Normally a sedate affair, Monday evening’s meeting of the Surry County planning board was this week anything but. Residents of Sheltontown came out in force to express their desire to block a rezoning request on Westfield Road from Teramore Development.
Teramore sounds familiar because around these parts the firm is known for building Dollar Generals and would like to build more.
Officials with the retailer say this part of the county is showing growth and that they see a need for another retail option to serve the future growth. New larger floor plan Dollar Generals they said are also incorporating fresh fruit and an increased selection of frozen/cold goods to better serve residents.
Sheltontown residents organized themselves in preparation for the planning board meeting by gathering at the Westfield Church of Brethren directly across Quaker Road from the proposed DG location at 2953 Westfield Road. When the weather turned sour, organizers Heather Moore and Melissa Hiatt moved the strategy session inside so the group could set their lineup.
Residents gathered more than 1,000 signatures for a petition against the request to rezone two parcels of land on Westfield Road from Residential General to Rural Business Conditional. They have also made up and deployed yard signs that read “Say No to Rezoning Sheltontown” in a bright yellow color reminiscent of the Dollar General coloration.
The public was allowed to offer comment at the meeting. Sheltontown residents laid out the case for why they are objecting to the rezoning request itself and not specifically objecting to Dollar General. Any commercial development along Westfield Road would raise similar concerns whether that were a proposed dollar store or not.
They say it would encroach on the natural beauty of the area, disrupt wildlife, lower property values, add traffic (including foot traffic), and they fear it could attract crime. The group presented available crime stats at the meeting to show a comparison between similar types of retail stores. The Busy Bee and Moore’s General Store were said to have had a fraction of law enforcement calls of any kind comparatively.
Chris Hiatt lives 200 yards from the proposed Dollar General. His family has roots in this area that run deep, he estimated he is in the tenth or eleventh generation of Hiatt to reside in Sheltontown. “I am one of four that still reside there, three are represented in the room tonight. That’s approximately 200 years of my family living in a three-to-four-mile radius.”
“I’ve seen traffic patterns change, what was once mill traffic is now all day traffic – we do not need more. We have a rural setting, most of us know our neighbors and what day they mow their yard or what kind of car you drive.”
“One thing that has not changed is the need for more commercial and retail business in Sheltontown. If Moore’s General Store or Busy Bee doesn’t have it, the other Dollar Generals will have it covered. We don’t want our community to look like 601-Rockford St. We don’t need any more grass, tress, or flowers replaced with asphalt and cement. We are happy as we are.”
Melissa Hiatt led off with the six applicable points of the county’s land use plan. In part the land use plan calls for decisions on use that will preserve open spaces; maintain the quality of life; encourage development of underutilized building; create sustainable economic growth to include higher wage jobs. She also noted that in the 2039 land use plan this parcel of land is zoned rural — just as it is today.
She hammered home that decisions should, “encourage isolated business in predominantly rural areas on a case-by-case basis if the amenities are not already available in the vicinity.” There is no way she sees the need for a sixth Dollar General within five miles of Sheltontown.
“The businesses built by Teramore do not offer amenities that we don’t already have. We currently have two wonderful family run, community family general stores within two miles.”
Conversely, Greensboro land use attorney Nick Blackwood gave his opinion that this rezoning request was in accord with the county’s land use plan. “(It) seems your land development ordinance itself contemplated this exact type of commercial development when that ordinance was enacted to allow for this kind of isolated commercial use to serve these specific rural areas that we are here talking about tonight.”
Mike Fox, who was representing Teramore at the planning board concluded, “Just a reminder this is land use decision… It is the use that the board is considering tonight, and it is looking at whether or not it meets your plan, which we feel it does. We feel it is not in the purview of land use decisions to pick winners and losers.”
At the air pump at Moore’s General Store Wednesday a local resident said he did not see any need for more retail options, “We got one out at Bannertown, why we need one here? Where they gonna put it anyway?”
Add Betsy Davis to the list of those who say needs are being met. “In Sheltontown we have all the amenities we need in our current community stores and if in the event that on one crazy day – that has never happened – they didn’t have something, there are five Dollar Generals within five miles, and two of those within two, I think our bases are covered. We chose to live in this area precisely because of the quiet rural environment and I hope it remains that way.”
Inside Moore’s Tarren Wright was checking out as she picked up one of the bright yellow signs. “I think there’s too many Dollar Generals. (Moore’s) is just so convenient and has gas, food, accessories, hardware, beer, jerky, and fishing supplies.”
Behind the counter Russell Davis loves hearing customers appreciate Moore’s and that support for the fight against the rezoning has garnered attention from outside the area. Some of the yellow signs, he said, have shown up in Pilot Mountain already.
“It’s not even just Dollar General, we don’t want anything else out here. I was born across the street from the property in question, and I moved back from Ohio. I came back for the quality of life here. People come here to be near town but not quite in town.”
Joe Davis has the house across the street from the site and said it would create “headaches which we purposefully chose to avoid when we moved in our home 37 years ago.” He asked that rezoning for any commercial use be denied, “Please help us protect our way of life in our community.”
The names on residences may have changed, but the sense of community has not Melody White told the board. She grew up walking to Sheltontown Grocery, now Moore’s General Store. She appreciates the sense of community, “Conversations go ‘how was the game’ or ‘how is your back?’ because neighbors know. Neighbors have skin in the game.”
A real estate agent in Mount Airy, she recounted helping a couple resettle to North Carolina after an exhaustive search. They chose this area for the very reasons the Sheltontown group opposes the rezone: the peace and quiet of a rural community coupled with its natural beauty.
One argument that the opposition stated had to do with the North Carolina Scenic Byway that runs along Westfield Road In fact, Mary Rush told the board the Hanging Rock leg of the byway begins just a stone’s throw from the Sheltontown Church of the Brethren. It should be noted that the bikeway follows along this route as well and by design the bikeway and byway were meant as a draw for tourists. The board was told that tourists come here for green spaces, not Dollar General.
After the residents made their case, the board took a moment to offer comment back to the presenters before offering a motion to deny Teramore’s rezone request. It passed the planning board to thunderous applause from the crowd.
The group are now preparing to speak to the board of county commissioners who meet Monday evening at 6 p.m. in Dobson. The commissioners may at that time chose to approve the request to rezone the land even though the planning board said no.
There is some precedent for such as Salisbury’s city council members broke with their city planning board in May to approve a new Dollar General despite vigorous local objection.
Heather Moore was excited for the group’s success at the planning board this week and hopes other communities may be watching. “Sheltontown showed up. This is just the first victory as our fight will continue in front of the county commissioners next Monday. Remember this could happen in your neighborhood as easily as it is ‘trying’ to happen in ours.”