Dollar General considers East Berne site

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
The Dollar General store in Middleburgh, about 30 minutes from East Berne, has a near matching design to the one proposed in East Berne, according to Berne Planning Board Chairwoman Debra Bajouwa.

BERNE — The retail company Dollar General is considering a new location off of Route 443 in East Berne.

The chain has about 15,000 stores across the country with revenue reaching about $21 billion last year.

Debra Bajouwa, who chairs Berne’s planning board, said she visited the Middleburgh Dollar General and noted that it has the same dimensions and structural planning as the proposed Berne store. She also said that some research shows the company often targets areas similar to Berne — rural towns with populations between 2,000 and 3,000 people — she said.

“Our size of town is not unusual for this,” Bajouwa said. Berne’s population was 2,794, according to the last federal census, in 2010.

The company has made headlines in the last year due to its plans to expand to thousands of new locations, placing these new stores in rural, low-income areas that have few other stores nearby.

While Berne’s per-capita income — of $22,095 with about 5.4 percent of the population below the poverty line — is slightly higher than both New York State’s and Albany County’s, the lack of nearby grocery stores and retail shops has long been a concern for residents in the Hilltowns.

Nearby stores include the gas station and convenience store across the street, as well as Helderberg True Value, located less than half a mile up the road from the proposed Dollar General. Somewhat farther away are the restaurants Fox Creek Market and the Knox Market, both owned by Ardi Cecunjanin.

Although both are restaurants, Fox Creek Market does offer some grocery items as well. Cecunjanin said he didn’t believe a store like Dollar General would affect his business at all.

“At this time, we are currently in due diligence phase for a new Dollar General in East Berne, New York,” said Angela Petkovic, a spokeswoman for Dollar General, in an emailed statement last week. “This means we are reviewing the opportunity to add a new store in the area, but we have not committed to doing so just yet.”

According to Petkovic, the company is anticipating to have a final decision by the spring of next year. Were it to be built, the store would employ around six to 10 employees, she said.

An application for a site-plan review was submitted to the Berne planning board in April of this year by Caryn Mlodzianowski of Bohler Engineering on behalf of the property owner, Thomas Houlihan, and Primax Properties, a real estate developer with a focus on retail properties. The application was further discussed in May.

Mlodzianowski told the board in April that Houlihan is interested in subdividing a 2.1-acre lot out of his 9.1-acre property in order to build a 9,100-square-foot store. The store would be located at the intersection of Main Street and Helderberg Trail, opposite the Mobil station. The site is in the neighborhood commercial district, which allows for retail stores in new structures provided the planning board offers site-plan approval. Houlihan’s property has a full-market value of $40,159, according to Albany county tax rolls.

The April meeting has been the only time the Berne Planning Board has discussed the proposal with the applicant, said Chairwoman Bajouwa. The board discussed issues such as landscaping, truck turnarounds, and how it fits with the community; but the application went to the zoning board of appeals at its June meeting next for a parking variance, she said.  The variance would allow the store to only build 32 parking spaces.

The town code requires that retail stores offer one space for each 100 square feet of area and each two employees, meaning a store of that size would be required to have at least 92 parking spaces. The application for the variance states that the reason for building only 32 spots is to offer more green space, as another town law requires that at least 8 percent of the area for a usable lot be devoted to landscaping.

A public hearing will be held on Aug. 1 by the zoning board, said Bajouwa, followed by a planning board meeting the next night to discuss the application for a second time.

“We don’t have a full application yet,” she noted.

The site-plan review was sent to the Albany County Planning Board, which reviewed the application at its May meeting. The board unanimously recommended that the project be reviewed by the county’s health department and by the state’s department of transportation, as well as file notice of intent with the state’s department of environmental conservation for a stormwater pollution prevention plan for construction.

On Thursday, the county planning board reviewed the request for the parking-lot variance originally submitted to Berne’s zoning board. The county board decided unanimously to defer to local consideration.

Current plans show an access point from Helderberg Trail, with a front and a side parking lot surrounding the store. A well and a septic field would also be built on the property.

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