County denies Dollar General in Knappa

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to deny a proposed Dollar General store in Knappa.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday voted against a new Dollar General store in Knappa that would have been more than twice the size of what is allowed in rural commercial zones.

Cross Development had applied to build a 9,100-square-foot store at the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 30 and Hillcrest Loop. The property, owned by Rod Zweber, has hosted several restaurants but has long been vacant.

Cross Development would have demolished an existing building, built new and leased the property to Dollar General.

Zweber’s property lies in a rural commercial and light industrial zone allowing small-scale, low-impact businesses in buildings up to 4,000 square feet, “unless large buildings are intended to serve the rural community, surrounding rural area or travelers.”

The county’s Planning Commission last month voted unanimously to recommend denial of Cross Development’s application. Staff and planning commissioners found a larger Dollar General would fail to meet several of the criteria in the rural commercial zone, such as supporting existing businesses, contributing to the community’s identity and providing necessary services for the surrounding community.

“One of the reasons for limiting the size of new commercial developments to 4,000 square feet is to avoid undermining the viability of nearby existing businesses and communities,” a county staff report said.

Cross Development has argued that a larger store is necessary to create an economy of scale and sell products at a lower price. Josh Allen, a senior development manager with the company, said Wednesday that Dollar General would provide a budget-conscious shopper a cheaper alternative to higher-priced goods.

Staff found Cross Development had not demonstrated why the area needs more large-scale retail and failed to address the locally owned grocery store Country Market 3 miles away in Svensen. While Cross Development’s application would create an estimated eight to 10 new jobs, nearly half of them part time, the undercutting and closing of nearby businesses that offer the same services would negate any employment increases, county staff said.

“The applicant has focused on how the rural community of Knappa fits the growth strategy of Dollar General, but less emphasis is placed on the community itself and if Dollar General fits the community’s needs,” staff said.

Dollar General has recently opened locations in Gearhart, Clatskanie and Rockaway Beach as part of a rapid expansion into what the company perceives as underserved rural markets. Astoria’s Design Review Committee last year rejected the design for a proposed Dollar General in the Mill Pond neighborhood.

The new Dollar General in Knappa would have produced an estimated 583 daily trips, with access about 75 feet south of the intersection of Hillcrest Loop and Highway 30. State transportation officials had not asked for any accommodations for a Dollar General along the highway, but county staff found Cross Development had not adequately addressed the impact of vehicles queuing near the intersection and outside the store’s parking lot.

“Queuing and stacking would be exacerbated by situations where school buses and emergency vehicles also are trying to access the highway,” the staff report said.

Local residents provided impassioned pleas to deny the application, arguing that a large Dollar General would undermine locally owned businesses, not provide any living-wage jobs, make the highway’s intersection with Hillcrest Loop less safe and hurt the identity of Knappa.

“Do we want to be known as Knappa, Oregon, home of the Loggers, or do we just want to be another chain store strip mall?” asked Ted Messing.

Carol Webster argued on behalf of the store, saying it would add lower-priced goods, keep people from having to travel on Highway 30 to get groceries and serve customers who choose to go there.

Scott Lee, the chairman of the county commission, also submitted into the record a petition signed by about 40 people supporting the store.

The argument that Dollar General would run other people out of business simply isn’t true, Allen said.

“A Dollar General store, or any other store opening up, does not directly run somebody else out of business,” he said. “It’s the consumer choosing to go there instead of choosing to go to a locally owned shop is what drives people out of business. So, if there are very strong feelings about shopping with local residents’ businesses, that’s great.”

But commissioners Lee, Kathleen Sullivan and Sarah Nebeker ultimately denied Cross Development’s conditional use application and a modification of the county’s comprehensive plan to accommodate a new store. Commissioners Lisa Clement and Lianne Thompson were not at the meeting.

“I have also lived in different rural communities,” Sullivan said. “I have seen the results of deep, discounted, large stores, and what that’s done to communities in Michigan and New Mexico, and also here. I think that this type of dynamic has been going on for quite a while.”

After the meeting, Allen said Cross Development could appeal the county’s decision.

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