Dollar General pulls out of U.S. 27 North project

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Lee Kendall,
News Writer

Apparently, the Dollar General Store  project, in northern Harrison County, has fallen through.
Kristen and Jerry Bacon informed the Harrison County Fiscal Court, on Tuesday night at its regular meeting, they had been informed on Aug. 31, that the contract they had signed with representatives of the proposed Dollar General Store, on their land in northern Harrison County, had been canceled.
“The developer called to tell us that the deal was dead,” Kristen Bacon said in her prepared statement to the court. “They were not going to go forward with the project and they were, unfortunately, going to cancel the contract. We were stunned to hear this since this fiscal court had approved the zone change and everything was just being finalized for the permit with our planning and zoning commission.”
In May, representatives of Mike Rozier Construction Company, general contractors for Dollar General, initiated construction plans to add a store on the corner of Blackburn Lane and US 27, on land owned by the Bacons.
The planning and zoning commission refused to grant the zoning change that would allow the Bacon property to be changed from A-1 to RB.
The Harrison County Fiscal Court,one month later, disregarded the recommendation of planning and zoning and granted the zone change, apparently paving the way for the construction of the Dollar General Store.
Mrs. Bacon said the developer pointed to the Aug. 20 meeting of the planning and zoning commission as the “final straw” as its reason for canceling the project.
“The reasons they have given us for their decision have been told directly to us and so, are not, second-hand knowledge,” she said. “According to the developer, the final straw was the meeting of our planning and zoning commission on Aug. 20, when they discussed the development plan and opened it up to public discussion without the developer or their representative attorney being notified. Not only were they unaware of the August agenda, but our P&Z director (Bonnie Skinner) was expressly told by phone and in writing that the meeting should be on the September agenda, not the August agenda.”
Bacon went on to say that apparently, only those people who were opposed to the Dollar General development were in attendance at the Aug. 20 meeting.
Kelli Mulberry, the developer’s attorney, was at the Aug. 20 meeting, but for another item on the agenda.
“Kelli Mulberry advised the commission that she (and the developer) weren’t aware of being on the agenda and were not prepared,” Bacon said. “Still they proceeded with discussing it. After the meeting, she asked one of these people how he knew to be at the meeting and he expressed that he was contacted by planning and zoning to be there. This was confirmed in a conversation he also had with our magistrate, Bradley Copes.”
Bacon said, as the land owners of the property in question, “Should we not have been the first to be contacted?”
Also at that Aug. 20 meeting, Bacon said that one citizen opposed to the project, asked if the entrance to the Dollar General Store could be directly from US 27 into the store’s parking lot, instead of from Blackburn Lane, as it was proposed in the final development plan.
According to Bacon, this led to planning and zoning contacting the state three days later, on Aug. 23, about doing a traffic impact study.
“This action was an effective stall tactic that, combined with prior hurdles, they felt were mismanaged, caused them to back out of the deal,” Bacon said. “The developer’s exact words to us were, and I quote, ‘Your planning and zoning are either the most incompetent group we have ever dealt with anywhere, or they are deliberately trying to sabotage this deal. We have done over 300 stores in the U.S. and this is the worst experience yet.’”
Bacon concluded her comments by saying, “This is an issue for all of us and it is embarrassing. These actions have caused the developer to lose $50,000 vested in engineering, surveying, geotechnical work and attorneys. We have lost the land deal, the northern Harrison County community has lost the opportunity of having the convenience of this store, lost jobs, lost tax revenue and the time spent and mismanagement of this process has been an absolute waste of our taxpaying money by planning and zoning that is supposed to be working for us.”
Harrison County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett thanked Bacon for her concerns and said the court, like her, voted to proceed with the project.
“This court wants the store, just like you do,” he said. “I am in constant contact with Bonnie Skinner and I know that she is a proponent of the store, as well.”
Barnett said he didn’t know until last week that the development of the store was in jeopardy.
“When I first heard the rumors last week that the store might not happen, I began to try to find out what was happening,” he said. “I am still holding out hope that the project might still go forward, that it’s not a done deal. I have been in contact with Chris Logan (Mike Rozier Construction) and will try to talk with him again. I can promise you I will do everything I can to get to the bottom of this and find out what exactly is going on.”
Copes, who represents northern Harrison County on the fiscal court, said, even if this deal is finished, it is incumbent on the court to take action.
“We have to make sure that something like this does not happen again,” Copes said. “We have to look at the comprehensive plan and make changes that need to be made. We cannot let something like this to ever happen again.”
Planning and zoning director Bonnie Skinner said on Wednesday morning that miscommunication appears to be the issue that has led to all of this turmoil.
“First, planning and zoning has done nothing wrong through all of this, ” she said. “No one in this office made any calls to anyone about the Aug. 20 meeting, although I cannot speak for all the members of the commission. I have all the e-mails from Oct. 18, 2017 when this all started until now. I have dealt with Rozier Construction representatives directly and they knew about the Aug. 20 agenda. When no one showed up for that meeting, representing them, we tabled that to the Sept. 24 meeting.”
Skinner went on to say that she, and everyone else in her office supports the Dollar General Store initiative.
“The problem is one of miscommunication,” she explained. “I have been in contact with Mike Rozier construction through all of this and Kelli (Mulberry) was in contact with Charlie Montgomery (Montgomery Southern Realty and Development), not with the same people I was dealing with.”
Montgomery was tasked with finding suitable locations for Dollar General Stores throughout the US. He is not employed by Rozier Construction directly, but is contracted by them to deal directly with land-owners.
Skinner said that Chris Logan, of Mike Rozier Construction gave her three reasons for pulling out of the project, though she said a final decision by the Rozier people would be made by the end of this week.
“He said that the legal fees, to date, were $50,000 and that they had no more money to spend,” she said. “He also said that there was too much opposition to the project, locally, which I think is wrong, and finally he said the timeline for the project was taking too long. I told him that everything would be finalized by the Sept. 24 meeting of planning and zoning, though.”
Magistrate Brad Marshall said he was concerned about how this incident would affect future developments in the county.
“Our county needs to grow,” he said. “We should wrap our loving arms around businesses that want to come into Harrison County and do whatever we can to make that happen.”