WINCHESTER — A proposed Dollar General store in Winchester is dead in the water after it failed to get a key variance.
The town zoning board voted unanimously at its Thursday night meeting to deny the Zaremba Group LLC’s application to waive a maximum size requirement for the store. Board members said the proposal’s size was incompatible with the rest of the district.
The proposed site is in the central commercial district on Main Street, where the maximum footprint for a building is 5,000 square feet. The proposed Dollar General is 9,030 square feet.
Zaremba Group is the Cleveland-based land development company that has been working on several Dollar General proposals in the region, all of similar size.
The board voted 4-0 to deny the application. Board member John E. Pasquarelli, who is also a member of the town’s Revitalization/Economic Development Commission, abstained from voting.
According to the town’s zoning ordinance, the 5,000-square-foot limit is imposed “to maintain the visual character and architectural scale of existing development in the downtown.”
The proposed plans show the building sitting approximately 93 feet back from the road. Parking would be along the side of the lot and around the back of the building. Aside from the driveway, much of the 155-foot-long roadside edge would be landscaped.
Although board members said the proposal was attractive and might even improve the look of the downtown, it was the building size that was the problem.
Zaremba Group attorney Silas Little unsuccessfully argued that the proposal should receive a variance based on the ratio of the building’s size to that of the nearly 5-acre lot it sits on.
“The vast majority” of other businesses in the district fail to meet the minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet and occupy between 19 and 89 percent of their respective lots, according to Little’s calculations.
Since the Dollar General would occupy only about 4 percent of its lot, the project would be less dense than other businesses in the central commercial district and should qualify for the variance, Little said.
Board member Kenneth A. Cole disagreed. The purpose of the ordinance is to maintain the character of the downtown, not to determine the lot’s density, he said.
The site could be “200,000 square feet, 400,000 square feet, a half a mile; you’d still be limited to that 5,000 square-foot limit,” Cole said.
The size argument also failed because of the lot’s shape. Five acres looks impressive on paper, but much of that land comes from the lot’s depth, which extends well over 1,000 feet into the woods. The roadside frontage is only 155 feet.
“This is the shape of the lot,” Fox said, holding up a nameplate.
Before voting, the selectmen ran through a checklist of conditions under which the board could grant a variance: the variance would not be contrary to public interest, the spirit of the ordinance is observed, substantial justice is done, the value of surrounding properties is not diminished, and literal enforcement would cause an unnecessary hardship.
Aside from agreeing that surrounding properties would not suffer, the board found no reason to grant a variance, and the project’s fate was sealed.
This is not the first time the proposal has seemingly hit a wall.
The lot at 71 Main St. the Zaremba Group wants to use for the store is currently occupied by the Wheaton-Alexander House. The 200-year-old house is part of the town’s historic district and requires the Historic District Commission’s permission to be demolished.
The commission denied the group’s application in July of last year, but Zaremba appealed to the zoning board, which reversed the decision in October. A request for a rehearing was rejected.
As a result, a group of five residents and local grocery store, Kulick’s Inc. petitioned Cheshire County Superior Court for an injunction in December. Their petition was denied in May.
And even if Zaremba had received a variance, it would have still had to get its building design approved by the Historic District Commission, the same group it that turned it down the first time.
In the town hall parking lot after the meeting, Zaremba Development Manager Matt Casey said he did not know the next move was. The developers would need to discuss the decision with Dollar General before determining a course of action, he said.
“It’ll be up to them,” Casey said.Garrett Brnger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org.