Cheshire: Many Dollar General questions, but few answers
CHESHIRE -- The new faces present at the weekly Select Board meetings are wondering aloud why the town seemingly can't escape the crosshairs of a Dollar General.
Building Inspector Gerald Garner, Select Board members, and Town Administrator Mark Webber all have commented on a lack of recourse in local zoning bylaws to block the retailer's proposal to turn a dilapidated, but once grand home at 12 South St. into one of its stores.
As recently as last week's meeting, town officials highlighted the uncertainties surrounding the project, under questioning from residents concerned about a store locating in town. Even town officials are in the dark about Dollar General's plans so far.
"All we know is rumor, rumor, rumor," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "They haven't even applied for a building permit."
"We're trying to figure out what the heck's going on," replied Jonathan Tremblay, an advisory board member new to Select Board meetings.
"And they're not going to tell you," Francesconi said. "We can't make them give us the information."
The centuries-old structure's owner, Peter Krutiak, seeks to sell it to Dollar General, prompting subcontractors from Bohler Engineering to pay recent visits to Garner and the Planning Board to discuss the property on Dollar General's behalf.
Garner explained at a recent Select Board meeting that the plans he's viewed aren't available for the public yet. The plans haven't been officially submitted.
"They can show me anything under the sun, it doesn't mean a thing to me until I get a submittal," Garner said. "Then it stays."
No purchase has yet taken place, and roadblocks might still exist.
According to former North Adams Transcript articles, an owner of several Dunkin Donuts stores, Manuel Leal, took out a lien against the property for nearly $200,000 in 2004.
In 2004, Leal and Krutiak inked a purchase-and-sale agreement for the building. Leal planned to level it to build a Dunkin Donuts store there, but Krutiak allegedly backed out at the last minute. The legalities of the situation remain unclear and could require that Leal receive compensation.
The structure stands beside the central traffic stop at the most traversed stretch of road in town, Route 8, and many residents see the proposal as one to bring an ugly chain store and potential traffic snarls to the heart of town.
Some, like Tremblay, spoke up the at the recent annual town meeting.
"In 16 years [on the board], I've never experienced this kind of reaction to a potential business," Tremblay said. "People feel like there should be something we can do about a multi-billion dollar corporation based out of Tennessee locating a business here. But what they're hearing is there's nothing we can do."
The town's zoning bylaws don't provide a means for defense, because the area is zoned commercial, according to town officials.
The laws are so loose that Garner said Dollar General isn't required to follow most of the stipulations -- aesthetic ones or otherwise -- that he requested during his meetings with company representatives, though they were heard and considered, he said.
Tremblay thinks more ought to be done.
"If people in the town feel strongly about something, we should get together and act," Tremblay said, mentioning petitions, letters to state lawmakers and even the three-year vigil that kept open St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams.
"I'm trying to empower the people of this town," he said. "If you care about this, there are things we can do."
Francesconi said the Select Board has done what little it could so far to slow down the progress of the project. They've requested that the state require Dollar General to perform a traffic study since the proposal stands to affect flow on Route 8.
Other members of town government have regularly floated another idea: forming a block of residents to purchase the structure from Krutiak.
But the problem wouldn't end there since the building requires demolition, which doesn't come free.
In 2013, the town got stuck with a bill of nearly $50,000 to demolish the former Cheshire Inn, another Krutiak-owned building that the town took through tax title.
"We don't have the money around to do that again," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said.
Nearby Dollar General branches are located in Williamstown, Adams, and Lanesborough, with one under construction in Pittsfield. A store planned in Sheffield is currently held up in Land Court.
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