Tonight was the Public Hearing on the current proposal by the Family Dollar Store Corporation. The owner of the development company, Ken Hammond, who incidentally resides in a 3,800 s.f. home on 3 acres outside of Charlotte, NC rather than a small town like Mount Jackson, was on hand to answer questions. And did he!
He explains how Family Dollar is a booming business and how they've almost blown the budget on design of this one. Really?! I'd hate to ask what the budget was...
Similar to the recently constructed Dollar General a few blocks north on Main Street, the Family Dollar Store Corporation has presented a design situating the building close to Main Street, but turned so that the parking lot will be to the side and rear, and the back of the building will be facing the community.
The building is a whopping 7,947 s.f. - 80' x 104'.
Firstly, is the Family Dollar Corporation the kind of business Mount Jackson really wants or even needs?
“Family Dollar is one of a growing group of chain-store corporations that cater to America’s poor by selling cheap goods, many imported from sweatshops in low-wage countries including China and Mexico.”
Big Box stores like this undermine small business and entrepreneur-ism, as well as retail wages. Additionally, big boxes cause a loss of uniqueness of place.
“In many communities these stores have been welcomed with open arms because they are great for sales, and therefore sales tax revenue, and they provide jobs and inexpensive goods for residents. What we who love cities and their diversity have to come to grips with is the fact that these stores are robbing downtowns and Main Streets of the family-owned businesses that have been the backbone of our communities. … the objection is not to the “discount pricing”, but to the social effects of loss of local family heritage businesses, and the low wages, part-time jobs only, and puny benefits that sometimes associated with some of these brands. The so-called "category killers" are chain stores that are able to dominate smaller, less specialized competitors, typically your home town businesses.”
Secondly, ethics and economics aside, if Mount Jackson must have a Family Dollar to clutter up its Town (in addition to the Dollar General) then, as a community, we need to expect the new store to relate as best as possible to our Town in both design and neighborliness.
Good Urban Design Principles for Placemaking abound today more than ever. There is an entire generation of planners, architects and city administrators who have spent countless hours and dollars developing the best guidelines for maintaining, and even developing modern towns without limiting economic growth. Small Towns are not without recourse when large, out-of-Town Corporations come knocking. Big Box stores can be regulated quite efficiently and effectively.
The historic and famous community of Cape Cod, Mass. has permitted such big box stores while successfully maintaining their historic fabric by allowing only smaller proposals from such big box stores, and allowing them only on sites that were already developed. Additionally, the Town favors projects that “protect the Cape’s character, expand local ownership and enable the region’s communities to meet more of their own needs instead of relying on imports.”
In 2011, the Lakewood community in Ohio told Family Dollar to revise its design, referring to factors including lack of windows in the proposed building, building materials, landscaping, lighting, signage and the impact the store will have on surrounding residential properties.
Just as franchise restaurants have learned to adapt their basic look when the market is strong and the regulations are stronger, the big box stores also will adapt to some of our demands if we know how to present them. But we must be intentional and look to our existing Town fabric.
What would work on this site for the Family Dollar?
For starters, a Front Entrance that relates either entirely to, or at least in part to, Main Street.
Those of us who live in a Main Street town, regardless of where parking is located, expect the entrance to be … well… on Main Street! That’s good planning and design. The building can just as easily be pushed to the rear of the site, with parking and landscaping in front. In fact, this is generally the accepted precedent for such “in Town” developments. There is already a sizeable proposed retaining wall wrapping the rear of the site, so why not “hide” it as best as possible with the actual building. No one likes looking at a wall.
If the building must be located right up close to the street (they are stating it must because of the massive delivery trucks they receive) then the entrance should be located at the corner of the building, with access from both the parking lot and Main Street; and the sides of the building that can be viewed from Main Street should have windows to see inside the store.
The trend for such big-box developments is to provide “blacked out windows” in order to maximize shelf space on the interior. These “blacked out windows” are wholly inappropriate for Main Street Developments. This is what I call the Vegas-marketing plan. Ever notice how casinos do not have windows? It's because once they have you in, they want to keep you as long as they can and they do it by design. First with nauseating, busy carpets, and secondly, by cutting the insiders off from the natural rhythm of the outside world. Think I'm joking? It's part of what's taught in Architecture school.
Blacked windows in a community give the impression of "Closed for Business." What works for Main Street-focused communities is to be able to see our neighbors. Being able to see to the interior of a store creates a sense of community and makes the Town much more interesting, as well as ultimately marketable.
(One of the Commissioners stated that she did not "want to see paper plates and plastic cups". Does that mean Food Lion should darken out their windows?! The store sells STUFF - and they should want to show that stuff off to the outside world. I might just actually shop there becuase I saw something in the window.)
Furthermore, there is a safety factor involved with having windows where folks on the street cannot see in and those inside cannot see out. It's called transparency and does wonders to combat theft.
As can be seen below, Family Dollar has done (somewhat) successfully designed "economical yet home-town style" stores in other communities. Why should our community compromise?
Of course, there is a PAD site at the Food Lion Shopping Center which is far better suited for this sort of free-standing Big Box development. The proposed site really is on what could and should be one of the community “edges” – where “Downtown” starts rather than where the developmental sprawl continues to erode the character of Mount Jackson.
Regardless of the business, new structures should be developed with careful attention to Mount Jackson’s rich existing historic architecture, to provide a sense of cohesiveness and sense of Place as a whole, instead of bland boxes of brick. First Bank is a successful modern design that Mount Jackson can use as a benchmark. It can be done. But it's not happening with this Family Dollar.
Last but not least, new construction should address environmental concerns.
Storm Water Runoff
At last month’s meeting, there was a discussion of a catch basin located at the north-east corner of the property to slow the flow of the surface water, which will be generated by the parking lot and roof, to the adjacent stream, which empties directly into the Shenandoah River. This catch basin needs to do more than slow the water. It MUST filter the water, so as not to discharge more harmful pollutants from the vehicles using the lot into the River. A bio-retention filter is a bare minimum.
Lighting has yet to be discussed, but new structures throughout the Valley should be implementing down lighting of their own accord in order to eliminate what is commonly referred to as “Light Pollution” or “Sky Glow”. Light pollution is waste of energy, can be particularly harmful to animals’ natural rhythms, and contributes to bad visibility at night. After all, this is the Shenandoah Valley, Daughter of the Stars, rather than Vegas. We like to see our stars.
Big Box stores come and go. (Point in case – Blockbuster is finally calling it quits.) The buildings, however, remain in a community much longer. In the past, design and architecture was a source of Corporate and Civic pride. It's said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" but the truth is that everyone knows the difference between good design and bad. Some might say "They don't build 'em like that anymore", while others pontificate the subtle nuances of a good design. But we all know good vs. bad regardless of preferences.
Town Architectural Guidelines are our only protection to keep our property values and maintain our community as a desirable place to live and work. New buildings must relate, NOT to the out-of-Town corporations’ bottom lines, but instead to OUR Community. We can expect better. We should expect better. We owe it to ourselves, each other and our children who will inherit our decisions when we’re dead and gone, lest we leave them yet another ticky-tacky town of stamped concrete and EIFS-clad boxes.
The Mount Jackson Town Council should tell Family Dollar to "Go back to the drawing board."
Kudos to them for sticking with historically accurate materials! It will be fun to watch it weather and get that green patina that the last roof had. That's a good neighbor.