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PEP's Rogers rips board over Dollar General decision

Larry Rogers speaks with Melissa Ballard and Bob Broadway of the Broadway Group, of Huntsville, Ala. Larry Rogers speaks with Melissa Ballard and Bob Broadway of the Broadway Group, of Huntsville, Ala.

Larry Rogers, the executive director of the Partners for Economic Progress, has hair-trigger radar for government decisions that block or hinder business.

A fulltime lobbyist for PEP, Rogers sits dutifully at every government meeting that involves regulatory actions that can make or break business and development, scribbling longhand in a composition book. He doesn't miss much, but even half asleep it would have been hard to miss the action of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday. The radar went to code red.

After a second hearing, the Board of Commissioners unanimously shot down a request by a developer representing to Dollar General to build a 9,100-square-foot store on a 1.7-acre lot. Commissioners said they agreed with residents that the store potentially would create a traffic hazard and that it's not the right time to change a community-based "small area plan" created with community input. What galled Rogers was that commissioners made the decision to turn down the rezoning without letting Dollar General's representatives, the Broadway Development Group, speak.

"You're not going to let 'em talk?" Rogers blurted out when chairman Charlie Messer called the agenda matter to a close.

The county's Regulation Review Committee hears from Rogers tonight, and after the county's action on Wednesday the Dollar General case may well be exhibit 1. He does not think the company got a fair hearing, and in any case had to go through too much red tape over five months only to be turned down.

"Five months is too long to get a no," Rogers said. "They started in February and had to make five trips up here (from Huntsville, Ala.)"

The rezoning request for a green light from the county planning staff, unanimous approval from the technical review committee and a unanimous endorsement from the Planning Board. Broadway paid for a traffic impact study that concluded the new store would not adversely traffic. And yet the zoning application still went down. Steve Dozier, a Planning Board member, told the Regulation Review Committee last week that Planning Board members are puzzled when they see their recommendations reversed, and suggested that the commissioners ought not have advisory committees if they're going to ignore their advice.

Commissioners gave great weight to the concerns of neighboring property owners, including residents and members of Horse Shoe Baptist Church, who objected to not only traffic but the sale of beer and wine.

"I think everybody knows I'm strongly pro-business and for personal property rights," Commissioners Michael Edney said, "but I always have to draw the line that you can't do something with your property that's going to hurt the property of somebody close to you."
Commissioner Tommy Thompson asked whether the residents were right about the limited amount of time the engineers spent on site counting cars.
"That seems to be questionable as to whether that's an appropriate amount of time to do a study," Thompson said.
Mark Teague of J.M. Teague Engineering of Waynesville said the engineers counted the morning peak from 7 to 9 a.m. and made an afternoon count from 4 to 6 p.m. "We also observed the property about a week later, and stayed several more hours to observe, take pictures and gather data," he said.
In all, the engineers spent nine or 10 hours at the site. The study recommended timing changes to the stoplight to help handle traffic flow.
"We do not believe the development is going to have a negative impact on the existing roadway network," Teague said.
The DOT had no reason based on engineering and statistics to oppose a driveway permit for retail use at that site, district engineer Steve Cannon told the commissioners.

Bob Broadway, the development company owner, and landowner Roger Gagnon said they were disappointed in the board's decision and in the fact that the commissioners did not offer them a chance to speak.

"I think that's very fortunate," he said. "We should have been given the opportunity speak today." Four Broadway Development Group employees drove up from Huntsville, Ala., "with the sole purpose of speaking to the county commissioners," he said.

The overall land-use plan, he said, describes U.S. 64 in Horse Shoe as an "urban services area" where business should be promoted, he said.

"In the county's land-use code along with the comprehensive plan they adopted just a new years ago this area is utilized as an urban services area," he said.

Gagnon said he had no other plans for the 1.7-acre tract.

"I'm disappointed that property rights are being trampled really," said Gagnon, who had a contract to sell the highway land conditional on the rezoning. "You own a piece of property and you can't do anything with it. For the church to control a piece of property they don't own ... if they want to control it they should offer to buy it."

Dan Pendergast, a neighboring property owner, presented a DOT study showing that there had been nine crashes within 500 feet of the U.S. 64 Banner Farm Road intersection, a number he asserted was low because not all agencies report all accidents.

A traffic study by Dollar General’s engineers that he said was based on a traffic count of two hours on a single day was inadequate.

“I’m concerned if the culvert will handle the extra drainage coming from the store property with a lot of roof and a lot of impervious surface,” Pendergast said.

Sylvia Staton, a member of Horse Shoe Baptist, urged commissioners to turn down the request.

“We already have people coming in turning around in the driveway. If we have the Dollar General store we’re going to have a lot more trouble,” she said. “We don’t need the beer and wine. I’m totally against that. Right now, where it’s going to be built at, is just not where it should be built.”

Commissioner Grady Hawkins raised the point, as he had during the April hearing, that the Board of Commissioners had only recently approved a plan, based on community input and study.
"I have a couple of concerns," he said. "One is the community plan that we talked about, as far as the small area plan. I think it's too early to go back and start making adjustments to the community plan. This traffic study seems to use a lot of generic figures. I think it's in some areas shallow and it's not convincing to me that (a new store) is not a traffic safety problem out there."
Chairman Charlie Messer said while some changes are inevitable, the commissioners should continue to give weight to what local people think.
"We as county commissioners have sat up here for a long time and said we don't like to manage any community," he said.