Dollar General Sent Back to Drawing Board

Plan falls short of green-space requirement

Big business met rural Door County on the latter’s home turf in the old Sister Bay Village Hall on Nov. 26. That’s when representatives from Midwest Property Development presented their plan for a Dollar General store to the Sister Bay Plan Commission. Its proposed location is the corner of Highway 42 and Fieldcrest Road.

In a village where even the most disingenuous developers tout their community connections and roots when presenting their proposals, developer Peter Oleszczuk, vice president of Midwest Property Development, claimed neither. 

“Is there going to be a representative from Dollar General ever coming up here?” asked Sage Conrad, a small-business owner and barista. 

“No,” Oleszczuk said. 

When Plan Commission Chair Denise Bhirdo asked Oleszczuk about signage for the store, he couldn’t provide an answer. 

“Signage is handled by a third party,” he said. 

Oleszczuk’s firm, based in Grand Haven, Michigan, builds stores for Dollar General in Michigan and Wisconsin; then it leases them to Dollar General. Oleszczuk has built for Dollar General under several company names, including Midwest V and his father’s company, Westwind Construction. The Sister Bay proposal comes under the name Midwest-WI and was brought forward with the Stevens Point-based engineering firm Point of Beginning. 

Dollar General is growing rapidly, opening 1,315 stores in 2017 alone. It now has more than 170 in Wisconsin in communities as small as 150 residents. 

“Our customers are at the center of all that we do, and meeting customers’ needs is Dollar General’s top priority when choosing store locations,” said Dollar General spokesperson Crystal Ghassemi. “The company looks for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice as we generally serve customers within a three-to-five-mile radius, or 10-minute drive. We also take competitive factors, traffic patterns and community concerns into consideration.”

Dollar General sells name-brand and private-brand merchandise such as food, health and beauty products, cleaning supplies, housewares, stationery, seasonal items and basic clothing. 

Oleszczuk presented plans for a 7,500-square-foot store with 41 parking spaces to a room filled with about 50 northern Door County residents. Plan commissioners were unimpressed by the renderings of the brown building with faux windows.

“I don’t think this falls anywhere remotely close to what we’re looking for,” Bhirdo said. 

She raised questions about a laundry list of plan aspects that were not in compliance with zoning codes, as well as several aesthetic issues. Bhirdo said she’s particularly concerned about the demolition of wooded space on the lot that shields it from the neighboring home. 

But the biggest problem she saw was the developer’s calculations for meeting the village’s requirement that the plan include 20 percent green space. By Bhirdo’s count, the plan falls short by 4,800 square feet.

“That’s a large complication right off the bat,” Bhirdo said. 

Then she turned to aesthetics: “I think it’s ugly and out of place,” she said. 

Commissioners Don Howard, Mary Kay Shumway and Marge Grutzmacher shared that opinion.

“It looks like a garage,” Grutzmacher said. She suggested Oleszczuk drive around the village to get a better idea for style.

But Oleszczuk pointed out that he met with new village administrator Beau Bernhoft and assistant administrator Janal Suppanz for guidance on the building and said it was designed with their feedback in mind, using earth tones to blend it into the surroundings. He asked the village for more specific guidance several times. 

Grutzmacher pointed to the On Deck remodel as an example to emulate.

“Clearer direction would have been beneficial,” Oleszczuk said after the meeting. 

The company has faced pushback in other communities as well. In Almira Township in Michigan, for example, the town placed a 60-day moratorium on commercial building and reduced the maximum building size to 5,000 square feet to ward off large chain retailers. The company also encountered strong opposition in Elsie and Cadillac, Michigan. 

In Chikaming, Michigan, the company was granted a reduction in parking spaces that allowed it to meet stormwater runoff requirements, a tactic Oleszczuk turned to in Sister Bay as well. He said the village parking requirement is greater than Dollar General needs operationally, and he could trade parking spaces for green space and bike racks if the village would be open to it. 

Dollar General aims to build at the corner of Fieldcrest and Highway 42.

Neighbors on Fieldcrest Road and nearby Cherrywood Lane wondered what kind of impact the store would have on the neighborhood. Bob Guilby, a bus driver for Gibraltar School, said a blind intersection at Cherrywood Lane and Fieldcrest Road could be hazardous if delivery trucks use the shortcut. 

Plan Commissioner Mary Kay Shumway questioned the safety of the site on a residential road that will be adding a wedding barn and a 48-unit apartment complex next year. 

“I don’t see any way this is the proper site for this at this size,” she said.

Bill Weghaupt, who owns a home on Fieldcrest Road, questioned why the entrance isn’t on Highway 42. Oleszczuk said his company would actually prefer a highway entrance, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said it had to use Fieldcrest. 

With the entrance on Fieldcrest Road, Midwest will have to improve Fieldcrest from the highway to the store’s entrance to accommodate large trucks. Deliveries would not be able to get to the store from Highway 57 via Fieldcrest Road due to a weight limit on the rest of the road. 

But most attendees worried about the effect on the village’s image with a Dollar General store as one of the first buildings people see at the entrance to the community. 

“It’s a character issue,” said Matt Stone, a 28-year-old Sister Bay resident. “I’ve read that when a dollar store moves in, it typically cuts sales at existing grocery stores by 30 percent.”

Oleszczuk has been through that battle many times before and did not appear fazed by the opposition to Dollar General.

The entrance to the proposed Dollar General store.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Oleszczuk said. “It’s our job to fall into compliance with the zoning ordinance because we are allowed by right, based off of our use.”

Nick Devily was the lone voice to present a case for Dollar General, though he said he was playing devil’s advocate. Devily said he wouldn’t shop at a Dollar General, but he knows that many in the community would find it helpful.

“I don’t think this group here represents Sister Bay as a whole,” he said. He pointed to the hundreds of international and seasonal workers who come to the county each summer, live on modest incomes and are in need of inexpensive goods.

Devily has five kids and said when he needs a pair of socks, he goes to Sturgeon Bay or Amazon. Dollar General sells a wide variety of toiletries, beauty products, home goods and paper supplies, but 70 percent of its revenue comes from groceries – most of it shelf-stable goods.

“What’s better: buying from Amazon or a Dollar General in Sister Bay?” he asked. “The salaries here directly reflect why they want to build this store. There’s a lot of families that need inexpensive stuff.”

More than half of Door County workers are employed in four categories: food preparation and service, administrative support, sales, and production. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those workers make a mean annual wage of $31,052, which is right in the heart of Dollar General’s target market of people earning $25,000 to $35,000 per year. 

Bhirdo sent Oleszczuk away with a list of changes to make to the plan and said he could return as early as the plan commission’s January meeting. 

Dollar General
Proposed location: Corner of Fieldcrest Road and Highway 42, with the  entrance on Fieldcrest Road. 
Employees: Five to eight, part-time and full-time. No more than three working during any given shift. Developers did not provide an image of wages and benefits for those employees.
Hours: 9 am – 9 pmSize: 7,500 square feet

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