South Hero Joins Fight Against Dollar Stores

Apr 8, 2013

Dollar General and Family Dollar both have plans to expand the number of stores in Vermont. Opponents say the stores are a bigger threat to small towns than big box stores.

Residents in South Hero are organizing to fight a proposed dollar store in their community.  They join a number of towns where there is opposition to proposals to build the small box stores.

Two national chains, Dollar General and Family Dollar, have established a number of new stores in Vermont in recent years.

They've moved into some communities without much fuss, but as they've proliferated, there's been increasing concern about their impact. 

The concern revolves around how they'll affect locally-owned businesses, whether they're contributing to sprawl and how their size and generic appearance fit into a community.

In South Hero, Janine Bellinghiri says she thinks a proposed Dollar General store there would change the character and affect the economy of her town.

"We all came here to escape that kind of strip-mall town, box store town and to raise our families.  As well as people come here in the summer to vacation and they're not coming here to shop at box stores," says Bellingheri.

She is helping organize opposition to the dollar store proposal in South Hero. The application process for the store is in the early stages.

The most protracted fight over a dollar store in Vermont is underway in Chester against another proposed Dollar General. 

Shawn Cunningham's group Smart Growth Chester has waged a nearly two year fight against the proposal.  Cunningham has raised $18,000 to date but Cunningham says it will take more to continue the battle.

"This doesn't happen without resources," Cunningham explains. "Some people have been extremely generous.  We've gotten $5 contributions and we've gotten $500 contributions from people who realize that this really does matter and they come in and write a check."

Cunningham's group is currently appealing both the Chester Development Review Board approval of the Dollar General plan and the district environmental commission's Act 250 permit for the store.  

Lawyer James Dumont represents Smart Growth Chester and opponents of another dollar store in Ferrisburgh.  He's also met with opponents of the South Hero store.

Dumont says local opposition alone isn't enough for these groups to succeed. Their arguments have to be based on zoning bylaws and town plans that are clear about what development is appropriate.

"Act 250 really looks at the town plan. The Vermont Supreme Court has said that the Act 250 criterion that requires conformance with the town plan is not going to be applied unless your town plan has some very specific language it," Dumont says.

"Many town plans have wonderful language it it that talks about our goals for this town but doesn't meet the specificity requirements of Vermont Supreme Court case law."

Last year a district environmental commission rejected Act 250 applications for two dollar stores in Royalton, citing the town plan which called for limited retail development in the area where the stores were to be located.