After months of debate of what kind of retail belongs in Westville — and how much government can and cannot exert its will on private property owners — a Family Dollar is likely coming to a vacant building on upper Whalley Avenue.
City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson sought to gently deliver that news Wednesday night at the monthly Westville/West Hils Community Management Team meeting at Mauro Sheridan School.
The developer that purchased 1168 Whalley Ave., the former home of a CVS that has since moved into a new building a block away, is headed for site plan review for the new store next week at the City Plan Commission.
That’s happening despite internal pressure on the developer, Northeast Retail, from the city to find another lessee; and opposition from some neighbors against the discount retailer and its reputation in the city; and the developer having to jump through a bevy of regulatory hoops to get this far.
Nemerson said once the city learned from Northeast Retail that it could not (or would not) attract another retailer like a Starbucks or an Aldi to lease the building, officials pressed the developer to undergo a site plan review. The city also pressed for the upgrade of the parking lot by addressing its grade and making it conform to Americans with Disability Act requirements and updated stormwater runoff standards. Then it pressed the developer to make sure Family Dollar would commit to keeping a clean parking lot and storefront. Neighbors had complained about how the company maintained other stores in the city.
“The developer told me this afternoon that Family Dollar would try to do a better job,” Nemerson said. “I told him that that wasn’t much.”
Nemerson said he was told the discount retail juggernaut, in fact, doesn’t like to commit its employees to the upkeep of the outside of its stores. That is why a store on lower Whalley Avenue, owned by a different developer, has been a mess. But Northeast Retail has committed to adding a cleanup clause to Family Dollar’s lease, Nemerson reported. The last thing the city has asked Northeast Retail to do was to change the flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot to make it safer. Nemerson said all the changes have increased the costs for the developer by more than $200,000.
“Those are the controls that cities have,” Nemerson said. “We can’t tell a developer who to rent to. It is not within the scope of what we do.”
At Wednesday night’s meeting Beverly Hills/Amity Alder Richard Furlow, blasted Nemerson for allegedly not telling him that he had spoken with Northeast Retail this week and that the Family Dollar proposal was headed to site plan next week. He said he’d specifically asked to be kept abreast of everything that happened with a development that neighbors do not want. Nemerson said after the meeting that he personally sent Furlow a copy of the Nov. 28 email from the City Plan Department about the upcoming meeting.
“I’m very disappointed,” Furlow said. “If this were going on downtown there would be more concentration on this, but because this is a more low-income area it’s not as important.”
“That is uncalled for, alder,” Nemerson said.
“We support Alder Furlow,” Upper Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. shot back.
Furlow said he doesn’t believe that the city’s Economic Development Administration had tried hard enough to discourage the developer from leasing with Family Dollar or to find another buyer for the building. Nemerson disputed that characterization. He said city officials worked with the owners for a year to find a buyer.
Furlow said if the city administration had the political will to stop Family Dollar it would have, even if it had to do it behind the scenes. Nemerson disagreed.
“We don’t have the right to pick which retail goes where,” Nemerson said.
The developer can put in the store under current zoning rules without seeking exceptions or variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals. The developer initially argued that he didn’t have to have site plan review given that it is a retail use. He’s going through site plan review because Family Dollar is not a pharmacy.
When a neighbor asked if there is still time for neighbors to voice their objection to the project, possibly in the form of a petition to the City Plan Commission, Westville Alder Adam Marchand, who is a member of that body, said there is. The plan that comes before City Plan is not up for a public hearing, but the public is welcome to let their voices be heard, he said.
“Which is your constitutional right,” Marchand said.