SHEFFIELD -- In an effort to avoid a potentially costly legal battle, town officials could meet as soon as next week with Primax Properties to discuss settling a state Land Court lawsuit over the proposed construction of a Dollar General store.
The Sheffield Board of Selectmen has been largely silent on court developments with the Charlotte, N.C. developer Primax Properties, which wants to build a Dollar General along the town's main thoroughfare. However, selectmen revealed Monday in their regular public meeting that during a Sept. 4 closed-door meeting, the board agreed to explore mediation.
The board's revelation is in concert with a similar action made by the Sheffield Zoning Board of Appeals. Last Thursday, the ZBA also voted in favor of mediation during a closed-door session.
At the time, ZBA Chairman Bart Elsbach re-asserted there are bylaw violations that need to be corrected in the Primax proposal. Select -men have not specified what concessions they'd like to see to allow a Dollar General development.
Selectmen Chairwoman Julie Hannum could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard told The Eagle that the Board of Selectmen has invited Primax to meet for talks next week.
The town is still waiting for Primax to respond.
Primax Properties has filed a Land Court appeal to obtain a building permit to construct a 9,100-square-foot retail store at 666-680 North Main St., along Route 7.
The Zoning Board of Appeals has refused to allow a building permit, citing zoning bylaw violations related to parking, landscaping and the future sale of certain beverages.
Land Court Judge Harry Grossman met with legal counsel for the town and Primax on Sept. 10. Grossman gave both parties until Dec. 30 to exchange documents.
Both parties expressed interest in mediation following the recent Land Court hearing, LaBombard said. If Primax agrees to meet next week, she said both the Selectmen and ZBA members would be on board.
Not everyone agrees with the move toward mediation. Selectman Ted Dobson is advocating for the town to fight "tooth-and-nail" in court. Dobson said he was "outvoted" to allow mediation.
Dobson was elected to the board in May in a surprising win over incumbent David Smith Jr. He credits his win to voter frustration about the Dollar General proposal.
Dobson, who also runs Equinox Farm, said he opposes the discount retail store after seeing his home state of New Jersey overrun by housing developments and corporate box stores since the 1960s and 1970s.
"[Tourists] come [here] to leave the industrial wasteland behind and to breathe in good air and appreciate the good landscape that's intact," said Dobson. "We have plenty of opportunities to buy at cheap box stores around the region. As a taxpayer, I love the agrarian values in Sheffield."
Now that the town is moving toward mediation, the priority should be to create the "best looking Dollar General" possible and ensure safety along Route 7, said Dobson, who encourages residents to weigh in on the matter.
"I think it's important for those who live in town to take part in town politics and have conversations whether they agree or disagree and to find common ground," Dobson said. "America is knocking on the door and wants a piece of the action. If we don't want a Burger King in town, we need to start talking to each other now."