No Dollar General in Jefferson--but no one's happy


By Patsy Nicosia

Following a contentious and drawn-out battle to build a Dollar General at Jefferson’s crossroads, developer Primex has walked away from the project, citing an inability to work with the Planning Board.
And no one is celebrating.
Not Concerned Citizens for Preserving Jefferson’s Character, a group that argued the intersection was the wrong place for the store.
Not Planning Board members, who feel the town board wants their job.
And not Supervisor Margaret Hait, who said the roadblocks and expense Dollar General faced make it unlikely anyone else will build in Jefferson either.
In January, Ms. Hait said, she received a letter from Dollar General that they were no longer interested in the project, begun in March 2017, because the Planning Board “had made it abundantly clear they opposed the project at the site.”
“Absolutely, it’s torn this town apart,” she said. “It’s small group that’s very vocal [Concerned Citizens], and unfortunately, it’s our senior citizens who’ll be hurt. Especially with winter, they were looking forward to it.”
Concerned Citizens has been working with others, including the Jefferson Historical Society, and architect Alberto Foyo, a part-time resident who teaches at City College of New York, to create Jefferson Commons on the green, with space for a farmer’s market, internet café, retail and even a doctor’s office, as a way to capitalize on the town’s historic buildings.
“It’s not perfect, but it would promote our local businesses as well as the unique historic structures that are still standing,” said Gail Rentsch, a member of Concerned Citizens.
“It offers an opportunity to build on what we have here…and draw people back to the community. We see the potential. If we develop the town this way, it will mean more tax money.”
She said the Commons has no place in Jefferson and a doctor’s office have been tried at least twice—unsuccessfully—in the past.
“It’s not a fit for Jefferson,” she said. “They won’t tell me where the money’s coming from and we don’t have the population to make it work.”
Since late last year, the town board has been addressing the issue of development, beginning with a long overdue review of its Comprehensive Plan, Ms. Hait said.
Ms. Rentsch charged that’s a thinly veiled attempt to take control of things like site plan review away from the Planning Board.
And Bob Glas, until December, when the town board decided not to reappoint him—or anyone—as Planning Board chair, agreed.
“If you take this all together, something smells rotten,” Mr. Glas said. “I’m very suspicious…
“I said from the very beginning that the Planning Board needed to be totally objective when it came to Dollar General and I feel we were.”
Ms. Hait said that yes, the idea of taking site plan review away from the Planning Board was floated at a meeting—but she insisted they have no intention of following through on it.
“That’s not out there,” she said. “We have enough work to do. Why would we have a Planning Board then? The town board put the brakes on that idea.”
Also, any changes to the Comprehensive Plan would be subject to a public hearing, she said.
The town, however, has made some changes to the Planning Board, naming Sara Abbatine to replace Clara Clack, whose term ended in December.
Ms. Abbatine is Ms. Hait’s daughter. She has served on the Planning Board in the past and completed much of the necessary training, said Ms. Hait, who abstained from the vote.
Mr. Glas said Ms. Clack was interested in continuing to serve.
The Comprehensive Plan Review Committee is being chaired by Councilman Carol Terk, a very vocal opponent to the Jefferson Commons idea; members include former supervisor Dan Singletary, who helped write the plan.
Mr. Singletary is also the one who suggested removing site plan review from the Planning Board.
Town attorney Mike West said in the end, both the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee and the Planning Board serve at the town board’s pleasure.
“I feel they [Planning Board] put up every hurdle imaginable…There’s been a real undercurrent of trying to stop this,” Mr. West said.
“My observation is that the town’s regulations say it’s allowed.”
And that’s what worries Mr. Glas most.
“They’re rewriting the Comprehensive Plan without any professional input,” he said. “That’s ludicrous. They’re doing us all wrong. I don’t believe Dollar General is really gone.”