Swannanoa residents object to Dollar General's light-up sign, tree buffer
SWANNANOA - As the new Dollar General on U.S. 70 in Swannanoa opens its doors, residents of the surrounding neighborhood remain displeased with the development.
The new Dollar General marks the fourth dollar store in a 5-mile radius of U.S. 70 and Rowland Road. Throughout the state, North Carolina has roughly 970 Dollar General stores.
"Since the inception of this project, Dollar General and our developer have worked collaboratively with the Swannanoa community in a transparent and respectful manner," the Dollar General public relations team told Black Mountain News in an email. "Our customers are at the center of all that we do and meeting their needs is our top priority when choosing store locations."
Residents of the area say the new store's tree buffer doesn't comply with county ordinance and the large, light-up sign not only shines into residential houses, but also is barely visible from U.S. 70.
New sign causes controversy
Jenny Wilds, who's house sits adjacent to the new store on Rowland Road, said the developers erected a sign that shines light directly into her front window. She said she wasn't sure if it was in violation of the county lighting standards.
Nate Pennington, the county planning director, told Black Mountain News that the light output from the sign meets the county’s outdoor lighting standards.
"These standards will minimize light pollution, light trespass and glare and will work to promote energy efficient lighting practices and systems," reads the county ordinance. "Lighting standards shall apply to all new uses including commercial, industrial, public and residential development."
Light intensity measurements would be needed to determine code compliance for the large sign, according to Matt Barker, a local realtor for Nest Realty.
Wilds said she and her fellow neighbors had requested a monument style sign rather than the one currently used but was denied by developers. Additionally, she said the sign is not very visible for eastbound drivers until they arrive at the intersection.
"So the only purpose in having at least the west-facing side of that sign lit up at night is to disturb you," Barker said in an email to Wilds. "It's also worth noting that the majority of Dollar General stores in Buncombe County have either much smaller roadside signs and/or externally lit signs of a type that would be less intrusive than what they've installed here."
Barker said throughout Buncombe County, Dollar General stores zoned as open use have signs that don't light up. He also said the placement doesn't make sense because trees on the side of the road prevent drivers from seeing the sign.
"It feels like 'Well you made us move our driveway 30 feet so we're not going to accommodate you in any way,'" Barker said, referring to earlier in the building process when the developers had set the entrance to the store too close to U.S. 70.
Per request of the residents, NCDOT worked with the developers to move the driveway farther up Rowland Road.
Damage to property value?
For Wilds, the sign raises questions of the impact to her property value. Living on Rowland Road for more than 15 years, Wilds has invested in her home, an investment that could be negatively impacted by the sign as well as the entrance to the store, according to Barker.
"It definitely impacts it in a big way," Barker said. "It has a significant impact on her enjoyment of the house as a residence."
Though Wilds' house is zoned residential, Barker said that if she were to have it zoned commercial, she could sell it for a significant profit. However, he said even if this could be done, it should be Wilds' choice rather than arising because of the Dollar General development.
Tree buffer too short?
In addition to the light-up sign, neighbors had requested tree buffering around the store to minimize impact on the residential neighborhood. Barker and Wilds said trees were planted only along the rear of the store and are in violation of county code.
The county ordinance states that at the time of planting, trees used for buffering must be at least 5 feet tall. The trees planted by the developers at the Dollar General are only 3 feet tall.
"A final planning inspection has not yet been performed for the buffering," Pennington said in an email. "If the plantings within the buffer are less than the required 5 feet then they will be required to be replaced to meet minimum standards."
Pennington added that the Dollar General currently operates under a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy while awaiting additional landscaping along Rowland Road as well as around the parking lot.
In April, Barker said the developers were required to create a buffer only at the rear of the store, the one side not bordering a public road, though residents had requested buffers to other parts of the residential area as well.
Barker said the county might end up fining the developers for violating the tree buffer ordinance.
"To me, that's a bit of a racket," Barker said. "To a multibillion dollar corporation, $5,000 is nothing. The county gets $5,000, the developer gets what they want and they've been 'penalized,' but the actual neighbors who are supposed to be protected by that requirement get nothing."
Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.