GEARHART — Plans for another Dollar General on the North Coast are in limbo after the Gearhart Planning Commission on Thursday denied a parking variance request from the developers.
Cross Development hopes to build the 9,100- square- foot store in a vacant lot off U.S. Highway 101 and Pacific Way, across from Fultano’s Pizza and Bowling. Mike Stults of Cross Development sought a parking variance to reduce the number parking spots required by the city code from 46 to 27, arguing the business would not generate enough traffic to warrant that many.
The Planning Commission took issue with many aspects of Cross Development’s application, including what city staff determined to be inadequate or incomplete plans for stormwater drainage, signage, septic systems, traffic congestion and other factors.
Ultimately, the decision came down to fear that granting a variance for a building this size could cause future traffic and congestion issues if another retailer with a higher volume of customers ever moved in, City Administrator Chad Sweet said.
“Retail is an outright use. If this was granted, and another retail business like Trader Joes with a higher volume of customers at one time moved in, they would have the same variance reducing parking,” Sweet said. “There were lots of factors, but this was really about the parking.”
Stults declined to comment about how the company intends to move forward in specific terms, but said, “We are working to keep this alive.”
A similar proposal for a Dollar General in the Mill Pond neighborhood was denied by the Astoria Design Review Committee in August for not satisfying several city codes. Maggie Appleby of Cross Development said there is no relationship between the two projects.
Filling a need
When local developer Terry Lowenberg decided to sell the 0.94 acre parcel to Cross Development, he thought building a Dollar General would bring food and variety that isn’t available in Gearhart.
“People say we have other places to go, but not everyone can afford to go other places,” Lowenberg said.
Stults said Dollar General identifies new stores by assessing whether or not locations are underserved with regard to access to basic goods. Cross Development has applications pending in Astoria, Gearhart and Knappa.
“This community does not have the same conveniences others do. This community has to pay three times as much or travel 15 miles to get general needs,” Stults said. “Forget the chain name on the sign —– this is an asset to the community.”
But planning commissioners found much of Dollar General’s application was incomplete or insufficient.
Septic, water and outdoor lighting plans were not provided. A local architecture firm’s review of the drainage plan found the configuration was not feasible because it was graded in a way that would lead to more puddling on Highway 101 rather than toward detention basins, City Planner Carole Connell said.
Parking and traffic
Out of all the concerns, however, parking and traffic issues were at the forefront. Connell said a change in use that required more than 27 parking spaces could result in overflow parking in surrounding parking lots and intensify traffic.
City code requires one parking spot for every 200 square feet of development — a requirement that Stults said is the most “extreme” he’s ever seen.
Stults is requesting a variance because past traffic studies have shown on average only 10 vehicles are parked at one time per hour for 12 hours of operation at Dollar General stores, and that low traffic impact is what he argues makes the store a good tenant for a building of this size.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has determined the project will not create significant traffic impacts, according to testimony submitted to the city.
But Gearhart Police Chief Jeff Bowman and Sandstone Tennis Club, a neighboring business to the property, submitted testimony to the commission arguing otherwise.
“The congestion that takes place at this intersection has already become hazardous due to the amount of traffic flow on Highway 101 and drivers’ poor driving habits,” Bowman wrote.
Bowman also had concerns about large delivery trucks turning on and off Highway 101 in this location, and said he was concerned about an increase call load for “thefts, disturbances, alarms, accidents in their tight parking lot and other events.”
Anita Barbey, president of the Sandstone Tennis Club, which shares a driveway with the property, wrote that she was concerned how a reduction in parking spots could result in overflow parking in their area and other traffic issues if another business with more traffic succeeded Dollar General.
“This is clearly not a matter of if future traffic safety hazards will intensify, it is a matter of when,” Barbey wrote.
The future of the Dollar General proposal is unclear, but both Cross Development and Lowenberg said they see a path forward.
“The commission had legitimate questions, and in my mind they are things that can be rectified,” Lowenberg said. “It will be about unanswered questions being answered.”