COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Nottawa resident George Wolfinger voices his disapproval of a zoning request and site plan for Dollar General in Nottawa during the Nottawa Township Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. Wolfinger was one of nearly 20 residents to voice their objection to Dollar General’s plan, most of which cited Dollar Generals already within driving range and the potential of losing the village’s rural character.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Merle Schwartz, who owns a house near the proposed Dollar General site, pauses as he reads his public comment during Tuesday’s Nottawa Township Planning Commission meeting.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Nottawa Township Planning Commission Chair Bill Butcher gives his thoughts on the situation regarding Dollar General’s site plan and zoning request prior to a vote.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Numerous yard signs like this one on M-86 in Nottawa encouraged people to make their voices heard at Tuesday’s Nottawa Township Planning Commission, where a zoning request and site plan for a Dollar General in the small village was discussed. Ultimately, the planning commission voted to recommend denying both the site plan and zoning request.

Dollar General rezoning request recommended to be denied in Nottawa Twp.

NOTTAWA TWP. — A rezoning request and site plan that would have laid the groundwork for a Dollar General store in Nottawa was recommended to be denied Tuesday night by the Nottawa Township Planning Commission.

After a near two-and-a-half hour meeting, the planning commission recommended to the Nottawa Township Board denial of both the site plan and the rezoning request, to the applause and cheers of the nearly 100 residents in attendance at a standing-room-only Nottawa Township Hall.

The votes were 6-0 to recommend denial of the rezoning request, and 5-1 to recommend denial of the site plan, with board member Steve Clark the lone dissenter on the latter vote due to not wanting to “deny something that is done correctly.”

The recommendations now go to the St. Joseph County Planning Commission, who have until Aug. 18 to take action either approving or denying the requests on their end. After they review it, it will go to the Nottawa Township Board for a final action, with a timeline to do so placing that action at their Sept. 19 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

The requests in question came from real estate development company Midwest V LLC of Grand Haven, which frequently works with Dollar General, to rezone 1.6 acres of 26262 M-86 in Nottawa from agricultural to commercial to place a 10,000-square-foot Dollar General in the village of Nottawa. The store would have been located next door immediately east of Alpha Building Center/Nottawa Lumber and across the street from the Pilgrim Fellowship Church.

During the hour-long public comment section, residents expressed their displeasure with Dollar General, their displeasure with the idea of a mixed-use commercial district along M-86 and M-66 referenced in the township’s master plan, and the need for Nottawa to remain a rural community.

“You say, ‘don’t use Dollar General,’ but what’s going to be there? It’s going to be a Dollar General, that we have three miles down the road that they haven’t even taken care of, so how in the world do we want another one in Nottawa,” resident George Wolfinger said, referencing a comment by a board member that the request is not from Dollar General but Midwest V. “As our board approves or denies this, we want a say in it. Our community’s here, our neighbors, family or friends.”

“We have invested a lot of money into our property to get it to where we could enjoy it in our retirement years with our kids and grandkids. Having a Dollar General next door would destroy our property value and our peace and quiet times,” resident Merle Schwartz, who lives across the street from the proposed property, said. “We have Dollar General stores three miles to the west, six miles to the north, eight miles to the south and eight miles to the east. We do not need one here. We have lived in the Nottawa area for over 50 years and we want it to stay a rural community.”

Other comments advocated for the local businesses in the Nottawa community, such as the Sand Lake Party Store.

“We love this community, and I believe if we bring in this kind of commercial stuff, it would ruin our local commercial businesses and take away from the person who’s worked so hard to give us what we have at our ice cream store,” resident Linda Dickerson said. “We’d have more noise, more traffic, and it would ruin it.”

“[Sand Lake Party Store] still feeds us. We get our gas there, our cigarettes there, our groceries there. I’ve got nothing against what’s going in there. I’m all for free enterprise, I understand and respect that, but let’s call it what it is. We know what’s going in there, we don’t want it regardless,” resident Aaron Hunnicutt said. “This is Nottawa, we need the Sand Lake Party Store, what’s fed us and taken care of us. We need Mr. Coomer and his fruits and vegetables that he supplies and sells. Our local hardware stores; I own two houses on M-86, I reroofed my homes from that hardware store. I don’t want to give my money to these big corporate places, I want to keep my money local in my community, in my town.”

No residents spoke in support of bringing the multi-state dollar store chain to their area.

Following public comment, Clark said looking at the map of where the proposed building would go, it could create “land use conflicts” with other properties, noting one of the master plan’s objectives is to discourage commercial locations which could create land use conflicts with non-commercial/industrial areas, and recommending a buffer in the site plan between the proposed building and a residential property to the east of the proposed site.

However, Clark added, the need was still there to “preserve the rural countryside” of Nottawa, once again referencing the township’s master plan. He referenced sections where it states that “careful consideration is needed to ensure that commercial uses outside of Commercial zones do not detract from preserving the township’s rural character nor become a nuisance to neighbors on adjacent properties” and that the purpose of the agricultural residential district is to “preserve the rural, countryside atmosphere of Nottawa Township; and to encourage the continuation of agricultural activities yet permitting residential uses without substantially changing the agricultural character of these areas.”

“We’ve got that right now. If we make this commercial, we’re changing all that. This is what we have in our master plan that would back up what these folks are asking for,” Clark said.

Planning Commission Chair Bill Butcher said the Nottawa area is “quite self-sufficient” in terms of the businesses in the town, and how “quaint it is.” He also noted the research he did with the local communities, including the Amish which had “no opinion” on the situation, and thanked those in attendance for making “sincere” comments on the situation.

“We are here to serve the community of Nottawa Township,” Butcher said. “In my opinion, there’s not benefit in my mind to do a re-zoning to commercial, and it makes no sense to put another building there as it is. We watch little things grow; we now have a motorcycle mechanic and auto place in Nottawa, we’ve always had that cute bank and the post office and it’s worked out great for everything.

“The idea of this thing is that, yeah, they’ve gone through all the channels, yeah, they’ve gone through all the hurdles. I don’t understand what kind of marketing plan was put together regarding why it needs to be there when we’re already saturated with the number we’ve got here,” Butcher continued.

Jared Devoursney, a representative from Midwest V who was in attendance, attempted to explain that, referencing the commercial/residential mixed-use corridor in the township’s master plan and “algorithms” Dollar General uses to scout locations, which received brief grumbles and opposition from the audience.

“Through Dollar General’s algorithms, they have shown that this community can support a store, and then it’s our job to look in the community where they’re looking to be and find a piece of property where we believe that we can develop a store,” Devoursney said. “Through reviewing your newly-adopted master plan, we saw this is the area, that stretch of road, that is looking to be commercially developed, so that is what brought us to this point.”

Butcher said he understood what Devoursney was getting at, talking about how they got through the steps with the zoning, but ultimately the board would “give our recommendation regarding that” and that it was also about the store’s site plan about where it would be placed.

Just before the vote, board members thanked those from the public for showing up and making their voices heard.

“I’d like to thank people for showing up,” board member Brenda Chobot said. “I appreciate your passion and comments on everything.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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