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Can’t see the issues for the trees with Dollar General

  • The lot that was clear-cut at the intersection of Routes 5 and 10 and Mill Village Road in South Deerfield. Staff/PAUL FRANZ


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Could the fracas over a proposed Dollar General store on Routes 5 and 10 in South Deerfield be any more muddled?

As is often the case when a large retailer seeks to build in a rural town, many people object for a variety of reasons, some more valid than others. And often there are less vocal people who wouldn’t mind shopping at — in this case — a discount store.

That unhappiness over the prospect of a little “big box” discount store on the state highway between Old Deerfield and South Deerfield has become entangled with the shock of seeing trees on the lot scalped without notice.

It certainly was a surprise to the condominium owners off Mill Village Road who used to enjoy a solid tree belt between their yards and the busy highway. Suddenly, the trees were felled and tossed into a giant brush pile. The neighbors fear their view will now become the backside of a discount store.

Potential legal issues get complicated when you discover that many of those trees were actually on state land the developer hopes to punch a driveway through, and that apparently no one in state government approved the work.

That might have been cause for an “oops, I’m sorry” and a fine, except that a citizens group opposing the plan suspects a deeper motive to the sudden, unauthorizied clearing.

The grassroots group has sent a letter to state Attorney General Maura Healey contending the tree-cutting may have been to circumvent Deerfield’s zoning bylaws.

Among other things, Deerfield for Responsible Development notes that in nine drawings in the developer’s site plans, no trees are shown on the state-owned land on either side of a proposed store driveway. The letter to the AG states the trees were removed to deny town officials the chance to enforce Deerfield’s zoning bylaws, which require a developer to minimize removal of mature trees. Might the trees have been in the way of quick Planning Board approval?

The Boston office of DOT has taken charge of the review of illegal cutting of state trees, but it’s unclear how that action might impact the town Planning Board’s review of the Dollar General special permit application — even as some residents reportedly plan to ask for new mature trees to be planted in place of the felled ones. That might restore a way to block the project through town zoning.

Trees aside, there are other good reasons to object to this location for a dollar store. The citizen group’s letter states residents are concerned about the safety of children if the store is developed at the intersection of Route 5, Mill Village Road and North Main Street. Adding a curb cut that attracts traffic so close to that intersection could pose problems.

While some residents just don’t want to see a dollar store in town, others voice legitimate concerns about traffic and safety and about the appropriateness of this location for a big retailer.

John Waite, the Planning Board chairman, said the Dollar General project will be further discussed tonight when consulting engineers from Tighe & Bond present their analysis of the developer’s proposal.

Some of the engineering issues might be clarified then, but we’re not so sure about the political ones. We trust that the local planners will be as responsive to their constituents’ wishes as the town’s bylaws require and allow.

Yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the project’s opponents push back harder if the project is not stopped or significantly altered by the Planning Board. After all, they’ve already tried to draw in the attorney general, DOT and state legislators.