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Southern Morgan Residents Oppose Proposed Dollar General Store

At a community forum Monday night in southern Morgan County, approximately 60 people said they opposed the building of a Dollar General store at the intersection of Oakland Road and U.S. 522. The site, south of Berkeley Springs on the busy north-south U.S. 522, is currently four lots in the residential subdivision Oakland Overlook.

A rep for MDG, the subdivision developer and seller, said there is a contract between his boss and Cross Development, LLC, the prospective developer.  Justin Cowles said MDG acquired the land several years ago and planned half-acre lots as a neighborhood of affordable housing for the working class who could not afford homes marketed to higher-income families or wealthier retirees. Several lots have been developed.  Those homeowners are the same ones who oppose this sale now that would create a store in their backyard.

The section of 12 half-acre lots had not sold in recent years, Cowles said, because the drop in the real estate market had allowed for working class families to buy other ready-made homes or take advantage of foreclosures.  And, he said local builders had resisted building 1,200 square-foot ranches when they could make “boat loads” of money building upscale homes.

He said his company did not actively seek developing the land commercially, but a broker claiming to be looking for potential sites for Dollar General, contacted him.  He said, “I told the broker about the nearby business park and another site on 522 that were good sites, but I don’t know if the broker took that information back to Dollar General. The broker called back and said Dollar General was interested in the corner of Oakland Road and 522. “

They made an offer, but it’s not a done deal.  Cowles said, “There are several contingencies with feasibilities to be met before it goes to the settlement table. If any feasibilities, clauses, or contingencies aren’t met, either party could pull out.”

When requested, Cowles would not make the sales contract documents available to the public. He did say, however, that the purchaser was Cross Development, LLC, who would apparently develop the property and build the store that Dollar General would lease.

When asked if he wanted a Dollar General store on the site, Cowles said personally he was on the fence. But his wife, who used to work for one of the two dollar stores in town, wanted the convenience of such a store.

Russell Mokhiber of the blog Morgan County USA was outwardly opposed to the proposed store and moderated the town hall. He presented six planned speakers and then asked for public comment.

Most of the residents spoke up as living in Oakland Overlook or adjoining areas off Oakland Road or U.S. 522. They said the store would increase traffic on an already busy highway, increase speeding truck traffic, and be a safety hazard. They didn’t want a store at that particular site and said there were other places like the Morgan County Business Park. Others were concerned about damage to the Indian Run and Sleepy Creek watershed, tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.

Others said they had stores nearby for bread and milk, namely Cacapon Market at the Exxon station, and Ridge Deli. When they wanted to go to a dollar store, they drove the 20 mile plus/minus roundtrip to Dollar General or Family Dollar in Berkeley Springs, and did their other shopping.

At least six waivers on various aspects of the construction have been requested by Cross Development, LLC.  Paul Stern said those waivers involve the health department, a WVDEP sewage permit waiver, Eastern Panhandle Conservation District sediment waiver, and WVDEP pollution discharge elimination system waiver.  The deal would involve merging four smaller lots into one larger lot of approximately two acres for the store site. A new storm water management pond would be constructed, and an entrance off Oakland Road.

Residents said according to plans they’d seen, the entrance would not allow trucks to get far enough off the road to unload. When leaving, trucks would not be able to drive out forwards but have to somehow exit the same way they went in.

Gareth Foulds said he goes to Winchester for major shopping. Foulds said he puts his turn signal on way down the road that he plans to turn onto Oakland because of the fast traffic on U.S. 522. A new store would require turn lanes and widening of the road. He wondered if the taxpayers would have the burden.

“I think Dollar General wants to lay out a claim and defeat any other stores,” Foulds said. “If I need something in an emergency, I go to Cacapon Market.”

Gail Foulds is a former president of Sleepy Creek Watershed Association. She said Sleepy Creek and Indian Run had been on a list of impared streams because of fecal matter. Over the past few years, volunteers had worked to clean up Indian Run, which has been removed from the list. She was concerned about oil and other runoff from the store’s parking lot into ditches, eventually emptying into the run or Sleep Creek.

Rebecca McLeod used a dry-erase board to draw a diagram. She was concerned about apparent entrance waivers the purchaser had requested with the department of highways. She said 18-wheelers drive U.S. 522 at more than 60 mph. She said a left turn lane is not all that’s necessary, and that vehicles would need a deceleration lane. She felt the turn lane at Cacapon Resort State Park just north doesn’t meet standards either according to her research.

Cowles said if the DOH doesn’t issue an entrance permit, then it wouldn’t even get to the planning commission for approval. The planning commission must abide by subdivision ordinances and requirements on the books. Planning commission president Jack Soronen said there are certain permit waivers his group or the health department cannot forgive. But from time to time they do make a decision to approve contingent on the permit being supplied later. He encouraged public comment.

One resident said he didn’t see the economic benefit from a third dollar store in the county.  “It won’t create any jobs except for one or two full-time ones and a few part-time ones,” he said.

No one said anything positive about the construction jobs created if one was built, or of the half-dozen jobs created for employees of the new store. It was not apparent if the construction jobs would be for local workers or workers from outside the area.

A couple others said they were undecided but wanted to get both sides of the story and consider the consequences.

Nelson Divilbiss lives on Valley Road. He was the one person at the meeting who spoke up that he wanted the store. “I’ve lived here for 55 years,” he said. “And it seems that no one wants any development in Morgan County. I’m tired of driving 25 miles to town to get a loaf of bread that doesn’t cost $4. Something is needed on this end of the county for us whether it’s Dollar General, Kmart, or Walmart.”

In contrast, Bob Donadieu said he’d been a resident of Oakland Road 42 years. He said, “The road is quiet and residential, but we’re a forgotten community. We’re one of the last ones plowed. The road isn’t any wider than it was 40 years ago. The developer bought the land from my first wife’s family. I know times change but we don’t need the community changed from residential to commercial.”
Since most of the crowd disapproved of Dollar General moving into the southern part of the county, Divilbiss asked the crowd if they were from the county or moved to the county. Many answered they’d moved from somewhere else and some said in recent months. 

He said, “I didn’t approve you moving here. You talk about more traffic from it. No one else would drive down here to go to the store with two in town. We’d be the only ones using it. It won’t hurt the Exxon. Dollar General doesn’t sell gas.”

A meeting of the Morgan County Planning Commission will be held 7 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Morgan County Courthouse to consider waivers. Mokhiber asked for volunteers to develop a strategy to formally oppose the commercial development.

Photo Credit, Tricia Strader: About 60 to 70 people crowded into Union Chapel United Methodist Church Jan. 19 for a town hall about a proposed Dollar General Store on Oakland Road and U.S. 522