More than three years ago, national retailer Dollar General applied for zoning approval to put a store on Thomaston Road.
The company met with resistance from area residents and from Macon’s zoning commission. The application was denied.
After fine-tuning its plans and reducing its footprint, the discount retailer is trying again to build a store on the same spot at a roundabout in rural west Bibb County.
But some of its potential neighbors aren’t happy about the new plan either citing crime, increased traffic and the impact on the rural community.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
“I’m just concerned about crime moving out this way,” said Kim Seymour, who lives nearby and owns the Kuntry Kiddie Daycare & Pre-School .02 miles away from the proposed site. “It will be very close to me, and I’m worried about the safety of my children” at the day care.
The national discount retailer attempts to put stores in neighborhoods where its customers will have a convenient source of everyday products, Mary Kathryn Colbert with the company’s public relations’ department said in an email.
The company has been growing quickly for a number of years. In the past decade alone, it built more than 6,000 new stores with almost 40 in Bibb County.
Dollar General has filed an application to rezone about 6 ½ acres of vacant, wooded property at 6855 Thomaston Road — at a roundabout where Thomaston, Lamar and Lower Thomaston roads meet — from an agricultural district to a planned development commercial district to allow a retail development.
The first project includes a 9,000-square-foot Dollar General on nearly 3 acres which would employ six to 10 employees. Additional phases on the property would include a convenience store with gas pumps on about 2 acres with an unspecified commercial use on the remaining acreage. Rezoning approval is one of several steps the company needs to take before the project would move forward.
The 2015 plan not only included a Dollar General and convenience store, but also some mini-warehouses and a small strip shopping center.
Not all neighbors near the site are opposed to the company’s plans.
“I am a homeowner who lives less than a mile away from the proposed site, and I have no connection with the developers,” said Craig Anderson in a January email to the commission. “(I) just think having a Dollar General on that site would be a big plus for my community.”
The application was expected to be heard at the Jan. 14 zoning commission meeting, but it was deferred to Monday’s meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in the Government Center at 700 Poplar St. This is a change in venue because of the higher-than-normal number of people expected to attend because of the rezoning item.
Residents say traffic is another a issue
The company indicated in an email this week to The Telegraph that its current plan is not definite at this time.
“We are currently in (the) due diligence phase,” for putting a store at this location, Colbert said. “Based on our current timeline, we anticipate to have a final decision on this by late summer 2019.”
It’s not unusual for a company to get zoning and other approvals before it announces specific plans.
Crime is not the only issue nearby residents have with the retailer, according to comments made at earlier meetings and by Seymour.
“I think it’s going to be a horrible traffic issue at the roundabout,” Seymour said.
Plans call for access to the store from Lamar and Thomaston roads.
“Right now traffic flows so good through the roundabout,” Seymour said. “There are a lot of 18-wheelers that go up and down this road, and with somebody pulling out (from the store) … before you get to the roundabout … I think it will be a big traffic issue. There is no way it’s not going to be.”
Also, the store will attract additional traffic to the quiet, rural area, Seymour and others have said. It’s nothing personal against Dollar General, she said, adding she wouldn’t like it if a bank or funeral home opened on that site either.
“With any type of business, I think there will be traffic issues there,” she said.
Another area resident, Dean Dummitt, said in an email sent to the zoning office before the January meeting he was concerned about several things.
“It would be out of character for our rural neighborhood and contradiction to the 2040 land use plan,” Dummitt said. “The development would increase (the) potential for crime, traffic issues, light pollution and litter on our streets.”
Some residents in the area have put signs in their yards protesting the company’s plans.
Jim Thomas, executive director of the zoning commission, agreed that the land use plan “doesn’t identify this site as one we expect to be commercial.”
If Dollar General convinces the commission to rezone the site, then the company also would have to apply for a conditional-use permit.
“Like any other retail, it’s going to add lights, and there will be some crime increase any time you open any kind of commercial business,” Thomas said. “There is nothing out there now, once you go further west out Thomaston Road. I mean it’s just real rural. Not much has happened out there … except low-density residential.”
The company looks at several criteria when choosing a site, Colbert said.
“We look for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice,” she said. “We know convenience is a major factor in our customers’ shopping decisions as we generally serve customers within a 3 to 5 mile radius, or 10 minute drive.
“We also take demographic trends, competitive factors, traffic patterns and community concerns into consideration.”
Dollar stores fill a niche in neighborhoods
Dollar General has been opening stores at fast pace for a number of years.
As of November last year, Dollar General operated 15,227 stores in 44 states, it was slated to open 900 new stores last year and has announced plans to add 975 new stores in this fiscal year, said Colbert with Dollar General. The company has about 134,000 employees.
The company was founded in 1939 and is headquartered in Goodlettesville, Tennessee. By its 50th anniversary, it had 1,300 stores in 23 states, according to the company’s history.
Dollar General sells name-brand and private-brand merchandise such as health and beauty products, home cleaning supplies, housewares, stationery, seasonal items and some basic clothing.
“We also sell an assortment of packaged foods, as well as some refrigerated foods and frozen foods,” Colbert said.
It is one of the biggest retailers based on the number of brick and mortar stores, according to a December 2018 article in Business Insider magazine. By comparison, McDonald’s has about 14,000 locations, Starbucks has about 14,600 and Walmart has 5,352 stores in the U.S., the article said. Dollar General comes in second in the number of stores only to Subway, which has about 25,800 locations in the nation.
“(Dollar General’s) archrival Dollar Tree comes in closest with 14,962 stores across the US,” the magazine said. “Analysts say that (Dollar General) is growing at a pace that is largely ‘unthinkable’ in retail.’ ”
All types of dollar stores fill a certain void, said Greg George, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Analysis at Middle Georgia State University.
“You will see them relatively close to one another but with that general theme of catering to rural locations where people don’t necessarily want to drive 15 or 20 minutes into town to buy a bar soap,” George said. “They are obviously filling a niche, or otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to continue growing and would have fizzled out.”
There are 37 dollar stores in Bibb County, Thomas said.
“They are all real aggressive. Dollar General, and some of the others as well, they will go where no one else will go,” he said. “They will go in areas, like this, where there is nothing out there, or they will go in a depressed neighborhood where nobody else will go.”
George agreed that residents have reasonable concerns regarding crime.
“Some of these stores do tend to be a target for thefts and shoplifting … because they are rural, so it takes a while for the police to get there,” George said. “So those are legitimate concerns, but again, that’s part of what living in the country means, with police slower to respond and that kind of thing.
“But people need to be able to buy everyday consumer items, and that’s a niche that dollar stores are catering to in an economical way.”