POULTNEY — Seven people with massive signs stood in downtown Poultney waving happily to passers-by and shouting loudly into the air.
“No on two!” they said.
“It’s a protective thing as far as I’m concerned,” said Chuck Colvin as he waved from his corner on Main Street beside Pamela Burlingame. “I think Dollar General would take away from some of the mom and pop stores on Main Street … (and) I think any money that goes into Dollar General will go out 24 hours later.”
Burlingame said the general opinion around town was that Len Knappmiller, owner of Poultney Properties LLC, would pursue bringing a Dollar General into town if Article 2 passes in Tuesday’s special election.
“This going through would be selling ourselves short,” Burlingame said. “I know people are really scared that this town is just going to die with the college leaving and think that any business is a good thing … (but) Dollar General is a detractor (from good business) for young families like myself…”
Tuesday’s vote will be by Australian ballot from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Poultney Fire Department.
In the Poultney High School library Monday, residents gathered for an informational meeting with members of the Planning Commission.
“We’re going to be very civil tonight,” Select Board Chairman Jeffrey King said. “Or you will be asked to leave.”
Planning Commission Chairwoman Jamie Lee thoroughly explained each of the articles, translating the legal language and the history of the applications to have the zoning altered. She emphasized that a case regarding the proposed Dollar General remains active in environmental court.
Article 2, suggested in a petition from David Carpenter, of the Rutland firm Facey Goss & McPhee PC, legal counsel of Knappmiller, asks residents to confirm the addition of “Mixed Commercial/Light Industrial” use into Article III of the town’s zoning bylaws, and to designate those uses as permitted uses within the Village Industrial Zoning District.
The petition came after the Development Review Board denied the proposed transformation of a shop at 61 Beaman St. into a retail location for a new Dollar General a year ago.
“Our town plan very specifically requires some oversight of those applications,” Lee said. “For noise, glare … that sort of thing … it means everyone comes to the table to discuss it.”
No site plan review and fear for the sidewalks, emergency circulation and snow removal were just several factors that made the Planning Commission question the application, and in addition to the nine other parcels that would be affected by rezoning the district.
“In all places village commercial or village industrial … there is always site plan review,” Lee said. “We recommended none of these changes be made.”
Town attorney Neil Vreeland alleged that Knappmiller had been anything but a nice neighbor, claiming that Knappmiller blocked local people from property normally open to them for town-wide celebrations, and abuses town officials and harasses Vreeland and his wife to get his way.
“(Mr. Knappmiller) wants to remove all zoning review over the property, put anything commercial that he wants,” Vreeland said. “Have no hearing from the DRB, have no input from the town, have no input from the neighbors, anything goes.”
The first ballot item, submitted in a petition from the “undersigned registered voters of the Town of Poultney” and signed by 264 residents, asks residents whether they would be in favor of revising Article III: The Table of Uses for the Industrial Zone, to require conditional use approval as well as site plan approval, among other conditions.
“I am urging you to vote tomorrow to vote ‘yes’ on Article 1 to preserve zoning on this property,” Vreeland said. “To tighten up the zoning so that the neighbors and the town has some input on it, and it can be reasonably used.”
Carpenter refused to comment on whether Knappmiller had signed a contract with Dollar General.
“What you have at this particular location is a set of buildings that can be used,” Carpenter said. “These buildings have sat vacant, and Mr. Knappmiller wanted to develop them … the chances of an industrial use arriving in Poultney, I think we can all agree, are pretty small.”
Rather, Carpenter said Knappmiller wanted the authority to rest with Town Manager Paul Donaldson and the voters of the town, rather than solely relying on the town. He said the newly-zoned retail use shouldn’t be seen as a Dollar General, but rather as just retail in general.
C.B. Hall asked where Knappmiller was, and why he didn’t seem interested in collaborating with the voters of the town who continued to attend meetings and work with his lawyer, but never with him.
Planning Commissioner Mark Teeter also demanded to hear from Knappmiller.
Wilda White, another resident, questioned why Knappmiller bought the parcel of industrial-zoned land for the price of industrial zoned land, but then subsequently attempted to have the zoning changed.
“If it meets the requirement, he doesn’t really have the discretion to say ‘no,’” White said of Donaldson’s perceived ability to refuse Knappmiller should the zoning be changed, as Knappmiller’s petition asked. “This affects a lot of parcels.”
Traditionally, Lee said there would have to be environmental oversight, letters to the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and letters to the surrounding towns.
“This is to circumvent all of those (boards that are) meant to protect our environment,” White said.