Homeowners in the Dawes area are upset over plans to build a new Dollar General store in the middle of a residential area, but Mobile County’s lack of zoning regulations has left them with few options.
Since May, a change.org petition titled “STOP DOLLAR GENERAL from building in our front yard!” has amassed more than 530 signatures from people concerned about the new store, which is being built on a former residential property at 4078 Dawes Road.
It notes the location falls in the middle of several private residences and is directly across the street from River of Life Episcopal Church. Residents are worried about the impact it will have on property values and quality of life, especially those who would share a property line with the store.
“None of us have anything against Dollar General, as I have been a customer for years, but the new location is ill-planned,” the petition reads. “It will have a detrimental effect on the residential value of the surrounding homes, and the problems building in this location — the negative issues it will bring with it — will far outweigh any positive benefit this location could provide.”
Aside from the impact the store could have, there have also been questions about why the location was selected considering its close proximity to several other Dollar General stores. However, that doesn’t appear to be an accident as much as a growth strategy for the discount retailer.
In 2017, Dollar General opened more than 1,000 new locations and has plans to open 900 more this year. In an earnings call with investors last year, CEO Todd Vasos said the corporation intends for 75 percent of the United States population to eventually reside within five miles of a Dollar General store.
The planned expansion has particularly targeted rural areas, and Alabama is no exception. There are more than 600 Dollar General stores across the state and Google Maps shows more than 30 in Mobile County. There are at least seven within 10 miles of the planned location on Dawes Road — including one just 2.3 miles away.
The petition has encouraged concerned parties to contact Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, in whose district the property falls. Carl declined to comment on the matter, but County Attorney Jay Ross has said there is little the County Commission can do without any zoning regulations.
Unlike cities, unincorporated areas of most counties typically don’t have zoning regulations that dictate what can be built where. Even though the Mobile County Commission approves building plans for new structures, Ross said that has to do with how a building is constructed, not where.
The lack of zoning rules, he said, is often one of the trade-offs of living in an unincorporated area.
“There’s no zoning whatsoever in the county. Unless it falls within another jurisdiction or the police jurisdiction of a municipality that has planning and zoning, there aren’t many options,” Ross said. “There’s no prohibition of anything. You can have a multi-million house then a Dollar General or a trailer or any combination thereof.”
Baldwin County doesn’t have the same limitations when it comes to zoning because of local legislation that established 31 zoning districts in the county’s unincorporated areas. State law allows residents in those districts to vote on adopting or amending zoning regulations in their area.
Outgoing Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said residents can petition for a referendum to join a zoning district, at which point the county’s planning and zoning department would help draft ordinances with input from the community.
To the contrary, Ross said current laws for Mobile County allow businesses to construct pretty much anywhere they’d like. He added that county officials on this side of the bay only have regulatory authority over such things as subdivision planning, stormwater retention and building code enforcement.
A situation similar to the one in Dawes occurred earlier this year when Jeff Stone, owner of Stone Arms, made plans to open a gun range in the Tanner Williams area near a neighborhood on Novatan Road. While the county had no legal authority to prevent Stone from building there, he agreed to relocate after an outcry from the community.
Dollar General doesn’t appear to have much interest in doing the same. So far, the company has only commented through written statements that failed to address specific questions from residents and media.
“Community concerns are certainly a factor we review as we consider store locations, among other factors. To address your question on the location, we understand that value and convenience are major reasons why our customers shop at Dollar General, understanding most customers come within about a 3- to 5-mile radius,” spokeswoman Crystal Ghassemi said via email. “To that end, we locate our stores in areas that best support our customers’ needs.”
Most of the same statement was sent to Dawes Road residents who contacted a customer relations supervisor with concerns. While some are still concerned about the planned location, construction on Mobile County’s newest Dollar General store has already begun. It’s expected to be open by the end of 2018.
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