SOUTHWICK — Dollar General’s plans to open a retail outlet on College Highway faced opposition at a Feb. 27 meeting where residents said it isn’t needed.

“I don’t think our town needs another dollar store,” said Pat Montagna, a resident of the Winnfield Circle neighborhood that would abut the retail store on its northern side, at the Southwick Planning Board meeting.

While Montagna recognized the proposed site at 771 College Hwy. is zoned Business Restricted, she said that “beautiful lot is not conducive” to a dollar store.

The Dollar General on Southampton Road in Westfield is nearly identical to the store proposed to be built at 771 College Hwy. in Southwick.
Reminder Publishing photo by Cliff Clark

In early February, Calito Development Group LLC, of Torrington, Connecticut, requested a special permit from the town to build a 10,640-square-foot single-story building on a 3.4-acre empty parcel of land, to include a parking lot with a 45-car capacity.

Among the other residents who spoke, noting a perceived abundance of dollar store along College Highway, was Maryssa Cook-Obregon, who sat on the Master Plan Committee.

“At the end of the day, right now as it stands, this would mark within a two-mile stretch in the main thoroughfare of our town, Route 202, three dollar stores,” Cook-Obregon said.

She also referenced the economic development chapter of Southwick Vision 2040, the town’s recently adopted Master Plan, as another reason for opposing the retail store’s construction.

Reading directly from the plan, she said: “The overarching goal is for Southwick to have a strong locally propelled economy that includes and actively encourages a variety of businesses which fortify the tax base and provide well-paying local jobs as well offer more goods and services to residents while also attracting visitors into town. This vision for Southwick’s economy also upholds the betterment of the town as a whole and balances sustainable economic growth with our rural New England character.”

“I don’t know a third dollar store … is necessary, and if [Dollar General is] a diverse business … that provides goods and services to the residents of Southwick and if it attracts visitors into our town and if it upholds the betterment of the town in any way,” Cook-Obregon said.

She also said she would be “dismayed” if the Planning Board approves the site plan without any modifications to align Dollar General plans with the town’s design guidelines and Master Plan.

“If we can’t do that, then why do we have the design guidelines,” Cook-Obregon asked.

Several other Winnfield Circle residents, like Montagna, had concerns and others had questions for Rob Levesque, of Westfield-based R. Levesque Associates LLC, who presented the site plan to the Planning Board.

“I’m not happy about it,” said Winnfield Circle resident George Bottasso, before asking about the lighting that would be used on the property, headlights from cars turning into the parking lot, and some type of buffer between the store and the neighborhood. This issue of lighting was also brought up by Planning Board member David Spina.

Levesque said when discussing the plan that the building and parking lot light would use shoebox-type fixtures with LED lights pointing at the ground. He also said, responding to a question later, that because of the size of the lot, there will be plenty of flexibility to screen the store from adjacent homes using vegetative buffers.

About the traffic and possible congestion, Levesque said that because College Highway is a state road and maintained by the state Department of Transportation, he will have to secure an access permit from the agency that includes a traffic study.

Select Board member Diane Gale also mentioned the “saturation” of dollar stores on College Highway. She also asked about Dollar General placing goods outside of its stores, and if the Planning Board could include prohibiting that practice in the special permit for the site plan.

Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty said that could be a condition for the permit.

Former Town Planner Marcus Phelps suggested that the open space behind the store be converted into a meadow. Levesque said that could be done.

Levesque said the store proposed is identical to the store on Southampton Road in Westfield, and is the “prototypical” layout of a Dollar General. As far as plans go, it’s “pretty straightforward,” he said.

“It meets or exceeds all the dimensional requirements in the zoning district,” Levesque said.

Planning Board member Jessica Thornton asked Levesque if the design of the store could be altered to make it more appropriate for the character of the town.

He answered that most retailers won’t make “drastic changes” from their prototypes, and mentioned O’Reilly Auto Parts as an example before Thornton cut him off.

“But we want to better,” Thornton said.

“It’s very rare that for them to accept that option. It’s completely the reverse of how their business works,” Levesque said.

As the hearing wrapped up, Doherty spoke about to the store fitting into the character of the area proposed.

“I’m trying to reconcile the size of the building in the location,” Doherty said.

However, Levesque reminded Doherty of other businesses along College Highway, like Whip City Tool & Die and Jelly Belly’s Pools & Spas.

Doherty said he’ll spend more time thinking about it before the next board meeting, scheduled for March 26.

Asked to comment about why it chose Southwick as a location for a new store, Dollar General Corp. responded by email: “Our customers are at the center of all that we do, and meeting their needs is our top priority when choosing store locations. In selecting store sites, we take a number of factors into consideration, carefully evaluating each potential new store location to ensure we can continue to meet our customers’ price, value and selection needs. Approximately 80% of our stores currently serve communities with populations of less than 20,000, often in areas underserved by other retailers.”

The company also pointed out that it creates new jobs for local residents, offers career development opportunities for it employees, and additional tax revenue for the town. It also provides “the ability for local nonprofits, schools and libraries to apply for literacy and education grants through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation,” the company said in the statement.

Dollar General has nearby stores in Westfield, West Springfield, Agawam, Feeding Hills, Russell, and Enfield, Connecticut. As of Feb. 19, there are 19,781 stores in 48 states or territories, in 7,681 cities and towns.

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