Swannanoa residents opposed to new Dollar General, cite traffic safety concerns
Three dollar stores exist within 5 miles of Rowland Road and U.S. 70. Dollar General plans to build a fourth in the same area.
An online petition to stop the Dollar General being built, created by locals, reached more than 1,100 signatures with the goal of 1,500. Jenny Wilds was one of those who signed.
Wilds, whose property sits on the corner of Rowland Road and U.S. 70, said while she's not necessarily concerned about having a Dollar General across from her home, she has concerns about how traffic will be impacted with her home being so close to the only entrance point.
Lights will shine through her window and trucks will likely have to swing into her yard to make the corner, Wilds said.
"The orientation of the driveway is my main concern at this point," Wilds said. "There have been multiple accidents on that corner already."
With ArtSpace Charter School located beside the store site, Wilds said there's multiple times a day when traffic is blocked. She said the addition of a store would only make traffic worse.
The primary concerns for ArtSpace staff relate to the safety of the students. Located on U.S. 70, executive director Sarena Fuller said she recognizes the impact the school already has on the residential community and that the school has already invested in traffic handling to minimize impact.
In addition to the heavy traffic in the area, Fuller said although there has been recent residential development, there has been little to no pedestrian accommodation.
"The only sidewalks that exist are on our school property," Fuller said. "I'm worried about pedestrian traffic through our campus."
Fuller cited recent rumors of violence at Dollar Generals throughout the county, worrying about the proximity to ArtSpace. She said she spoke with the contractors about safety measures, but there's no denying that no matter the business on the site, traffic would increase in the area.
The site, a former wooded lot, was once a bike park for residents, used also by students after school, according to Fuller. She said it was sad to see the area leveled for a commercial business.
"We have expressed our concerns to county commissioners," Fuller said. "We have looked at that property before, hoping that if it went up for sale that we might be able to purchase it."
Unfortunately for ArtSpace, the lot wasn't on the market long enough for the school to purchase it.
The new Swannanoa Dollar General falls under commercial county zoning laws, meaning it does not require public input to be built. The only possible alternative would have been to apply for an appeal with the Board of Adjustment, but at this late stage, the time for an appeal has passed.
According to county planning directory Nathan Pennington, the permit for the site was issued on Dec. 28. An appeal would have had to have been submitted within 30 days of the issued permit, along with $500, paid to the county with the submitted appeal.
Pennington stressed the seriousness of an administrative appeal, saying residents would need to seek legal counsel and be in contact with the county's legal department.
"They would have to demonstrate that staff erred in the issuance of whatever permit they're appealing," Pennington said. "You'd have to demonstrate what part of the code you think was misapplied."
Although she consulted legal counsel, Wilds said she was advised against pursuing legal action. Fuller took a similar approach in contacting the county commissioners but found the developers are in accordance with every zoning law.
The store development comes two years into an expansion on the ArtSpace campus. Fuller said the school worked with NCDOT and various traffic analysts to ensure the relationship with the surrounding area was manageable.
ArtSpace has a student population of roughly 400. The petition cites potential risk to the campus as well as the residential community due to the likely increase of traffic.
Residents continue to gather signatures for the petition, addressed to Pennington, though whether or not the county will take action remains to be seen.
"I can't do anything with a petition," Pennington said.
The building of a new Dollar General is not uncommon in North Carolina. Across the state, on average in 2020, a new location opened every eight days.
More:'No Dollar in the Holler': NC cities strive to halt new dollar stores in their backyards
In New Bern, at the opposite end of the state, six stores line a single street with two directly across from one another. On Patton Avenue in Asheville, a Dollar Tree and Family Dollar sit directly adjacent to each other.
Currently, North Carolina has 930 Dollar General stores, more than all but three states in the country.
Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or email@example.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.