section 503 of the zoning ordinance, “Conditional Use,” Matosky asserted that the project meets every one of the requirements regarding the burden on town facilities, the school, and the character of the neighborhood. Impacts on historic buildings is “not necessarily relevant,” he said. He showed slides of “similar” commercial buildings, including Pittsford Auto Sales, the Lake Sunapee Bank, and the post office, and concluded that “we don’t feel it is significantly out of character” with other rooflines, footprints, siding materials and colors.
After Matosky’s presentation, in response to board member questioning, Matosky admitted that the only permit secured at present is an Individual Wetland Permit for measures to channel runoff into a wetland behind the store. Matosky said that the site as proposed would contain 35,000 sq. ft. of impervious surfaces, below the 1-acre minimum required to trigger Act 250.
Trudell plans to apply to the town for approval for the curb cut and an overweight truck permit.
The proposed crosswalk across Route 7, a short distance south of Plains Road, “still needs to be vetted by the state,” he said. A letter from VTrans was entered as testimony, stating that the crosswalk must meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and requires an agreement with the town for future maintenance.
Trudell has not yet submitted any applications to VTrans for the redesign of the intersection, stated Abigail Dery, senior project engineer.
Stan Markowski asked for a closer look at the site plan with respect to adequacy of parking and loading requirements, dimensions, traffic movements, lighting, screening vegetation, and pedestrians. A 53-foot truck would have to turn around inside the parking lot in order to back into the loading zone.
Zoning Board member Rick Conway asked, “Is it safe for shoppers with little kids to have a truck backing the entire length of the building? This board is concerned with safety.”
Matosky answered, “Yes, I believe that’s safe. … This plan is in line with the public ordinance because it’s not a public way, it’s on the property.”
Saladino added that “actual movements are a lot tighter than this, these estimates are conservative.”
As the hearing went into its third hour, it was residents’ turn to give testimony.
Once again, residents expressed skepticism about the economic benefit to the town, safety, traffic volume, and compatibility with the architectural character of the village.
Testimonies from Lt. John Flannagan of the Vermont State Police and Police Chief Warfle regarding public safety have been entered as evidence. Chief Warfle has called for locked fencing and motion-sensor lighting at the back of the building, hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and an open plan for placement of plants and trees.
The board postponed the deliberative session pending additional evidence and final submittal. Town Attorney Kupferer urged that board members who had not attended previous hearings listen to tapes of previous testimony. Attorney Kupferer and the board asked Trudell to furnish a definitive set of documents with consistent dates based on the actual application, citing the numerous small changes and the mass of information.
David Cooper, attorney for the developer, stated he didn’t expect his client would submit additional testimony.
On Sept. 27, 2016, Pittsford BTS Retail LLC appeared at an Act 250 hearing before the Environmental Commission of the Natural Resources Board. In May 2017, the developer withdrew its Act 250 application to gain more time to get VTrans approval for the intersection modification and to address all Act 250 criteria at the same time.
On Nov. 8, 2017, Trudell Consulting Engineers of Williston, acting on behalf of Pittsford BTS Retail LLC, filed a Conditional Use application with the Zoning Board for a “simple retail” store, with no adverse environmental impacts noted. The application did not mention Dollar General.
Hearings before the Zoning Board of Appeals followed on Nov. 27, Jan. 22 and March 12 as Trudell gathered more information and tweaked its proposal each time.
Pittsford BTS Retail LLC is a project of the Zaremba Group, a Cleveland-based developer working for Dollar General. According to the Zaremba Group Company Profile for 2017, Zaremba has developed over 230 stores nationwide for Dollar General, and Vermont is considered among “the most difficult markets in the country” along with California, Oregon and “the mid-Atlantic region.”
Photo by Julia Purdy
Cars and people fill the proposed future site of Dollar General on Plains Road in Pittsford during a site visit. Foreground: Abigail Dery and Jeremy Matosky of Trudell Engineering confer over the site plan prior to the tour.