Berne planners stress landscape of proposed Dollar General

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Caryn Młodzianowski of Bohler Engineering presents plans for a proposed Dollar General last week at Berne’s planning board meeting.

BERNE — At a Berne planning board meeting last Thursday, a proposed Dollar General store offered some concessions to the board regarding its exterior.

Board members, who had commented that they had discussed landscaping extensively for the East Berne property at their last meeting, continued this discussion. Board member Todd Schwendeman suggested at the September meeting that the “visual appearance of the facility is to be softened to the greatest degree possible.”

Caryn Mlodzianowski of Bohler Engineering, representing the retail chain at the meeting, said that there will be trees in the back of the property and shrubs near the store sign.

“We’re leaving trees to the greatest extent possible,” she said, reviewing concerns brought forth by the board last month.

Planning board Chairwoman Debra Bajouwa, who had visited the Dollar General in Esperance, in Schoharie County, said she was concerned because the property there was not mowed and had overgrown weeds on the lawn.

“It was a hot mess,” she said, voicing concerns that landscaping at the Berne site would become overgrown if it weren’t maintained.

Bajouwa presented photos of the store she’d taken on her phone, which included a picture of a pile of cardboard boxes — when the store’s shipments were coming in — which is why she said a space for recycling was requested.

A Dumpster can be removed out of an enclosure to allow for space next to a second Dumpster in the enclosure, to make space for recycling, said Mlodzianowski.

Schwendeman asked about a backup generator being used at the store, with concerns about power outages and an inability to pump the septic tank, and asked for more information about the alarms used when the tank is overfull.

“It can be out for 24 hours easily,” said Bajouwa, of power outages in Berne.

Mlodzianowski said that, if the power is out, the store would be closed; potentially, some food could be thrown out if the coolers were shut down long enough.

Schwendeman also asked if solar power has been used at any of the Dollar General stores. Mlodzianowski said no, but that the store uses newer more energy-efficient appliances.

Mlodzianowski submitted the application for the store in April that calls for a standard 9,100-square-foot store to be built on two acres of property subdivided from a nine-acre parcel on the corner of Main Street and Helderberg Trail, opposite from the Mobil station in East Berne.

Last year, Dollar General announced plans to expand to thousands of new locations. The chain typically targets rural and low-income areas, with few other stores nearby. Dollar General stores have been proposed in at least two dozen locations over the past three years or so as well as a distribution center in Montgomery County; the proposals have been largely for rural and sparsely-populated areas.

Bajouwa said that, since Katherine Hill-Brown, the planning and zoning board secretary, had left her position, there were several forms incomplete — including the absence of a subdivision application and fees that weren’t collected.

Bajouwa said that the system would be better organized moving forward; the form has since been completed in late August and fees have been paid, she said. But it was still unknown if the application would need to again be forwarded to the Albany County Planning Board, and so the Berne Planning Board voted in favor of sending it to the county if required. The date of a public hearing in Berne will be determined after it is confirmed whether or not the plans will again go before the Albany County Planning Board.

Michaela Sweeney, the senior planner for the county planning board, told The Enterprise on Monday — the due date for projects to be submitted to the county planning board for this month — that she had not received an application for the Berne Dollar General, but said that items postmarked for the due date often arrive a few days later.

In May, the county planning board had recommended that there be a review by the state’s transportation and health departments, as well as a notice of intent filed with the state’s Department of Environment Conservation for a stormwater pollution prevention plan. Mlodzianowski said that the company was working on all three recommended items. She said that the company would be fine with approval upon condition of these items being submitted.

Look to the skies

The meeting also included a reminder of another prospect for the town: the small but growing phenomenon of dark-sky tourism. Steve Relles and David Stankovitch, members of the Helderberg Earth and Sky Observatory, or HESO, spoke of their intentions to have Switzkill Farm, a town-owned property in Berne, registered as a silver-ranked certified dark-sky park.

The town would need to complete a few items to be certified — including making two-thirds of lights in the park compliant, only illuminating the ground below — but he said it would be low-cost. The other thing he mentioned was changing town planning to avoid increased ambient light.

Stankovich discussed the effectiveness of different types of lights, noting that lower color-temperature lights are required in certified areas.

Light-emitting diodes are longer-lasting, and more energy-efficient, Stankovich did note. But Relles said that LED lights can add more light pollution than other lights. The International Dark Skies Association — the organization which would issue a certificate — decries LED lights for allowing more to be used because they are cheaper, and also states that their blue light “scatters” further.

Relles said the property’s location makes it ideal for viewing. The closest certified dark-sky park to New York City is currently Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania — a five- or six-hour drive away — said Relles. This would make Berne a prospective draw for amateur astronomers from the metropolitan area, he said, bringing business opportunities to the area.

“So Dollar General should sell telescopes?” Bajouwa later quipped.

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