M/sunny
76°
M/sunny
Hi 73° | Lo 57°

NEW IPSWICH

Does store fit in rural town?

Board reviewing Dollar General plan

  • The New Ipswich Zoning Board questions how a 9,100 square foot retailer will fit with historic downtown.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The New Ipswich Zoning Board questions how a 9,100 square foot retailer will fit with historic downtown.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The New Ipswich Zoning Board questions how a 9,100 square foot retailer will fit with historic downtown.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The New Ipswich Zoning Board questions how a 9,100 square foot retailer will fit with historic downtown.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Ray D'Amante, the attoney representing Dollar General, answers concerns of the New Ipswich Zoning Board on how a 9,100 square foot retailer will fit with historic downtown during a public hearing on the issue Thursday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

NEW IPSWICH — While the Zoning Board expressed doubts that a large retail store could comfortably coexist with the intent of local zoning ordinances made to keep downtown a small and rural area, Dollar General representatives say that this offer may be the only chance the local school district has of selling the old Central Elementary School on Turnpike Road.

In Village District II, which encompasses downtown New Ipswich, the size of retail stores is limited to 1,500 square feet. Dollar General is proposing to build a 9,100 square foot store in the place where the abandoned Central Elementary School sits.

One argument made by Dollar General’s attorney, Ray D’Amante, is that according to the Mascenic School Board, this property is not marketable with the number of pre-existing zoning and environmental concerns it presents.

In a letter to the Zoning Board dated Jan. 30, the previous School Board — which includes present members Jeff Salmonson and Tara Sousa — wrote that Dollar General may be the only hope the district has of selling the property at all.

“Interest in the property has been minimal,” the board wrote. “Of the limited inquiries we have answered, many were quickly disqualified for the same reasons that central was unfit for use as a school. Any remedial actions would be economically unfeasible.”

The current market price for Central Elementary is $179,000; Dollar General is offering $200,000 for the property.

The existing building, because of numerous problems including asbestos infestations, basement flooding and lack of handicapped accessibility, and a floor plan that limits its utility have made the building “essentially worthless” according to the board’s letter. Because of the expense in keeping the building, the school will consider putting a warrant article on the ballot seeking approval for funds to demolish the building and level the lot, according to the letter.

A well on the property is owned in perpetuity by the school district and that area of the property cannot be transferred. While the School Board will maintain ownership of the well, Dollar General has agreed to pay a $5,000 flat payment to the school district for well maintenance, as well as $3,500 annually for that purpose.

Also, he said, it’s just not feasible that a retailer who was planning to put up a 1,500 square foot building would be able to shoulder the cost of demolishing the building and taking care of the septic system — the cost of which is estimated at $250,000 — and completing the environmental mitigations that need to be done on site.

But members of the Zoning Board expressed doubts that such a large retailer fits in with the spirit of their zoning ordinance, meant to limit the size of retailers in the area of Village District II to keep the town small and rural.

D’Amante argued that not only would the store improve on the current impact on the lot caused by the abandoned Central Elementary School, but that the lot size is significantly larger than most in the area, at 2.3 acres.

Zoning Board member David Lage said that the lot is about twice the size of most lots in the district. “While maybe you could double the square feet with a lot that size, you want triple that,” he said.

Dollar General has proposed to make improvements to wetland buffers and to restore setbacks which are currently in violation of the zoning ordinance, D’Amante pointed out. Dollar General’s building would be more in line with the zoning ordinance and the protection of wetlands.

Zoning Board Chair Wendy Freeman said she agreed that the current plan was more in line with the town’s zoning in the sense that it eliminates existing setback issues, but questioned how such a large retailer would fit in with small-town character.

D’Amante said the Dollar General plan was a clear improvement in terms of the impacts over the 18,000 square-foot school currently in place.

Lage argued that while the school is 18,000 square feet, it is also two stories and only has a 9,000 square foot footprint. D’Amante disagreed, saying that Central School has as much impact as an 18,000 square foot building, noting that parking is a factor to be considered.

Lage also mentioned the historic nature of the downtown area. “This is a historic district, and you want to plop down a large retailer,” he argued. “We have areas for retail.”

D’Amante said that Dollar General was aware of the nature of the district, and had made attempts to make the design of the store fit with that. “We are being sensitive to historical character. This building has been designed to fit with New Ipswich. This isn’t the Dollar General you would see in other places,” he said, adding that if the Zoning Board had additional aspects of the architecture they’d like to see changed, that could be negotiated.

At past hearings with Dollar General, other local store owners, including New Ipswich Market owner Heather Muhoney and Hoppy’s Country Store owner Mark Hopkins, have expressed fears that another store in town would drive them out of business. But the Zoning Board acknowledged that in a recent decision, the N.H. Supreme Court ruled that competition is the name of the game in retail, and fear of increased competition is not a valid reason for the dismissal of an application.

The Zoning Board agreed to continue the hearing to June 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.