ORR- A new Dollar General store on the former Wally’s Auto Service site in Orr could be under construction as soon as September if a Michigan developer’s requests for zoning variances and …
ORR- A new Dollar General store on the former Wally’s Auto Service site in Orr could be under construction as soon as September if a Michigan developer’s requests for zoning variances and a building permit are approved by the Orr City Council.
But no such action was taken at Monday’s council meeting, as councilors had more questions than answers for Dan Hinzmann, an engineer with SEH Inc., who was present representing the developer.
“We’re not going to vote on this tonight,” Mayor Joel Astleford said. “We’ve never granted a variance without a public hearing.”
The applicant, Midwest MN, LLC, is connected to Westwind Construction, a Grand Haven, Mich., industrial and commercial construction company that has been working with Dollar General for almost two decades.
According to the application, “The project developer has developed hundreds of sites for Dollar General with this exact building template.”
Hinzmann said this is the same developer who built the Dollar General in Cook.
The proposed $675,000 project, which includes a 9,100-square-foot building and 30 parking spaces, would not be built or owned by Dollar General. As is typical with most Dollar General locations, private developers such as Midwest MN buy the land and build the facilities, which are then leased to Dollar General. Lease terms may vary from developer to developer, but according to Dollar General’s most recent annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “… a significant portion of our new stores … typically carry a primary lease term of up to 15 years with multiple renewal options.”
Hinzmann confirmed that Midwest MN has not yet purchased the two lots owned by Wally’s Auto Service. The purchase is contingent, he said, on being able to obtain the necessary zoning variances needed for the site.
“They have a purchase agreement in place,” Hinzmann said, “but they’ve done these enough times in enough locations that if they hit a hurdle, such as a variance that doesn’t get approved, they don’t want to be stuck with a piece of property that they can’t develop.”
“How soon would they start construction once they make the purchase?” Astlford asked.
“I would say, in an ideal world, September,” Hinzmann said. “It might be a little aggressive. The purchase agreement, I believe, has an expiration date of Aug. 6, so we are absolutely hoping that at the July 12 council meeting we’re able to find a way forward here.”
Rumors that have been circulating in the community for months about a Dollar General apparently weren’t without some basis in fact, as a letter authorizing Midwest MN to act on behalf of the owners of the Wally’s Auto Service property for site assessment and permitting was signed in November 2020.
Of the two variance requests submitted, one addresses a likely error in the zoning ordinance that requires three square feet of parking space for every one square foot of building space.
“We’re proposing a 9,100-square-foot building, and the way the zoning regs are written, that would require 168 stalls,” Hinzmann said. “Dollar General’s standard that they’ve used in many other locations, Cook included, is 30 stalls, and that has functioned very well for their operations.”
“I’m pretty sure they just have it flip-flopped; they wrote it wrong,” Astleford replied.
As the lots in question drain into Pelican Lake, they are considered shoreland zone. According to the city’s zoning ordinance, such areas may only have 30 percent of their surface covered with “impervious surfaces” such as buildings and paved parking lots that create water runoff.
“In order to achieve a useable site for this use a minimum of 50 percent imperviousness will be necessary,” the variance application said.
According to the application, the amount of impervious surface on the site would still be 15 percent less than Wally’s Auto Service, and less than other businesses along the highway corridor from North Country Inn to Lumber Orr Hardware. The layout also has been selected to protect sensitive wet areas at the south end of the property, it said.
But Tony Norman, owner property adjacent to the proposed development, aired his concerns not only about stormwater drainage but also other land issues since the fire that destroyed Wally’s Auto Service in September, 2019.
“We’ve had a stormwater runoff issue for. in September it will be two years, stuff that has run off that property and onto my property,” Norman said. “Nothing has been maintained. I’ve been trying to get answers for two years from the owner and he tells me it’s all on Dollar General now. Nothing has been done to control anything and we’ve got Pelican Lake which our whole town survives off of tourism on it. So where is the water going to go? And how do we do that and protect the lake and everything else we’re trying to do up here?
“You want a building permit for something that to me is far from a building permit,” Norman continued. “It needs to be cleaned up for what’s there. You’ve got tires in the swamp, you’ve got footings still in the ground, nobody’s kept the sewer properly, no utilities have been abandoned. I smell sewer gas; I smell burnt products in my hotel rooms. I make a living there. I think there’s a lot more questions for the city engineer and city attorney and public meeting and we have to go a hell of a lot more.”
Astleford reminded the assembly that Midwest MN doesn’t have any responsibility for the property until they become the owners.
“If there are issues right now we need to hold the landowner responsible for any problems that we have there, which we’ve been trying to do for two years,” Astleford said. “This has left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth around here.”
Hinzmann affirmed the developer’s intent to take care of any issues once they acquire the property.
“I do think that this is a great step in getting the site cleaned up by allowing someone to come in there and build something,” Hinzmann said.
“It’s probably the only chance the site is going to get cleaned up because they haven’t done it yet,” Astleford responded. “It’s disgusting the way they let it go.”
And while a variance is not needed, the city’s water main will have to be relocated by the developer at their expense, as the new building would cover it.
With site soil core samples still to be taken, incomplete stormwater drainage plans, lack of information about environmental testing and Midwest MN not yet owning the property, council member Bruce Black felt consideration of variances and a building permit was premature.
“You don’t own the property, all the testing has not been done, and you want us to grant you variances – isn’t that like putting the cart five feet in front of the horse?” Black said. “To me, you’ve got the cart rolling down the hill and horses running behind.”
“We need to make sure that we can build our project before the developer makes the purchase of the property,” Hinzmann said. “I guess I was unaware that there was any requirement for soils information to be provided as it relates to these variances.”
Donna Hoffer expressed the only comment during the meeting that related to the potential economic impact of having a Dollar General store in Orr.
“Was there a feasibility study for a place like a Dollar General to come into this small community and how it would affect the other existing entities such as the (grocery) store, Norman’s, the liquor store?” she asked.
“We could do a feasibility study, but we can’t deny them a building permit if they’re within our laws,” Astleford said.
Councilors agreed to schedule a special council meeting prior to the regular July 12 meeting to allow for public comment on the variance requests. Astleford said it would be the intent of the council to take formal action on the variance requests and building permit at that meeting.
About Dollar General
By number of stores, Dollar General is the nation’s largest retailer, operating 17,266 retail locations in 46 states as of this past February. Approximately 12,800 of those stores are in towns under 20,000 in population, and according to CEO Todd Vasos, 75 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Dollar General store.
The company plans to open approximately 1,000 new stores in 2021, a rate of just under three new stores opening every day of the year.