Inside the Dollar General Proposal that has Germantown All Riled Up

By WILLIAM SHANNON

A real estate broker from the Hudson area may not have realized what he was about to set off when he approached the owners of the Quality Garden Center and Quality Landscaping. The broker played middle man between the property owners and Primax Properties, the developers who are hoping to build a Dollar General store on Route 9G in Germantown.

Even though the eventual decision on whether the store will be built will be for the five members of the town’s planning board to decide (and possibly the five people on the zoning board of appeals), the potential store has been a major source of debate among the town’s citizens.

 A current scene at the Quality Garden Center in Germantown, where a Dollar General store may be built.

A current scene at the Quality Garden Center in Germantown, where a Dollar General store may be built.

On one side, people are pointing to the findings and guidance of Germantown’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan, which was based on 374 surveys filled out by town residents.

According to the Comprehensive Plan, one of the main purposes of such plans is to “allow a community to more effectively market and attract the kinds of development it prefers.”

There’s a lot of language in the plan—which guides the town’s zoning—about preserving the town’s rural character, preserving views of the Catskill Mountains and guiding future commercial development toward “thoughtful growth.”

On the other side of the debate is the school of thought that any development is inherently good development if it expands the tax base and creates jobs. Another part of this side of the argument is that the store could fill a retail need for low-income locals.

It’s no secret that the demographics of Germantown have been changing in recent years. There are many second homeowners and people who have relocated or retired to Germantown from New York City. Homes in Germantown in the past few years have sold for figures in the millions. This group tends to see Germantown as an idyllic country town with much of its earlier-era charm still intact. To them, a proposal for a corporately-owned chain store in a town of fewer than 2,000 residents doesn’t add up. Especially in a town that, at the moment, has a locally-owned and bustling general store that prides itself in selling American-made goods. Plenty of Germantown natives and longtime residents also find themselves on this side of the debate.

What’s clear and easy to see is that a new store would create jobs, probably some of them for Germantown residents, and would deliver an increase in tax revenue.

If, following development, the new parcel were assessed at $500,000, it would contribute $7,180 per year to the Germantown Central School District; $3,140 to Columbia County; and $1,300 to the town of Germantown—at today’s tax rates.

That is concrete money added to the tax rolls, but the luxury-level real estate market in the area presents other opportunities. Recent sale prices of certain upscale homes have far exceeded their current assessed values. For example, one Hunterstown Road property, purchased last year for $2,075,000, is currently assessed at $774,000, according to county data.

As most everyone knows, these newcomers to town often each support multiple jobs, including landscapers, carpenters and cleaners and sometimes they start or relocate businesses here.

This might lead to the question: Why doesn’t one of these more affluent among us just buy the property that the dollar store may be built on?

The answer is: It probably couldn’t be that simple.

The current owners of the property are contracted with the developers to see the planning board process through. While the offer for the property is not public—since the subdivision and sale are contingent upon planning board approval—the figure is rumored to be $165,000.

According to the Register-Star, when the proposal for a 9,100-square foot Dollar General went before the planning board in February, the developer was asked by the town's attorney and engineer to come back with building designs that better fit the town's zoning.

There is a lot of guidance and language in the code for preferred architecture of commercial development and for subdividing land, including the following:

“Provision shall be made for maintaining undeveloped natural areas and corridors to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts of a proposed subdivision, and to sustain biodiversity, protect water resources, agricultural soils, historic and archaeological assets, and viewsheds in order to implement the Town’s policies of protecting environmental and cultural resources pursuant to this Law, the Town Comprehensive Plan and other applicable local laws.”

The interpretation of the zoning law and Comprehensive Plan will be up to those on the planning board and potentially the zoning board of appeals.

But an entity has formed in recent days called Preserve Rural Germantown. The group hopes to convince the town council to halt development until the town updates its 2007 Comprehensive Plan to clarify guidelines for development along Route 9G. The group pointed out—in an extended release last week—that the Comprehensive Plan of 2007 suggested revisiting and updating the plan every five years.

It’s been interesting to watch the debate unfold, as I’m sure it will continue to be. As a person who grew up in Germantown, lives here now and hopes to grow old here, I feel quite a bit of small-town pride that a proposal for a chain store is spurring such rigorous debate.