Letter to the Editor regarding Dollar General

Editor’s Note: This is the first letter to the editor received by Hudson River Zeitgeist. Letters may be sent to hrzeitgeist@gmail.com. Any time a letter or multiple letters are received, they will be published collectively the following Saturday.

It is incorrect to characterize opposition to the Dollar General Store as an old timer/newcomer dispute. Over 180 long time and second homeowner Germantown residents signed a petition asking the Town Board to establish a committee to review and update the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Law and impose a moratorium (say 6 months) on commercial development along Route 9G while the committee is doing its work. Every day, more townspeople send us signed petitions supporting the request and opposing the building of a Dollar General store. Former supervisor George Sharpe, in his own letter to the newspapers and the town board, for just one example, unequivocally stated his opposition to the Dollar General on Route 9G. So it is probably more accurate to characterize opposition to the update and the moratorium as political posturing, but it should not be viewed as support for a Dollar General store in Germantown by long term residents.  

Germantown is one of many, many small communities faced with the threat of a box store in its midst and rallying to oppose it. One of the consistent reasons for the opposition to the dollar stores is that these chains force small locally owned businesses out of business. The buying power of these chains, and their policy of understaffing the stores and using a predominately part-time, minimum wage, workforce gives the box stores great advantages to undercut the independent locally owned store, like Ottos, that pays a living wage and offers some form of retirement and medical benefits to its workers. The consistent refrain of opponents to the dollar stores is that they may very well take away, not add jobs in the town. 

Let's also be clear that opposition to the Dollar General is not anti-business. Opposition to turning Route 9G into a strip mall with box stores like Dollar General is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan reflects the determination of the townspeople to support business—locally owned businesses. Instead, the Primax/Dollar General proposal would have a building owned and maybe managed by a North Carolina company with no interest in the community and rented and occupied for some unspecified period by a Tennessee chain also with no interest in the community. 

As former supervisor Roy Brown pointed out in the last town meeting, the addition of a Dollar General doesn’t add to the sales tax revenue because it is collected and allocated by the state and our town is only allocated a small percentage of the sales tax revenue generated by a business in Germantown. The property itself should already be included in the tax base.

Opposition to Dollar General is also not elitist. No one in the group opposing Dollar General has denigrated the people targeted by the chain, if for no other reason than that Dollar General targets all of us. According to its own materials, it has three target classes: those whose income is $40K; "trade downs" those with income of $70K or so who decide they want to spend less than say a Target charges and "trade Ins" those with high income who want a bargain on household cleaners. In sum, these smaller box stores are targeting all of us because its business model of supersaturating areas with multiple stores requires a broad target market for survival. And if people are anxious for the purportedly lower cost cleaner, there are 11 Dollar General and 4 Dollar Tree stores within a 25-mile radius of Germantown.

The opportunity of careful consideration of business development along Route 9G still exists. Germantown is not in the middle of a project with Primax/Dollar General.  The supervisor and others may have met with Primax as part of a PRE application process, but there is no formal application pending before the Town Planning Board. This is the time precisely for a moratorium to be imposed while the town updates the Comprehensive Plan (as it expressly provides for every five years) and the Zoning Law. 

A moratorium is the legally recognized way of calling a temporary halt on development to preserve the status quo while a town updates its comprehensive plan and zoning laws. The moratorium can be crafted to meet the precise issues at hand as described in an article on Land Use Moratoria put out by the New York Department of State as follows:

The moratorium may be general, imposing a ban on all development approvals throughout the community, or specific to one land use or to a particular zoning district. For example, a moratorium can halt: the review of projects currently before boards; acceptance of new development applications (site plan, subdivision, special permit); and/or issuance of water and sewer connection permits.

In sum, the imposition of a moratorium would not be putting out a sign that Germantown is closed for business or even closing Germantown to business development.  Instead, a moratorium would give Germantown the opportunity to affirm its long range goals for business development along Route 9G and bring the zoning laws in line with those goals.

Carole Neville

Germantown, NY