CLEARFIELD – A Dollar General store, which will be constructed along Main Street/state Route 53 in Madera, was discussed at Tuesday’s Clearfield County Commissioners’ meeting.
The commissioners were requested to consider a waiver to sections of the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance that was submitted by the store’s developer to the Planning Commission.
During public comment, Bigler Township Secretary Jeannette Holden, who has lived across the street from the proposed location for the past 28 years, said this section of the roadway is a very “dangerous area.”
“There have been some horrific accidents right in front of my home,” she said, adding that within two miles in either direction since Dec. 31, 2016, there have been four fatal crashes with a total of six fatalities.
She said the store, once constructed, will be 15 feet from the neighboring property, while most others have several hundred feet in between. Additionally, she said it’ll be surrounded by four homes – two behind and one on each side, plus her home across the street.
“It’s disrupting more homes than what we’ve seen in other areas that have recently had Dollar Generals,” Holden said. She said the developer requested the waiver on parking, and she asked the commissioners to respectfully deny that.
“It’s the only tool we have in our tool chest to stop things like this from happening since we have no zoning. We have no protection … and we’re in the historic end of town.”
She continued, saying: “Our town has been rebirthing itself on its own. These companies come into dead towns that no longer have businesses, and they prey on depressed areas, like ours.
“We need your help to stand with us, to stand with the township against this type of thing.” Holden said the area has many commercial properties available right in the heart of what once was the business district.
She said a lot of good things are happening – a convenience store, apartments and a sub shop -and not allowing a Dollar General to sandwich itself with four houses will not be a detriment. “We are renovating and fixing our town.”
Finally, Holden pointed out that Madera residents will not even be able to walk to the store, because it’ll be along a very busy highway. She said there needs to be a full traffic study but felt the store would actually do better business downtown.
Resident Brenda Campolong reiterated that it’s a very busy highway, and not just cars but coal trucks and a lot of them. She said they’ve been told there would be an average of 27 cars over an hour’s time during the store’s peak hours.
“That’s a lot of people that could get hurt,” she said. “… It’s not that we don’t want a Dollar General. We do, just not this location that’s also in between the homes of people who have lived there for a very long time.”
A concerned citizen and local business owner – who wished to remain anonymous – said he was contacted months ago by a firm with regards to purchasing some land from him.
He said once he heard about this commotion, he contacted the firm and was advised a location had been found in Madera. He said he’d offered the firm a location with easier access and no congestion.
“Last time I spoke with them in March … I was second in line,” he said. “So, they do have an alternative.”
Bigler Township Supervisor Chairman Robert P. Myers said he’s been contacted by more than 100 people over the past two weeks. He said everyone seems to want a Dollar store, but not in that particular location.
He said he’s lived in the area for 40 years and it’s a really “sad location,” and speeding is an issue. He said though the township has formed its own regional police force, that won’t resolve it and there will still be serious accidents there.
Myers concluded by saying that many people he’s spoken with have said they will not patronize the store in its proposed location.
Later in the meeting, Commissioner John A. Sobel, board chairman, turned the matter over to Solicitor Kim Kesner for legal analysis. Kesner indicated that the Planning Commission had presented a letter, which he read.
He said at its meeting March 27, the Planning Commission reviewed the developer’s request for modification to the SALDO’s parking requirements.
It recommended requesting the commissioners to consider the developer’s engineering calculations regarding justification for less parking.
“The Planning Commission recognized that the county’s SALDO parking requirements are antiquated and directed staff to add it to their April meeting agenda,” he read from the letter.
“The intention is to recommend standards that reflect today’s accepted engineering standards.” Kesner noted that the commission didn’t state any objection to the modification request.
“It’s clear [the commission] was impressed with the presentation made by the developer’s engineers,” he said. “That, under modern standards, the county’s requirements are excessive.”
He said the Planning Commission has requested for the commissioners to give fair consideration to the engineer’s calculations.
Kesner went on to explain that all that was before the board was solely a request for modification of parking requirements. The SALDO, which was enacted in 1995, requires 45 spaces.
He said the design is currently for 30 parking spaces, and based upon the engineer’s calculations, anything more than that would be unused.
Plus, he said a larger lot would mean more impervious area and would increase stormwater. He said the Department of Environmental Protection has policies to reduce imperviousness.
Kesner said there must have been some material purpose for the county’s SALDO to have a requirement of 45 spaces, and it certainly should be upheld.
However, he said a modification can be granted under the provision that it would not be contrary to the public interest and purpose and intent of the ordinance.
Kesner said the SALDO doesn’t explain why 45 parking spaces is required, and if the Planning Commission felt it was a necessity, it would have objected any modification.
He said engineering studies indicate that 30 spaces would be sufficient, and he didn’t see any basis for the commissioners to reject the developer’s request.
“You can’t just make whatever decision would appease the most people,” Kesner said. “Your decision, as in any legal decision, must be made on a sound basis material to the criteria of the ordinance.”
He explained citizens expressed this was an unsafe location for the Dollar General store, and that is under the province of PennDOT.
In terms of speeding, Kesner said he represents a number of townships with the same problem, and the remedy is to contact the Pennsylvania State Police.
“In short, you can’t exercise powers that you don’t have under the ordinance,” he said. “The ordinance permits you to grant a modification, unless it does a disservice to the requirement.”
Commissioner Tony Scotto asked if it was known if the developer intended to proceed with construction plans, regardless of the board’s decision.
At that point, Michael Swank, project manager for Steckbeck Engineering & Survey Inc., said he represented the developer, and they could accommodate the required number of spaces.
Scotto said if constructed with 45 spaces, it’d be worse because stormwater run-off would definitely affect residents living downhill from the store.
Swank said they’ve reviewed local ordinances to see how they work into their development plans. He said the extra spaces would just go unused and be impervious surface.
Holden said the Bigler Township office has received many conflicting stories and calculations keep changing. She said they don’t have any faith or trust in this developer.
Following the board’s discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to grant the waiver of sections of the county’s SALDO. The commissioners will send a letter urging PennDOT and the store’s developers to conduct a thorough traffic study.
Sobel also thanked the representatives from Bigler Township and the citizens of Madera for attending Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting to voice their concerns.