The seven members of Bethel’s Development Review Board voted unanimously on June 8 to deny local permits for a proposed 7500-square foot Dollar General retail store on a field off Route 12. That field, at 428 Pleasant Street, lies in the town’s Village Commercial District and in the Flood Hazard Overlay District.
The property, an agricultural field across the road from the town’s fire station, is owned by Michael and Flormelin Bilodeau of Barre. An Ohio-based development company, Zaremba Group, is developing this project—and other Dollar General stores—on behalf of the national chain.
To go forward, the project needed conditional use and site plan approval from the DRB, but does not require an Act 250 permit from the state.
Local review of the project stretched over six months, and during that time, Zaremba had proposed several modifications— including shrinking the store footprint— in an attempt to comply with Bethel’s zoning ordinance.
The DRB ruled, however, that in spite of these “best intentions and willingness to revise,” the project still fails to meet Bethel’s zoning criteria and Town Plan.
The DRB spelled out its findings and conclusions in a 22-page decision that also explains the mandated procedures the board used to conduct its review. The DRB found multiple reasons to deny, with most all of them related to flood-hazard issues.
The field, the DRB noted, is particularly vital as a floodplain, as “the easterly side of the valley is armored with the Central Vermont Railway tracks, putting all of the pressure to relieve increased river levels” on land on the westerly side. In fact, the DRB noted, that westerly side saw substantial flooding and damage during Tropical Storm Irene.
Proposed development of the site, including plans to elevate the store site, and to build a “boulder wall” and a retention pond, would “increase danger to life and property due to increased flood heights and velocities,” the DRB decision stated.
Those factors could also compromise the town’s Wellhead Protection District, downstream of the project, the DRB found.
The DRB also found the proposal out of sync with Bethel’s Town Plan, which “is sufficiently clear and unambiguous as to be regulatory in nature,” the DRB wrote.
The decision cites the Town Plan: “It is the policy of the Town that only agriculture, recreational, and open space uses should be allowed in floodplains.”
In the site plan portion of the review, the DRB found the proposed store would meet setback requirements but the planned retention pond would not, as it would extend beyond the 1.5-acre parcel, a subdivision of the Bilodeaus’ larger holding. Further, the site plan failed to address pedestrian safety issues, the DRB ruled.
The DRB’s decision may be appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court, if such appeal is filed within 30 days of the June 8 decision.
Bilodeau noted in a March interview with The Herald that an appeal is likely. Dollar General, which already has about 30 stores in Vermont, has routinely appealed denials—and generally won them, he noted.
Bilodeau said he is contracted to sell the land to Dollar General until the permitting process is resolved, one way or the other.
In case Dollar General loses all appeals, Bilodeau has already submitted to the DRB an application for a different project—a “fourplex” residential building—for his parcel at 428 Pleasant Street.
This project, as was the Dollar General application, will be reviewed under Bethel’s old zoning regulations. The Bethel Selectboard, after long review and several amendment, adopted new bylaws on June 13.
A DRB hearing on Bilodeau’s application for the fourplex will be convened June 27, 7 p.m., at the Bethel Town Hall.