Family Dollar, Not Starbucks, On The Way

Markeshia Ricks PhotoAfter 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.

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posted by: brownetowne on December 14, 2017  5:09pm

I frequent this part of the city and I’m not particularly fond of dollar stores or starbucks.  However, I think Nemerson is in the right on this issue and I’d be far more disappointed and disheartened if a vocal group of neighbors and alders were able to derail a perfectly legal and legitimate development project because it didn’t meet their personal aesthetic. 

Don’t get me wrong - dollar stores are lame but this project needs to happen or else nobody will want to develop anything in this city.  We really shouldn’t sacrifice free enterprise and zoning rules in favor of a popularity contest.

posted by: BevHills730 on December 14, 2017  6:33pm

I don’t object to there being a family dollar there. It will serve a market. However, Nemerson has no business negotiating behind an alder’s back. I look to my alder to represent my neighborhood’s and ward’s interests. They deserve to be included in these conversations!!

posted by: dwightowner on December 15, 2017  2:59am

Good!  Welcome Family dollar!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 15, 2017  8:08am

As a follow-on to Alder Marchand’s response, while the public is welcome at the Plan Commission’s meeting, its role is quite limited. This is an “as-of-right” development and the commission is just conducting a site plan review. It will be able to address things like landscaping and how the parking lot is laid out. But it has no jurisdiction on which retail tenant will be on the site.

On the other hand, LCI is authorized to enforce property management standards to prevent blight. It should do so.

posted by: Fairhavener on December 15, 2017  10:53am

Westvillains have it wrong here, as did Fair Haveners when they tried to block a new barbershop. Picking and choosing who legitimate owners can rent to, is tricky biz.

posted by: handsomecharles on December 15, 2017  12:33pm

Some things to consider:

Even if Starbucks were interested, it would require a drive-thru operation which this building and site cannot accommodate.
Aldi’s is a 14,000 sf store that requires a minimum of 70 parking spaces. The old CVS has 37 spaces some of which would have to be eliminated to comply with zoning requirements concerning impervious surfaces, landscaping & heat reflectivity.

Real estate developers are not stupid. They, like any other business person look to do the best they can in rents and use both to drive up the finished value of the property, in terms of financing proceeds and in terms of a sale were they to ever sell it. Aldi’s, Starbucks, and a whole host of retailers typically pay far more rent than Family Dollar. If the developer could have leased to another tenant he would have. The developer is private, not a developer who works exclusively for Family Dollar. Anyone can be a Family Dollar developer/Landlord. All one needs is a site Family Dollar wants.

A half-acre site with a 9,000 sf building on it selling at or near market value can support only a finite quantity of retail uses, especially in an era as we are in now, when the only brick and mortar retail growth is in convenience retailing (Pharmacy, Family Dollar type stores, autoparts, fast food and convenience stores with gas stations).

We neighbors have the right to say how we feel and to be heard by our elected officials. What we do not have the right to do is infringe on the property rights of the seller or buyer beyond the constraints of the zoning laws and decide for the property owner who his Tenant will be.

Would any of you want to be told by your neighbors what color your house must be, or who you can rent it to and who you can’t? Of course not.

This property will look better, function better, increase surrounding property values, and provide a retail store that many have already admitted they welcome and will shop at. Most everything CVS sells, is less at Family Dollar.

posted by: Lifer on December 15, 2017  10:49pm

When I was a kid that place was a kosher supermarket.  The descent of this stretch of Whalley began when that 24 hour convenience store opened a bit farther out.  Sad.

posted by: John Bodnar on December 19, 2017  6:22pm

I hope this store is wheelchair friendly.
Because the one on 81 Whalley Avenue is not.