CHARLESTOWN — Residents carrying “No Dollar General” signs made their voices heard Wednesday before the Planning Commission voted down a controversial plan that would have brought the national discount retailer to the village district off Old Post Road.
The vote came after representatives of the applicant, Lisciotti Development, testified about a traffic study, and residents commented on why they believed the store would be “incompatible” with the historic village district.
“Lipstick on a pig comes to mind,” resident Bruce Asher said.
The commission approved a series of “findings of fact” that essentially rejected Dollar General’s master site plan for the 7,400-square-foot store.
“Despite repeated requests to provide an alternate plan regarding access to and circulation within the site, to design the access in a manner that is not disruptive to the neighborhood and to reduce the amount of pavement and stormwater runoff potential, we were not presented with alternative site access, circulation and design options,” Chairwoman Ruth Platner said.
The commission also voted to issue an advisory opinion to the town’s Zoning Board recommending that it not issue a special use permit. The permit would be required because the proposed building’s size would exceed 5,000 square feet.
Much of the meeting was taken up with discussion of the traffic study performed by the developer. Members of the commission and residents raised a number of concerns regarding peak traffic estimates, the number of trucks and their sole access off Old Post Road, and quality-of-life issues such as truck lights shining into homes across the street.
Immediately after the first vote, the attorney for Dollar General, John Bolton, implied that the commission had acted improperly. He asked if its findings of fact had been written before the meeting.
Platner said she did write the findings, and that the only changes applied at the meeting concerned the new information that was presented, related to the traffic. She also noted that the commission received the traffic report in its packet before the meeting.
“The findings of fact supporting a negative vote were prepared before tonight’s meeting,” Bolton concluded.
He also asked that the video of the meeting be “preserved” and stated that the commission had violated the state’s open meeting law. He said the vote on the advisory opinion to the Zoning Board was not on the agenda.
“Rhode Island courts have ruled that those have to be set forth as separate agenda items,” he said.
Dollar General, a chain based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., originally submitted plans to build a 9,100-square-foot store at Old Post Road and Narrow Lane in Cross Mills.
Based on comments from the commission and members of the public in April, the company reduced the overall size of the building to 7,400 square feet.
The commission in April had asked it to be reduced to about 5,000 square feet.
With the revised size, the Dollar General would still be one of the larger structures in town. Only eight or nine buildings in town are bigger than 5,000 square feet, and they are multistory structures. They include the General Stanton Inn and the Washington Trust bank building.
The drive to bring Dollar General to Charlestown has been long and litigious. For three years, Lisciotti Development has tried to move forward with plans for the store, and prevailed in a court challenge against the town last year.
Dollar General was deemed a department store by the Charlestown Zoning Board of Review and the town's building official in 2015, and thus was not allowed under rules for the Traditional Village District. That decision was overturned by a Superior Court judge in July 2017.