Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Planners endorse rezone of Lipinski site for Dollar General

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By KEVIN NEVERS

At its meeting Thursday night, the Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission voted unanimously to endorse a re-zone of the old Lipinski Automotive, 1300 Broadway, from I-1 to B-3.

Planners also voted unanimously to endorse a re-platting of the property into two separate parcels.

Should the Town Council follow planners’ recommendations and adopt ordinances codifying both the re-zone and the re-plat, the owner of the property, Tom Lipinski, would be free to sell the easternmost parcel to Dollar General, as his attorney, Greg Babcock, has said Lipinski wants to do.

A standing room-only crowd was in attendance at Thursday’s public hearing on the matter, yet it’s impossible to say what exactly the consensus on the west side of town is on the subject of the Dollar General. Only seven people opted to speak at the public hearing at all: two people spoke specifically in favor of a Dollar General on the site, and one generally in favor of a re-zone; four people spoke specifically in opposition to a Dollar General.

The planners, however, were quite clear that their interest was not in what might be developed on a newly re-zoned B-3 parcel--whether a Dollar General or some other permitted use--but rather solely in the advisability and value of the re-zone itself.

Babcock opened the proceeding with a brief presentation. Currently the whole of the property is zoned I-1 and has been for the duration of Lipinski’s ownership of it, since the 1970s. Now he’s interested in selling it, or at least part of it, but he’s had “no offers to buy it as an I-1 site,” Babcock said. Lipinski’s plan is to sell the eastern two-thirds of the property to Dollar General--should the Town Council act to re-zone it to B-3 and re-plat the property into two parcels--but retain ownership of the western parcel, which would remain I-1 and which he is now leasing to an auto repair business.

Babcock suggested that one advantage of a B-3 zone on that site would be this: “People who don’t normally go to the west end of the town might be exposed to other commercial uses there.”

About Dollar General, Babcock said this: it’s ranked 119th in the country, with $25 billion in sales in fiscal year 2018 and 135,000 employees. A store the size of the one envisioned on Broadway--9,000 square feet, somewhat larger than many Dollar Generals--would employ five to six employees, the manager earning between $42,000 and $55,000, with cashiers earning $8 to $9 per hour.

Public Hearing

Three people spoke in favor of the re-zone generally or the Dollar General in particular. Deanna Brown, who owns property in the neighborhood, said that the Lipinski property “has been a junk yard for so many years and any improvement would be great.” She added, “There’s no place besides gas stations to buy any kind of food since the (WiseWay at 801 Broadway) closed. I think it would be a huge improvement.”

Linda Burton said much the same. “We don’t have a grocery in the neighborhood any more. It would be a convenience for the people on this end of town. We’ve kind of been neglected on the west end of town.”

John Bolla, a resident of Porter Cove, agreed. “We would love to have a store on this end of town,” he said. “This would be a big step up, which I think would enhance the town.”

Four people spoke in opposition to the proposed Dollar General.

Ann Macker, who lives in the neighborhood, read a prepared statement. Excerpts from that statement:

“Dollar General stores increase low-cost access to cigarettes, with sales listed as low as $1.50 per pack, alcohol, and low nutrition foods in lower income neighborhoods, specially targeting those economically struggling with income levels of $40,000 or less. The neighborhood of the proposed location for another dollar store already has a smoke shop, a liquor store, bars, convenience stores, Dairy Queen, and multiple pizza shops. Please consider how this choice will contribute to the social norms influencing the poor health of all Hoosiers but specifically our lower income neighbors and teens in Chesterton. . . .

“Dollar General also threatens the economic health of our community. . . . With an ability to operate at a loss as long as necessary, Dollar Generals slowly suffocate local competition until only they remain. . . . We already have two dollar stores within a couple of miles of the proposed location. Dollar General is bad for our physical health but also for our town’s distinctiveness and long-term economic well-being. . . . On the deepest level, when we sully a neighborhood with something cheap and quick like Dollar General, we are telling the families in our area that our efforts in building beautiful and safe homes for our families and neighbors don’t matter.”

Cole Murray, also a resident of the neighborhood, argued that a Dollar General would increase traffic in the area, which would pose a threat to pedestrians and children in an old part of town built without sidewalks. “The traffic increase just from that store would be horrendous,” he said. “It would be dangerous for kids.” He also reminded planners that West Indiana Ave. and West Morgan Ave. are both one-way streets, which motorists unfamiliar with the area might well travel going the wrong way.

Barb Teeter called Dollar General a “junk store” and said it “would be a waste of good space.”

And Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace Hardware, told planners that he’s been talking to his customers about the proposed Dollar General, about 80 percent of whom he said are opposed to it. Hopkins acknowledged, though, that there is clearly a demographic which would very much like a Dollar General in that neighborhood. “It’s pretty clear there’s a line associated with age. Some folks think it’s ridiculous you won’t drive 15 minutes (to Jewel or Strack). And then there are the folks who are scared to cross 49 or drive to Valpo.”

Babcock took a moment at the end of the public hearing to rebut some of the remonstrators’ comments. “I take offense when someone says the store is going into a low-income, poverty-stricken neighborhood,” he said. In any case, the issue isn’t the Dollar General but the re-zone, Babcock added. “It’s about the re-zone, changing it and making it a more valuable piece of property.”

Discussion

In the end, planners agreed with Babcock. “I want to remind people,” Jim Kowalski said, “that the petitioner came here to re-zone the property. They could have asked for the re-zone without ever mentioning Dollar General. I don’t see anyone beating down the door in this community to buy that piece of property.”

What people buy to eat or drink, moreover, is their own choice, Kowalski said. “I feel sad for people at the west end of town who don’t have the opportunity to basically walk to a store. We have to do something that brings an influx to the west end.”

Jeff Trout, for his part, voiced his belief that the property in question “is not a good location” for I-1. “If we re-zone it B-3 and Dollar General doesn’t come, it’s still good for that property. If Dollar General does come, I don’t see the harm to the community at all.”

Nate Cobbs agreed with Trout. “I-1 doesn’t work in that location and it hasn’t worked there for some time,” he said. “I think B-3 is better than I-1 and we’ll deal with everything else later.” Cobbs added that he himself often shops at dollar stores.

Members then voted unanimously to endorse the re-zone from I-1 to B-3 and to forward it to the Town Council with a favorable recommendation.

Re-Plat

The planners next held a public hearing on the re-plat of the property--at which one spoke in favor of the re-plat and no one in opposition--and accordingly voted unanimously to endorse it and forward it to the Town Council with a favorable recommendation.

 

Posted 9/20/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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