Despite objections from residents, Monona P&Z recommends zoning change for a Dollar General store

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Monona Planning and Zoning Commission, on a 4-3 vote at a meeting Oct. 4, recommended that the city council approve a request by the Overland Group to rezone lot 19 of the Gordon Residential Subdivision from R-2 residential to C-1A commercial for construction of a Dollar General store. The decision was made despite objections from residents who live near the proposed site.

The 2.76-acre property located along Highway 18/52 is attractive to Dollar General, said Monona City Administrator Dan Canton, because it already has direct access to the highway, thanks to an access point created years ago. The Iowa DOT has already indicated the entrance can be widened, Canton added. The site farther east (next to Fisk Farm and Home and the Davis Street Car Wash) that was earlier considered for the store does not, and the DOT was not willing to create another.

“We had a purchase agreement, but since you couldn’t drive directly off 18, they backed out of the deal,” Canton said.

The Overland Group has yet to purchase the subdivision property. That move is largely contingent upon whether the zoning is changed, explained planning and zoning chair Nathan Trappe.

If the property is rezoned, Canton said a 9,100-square-foot store will be built on the site.

“The building is pretty much what you see around,” Canton said, noting that it will be similar in size to the store in Postville.

Canton said the property will contain 20,000 square feet of concrete along with a stormwater detention area that will hold stormwater on site, in accordance with the city’s stormwater management ordinance, which was approved in April.

The goal of last week’s meeting, Trappe told the roughly two dozen people gathered, was not to determine whether Monona wants a Dollar General, but whether the subdivision lot should be rezoned to commercial.

Many of those in the audience, who were subdivision residents, said “no,” citing concerns over lowered property values and excess noise and light. Some said they chose to move there under the assumption the area surrounding their properties would not change.

“I have no problem with them coming to town, but why rezone when it’s residential?” questioned Dave Beinborn, who owns apartments behind the proposed site. “Now, everyone’s going to be looking at this.”

“We won’t have any view or any peace and quiet,” added Jane Blumhagen.

Another resident said the store would take away from the neighborhood’s beauty, stating, “There are beautiful homes that are very well taken care of, along with apartments and Garden View [Senior Community]. It’s not a place for a commercial building. It should go over by the other businesses.”

Others noted safety concerns. With no access from Darby Drive (behind the store), all Dollar General customers will have to turn onto the highway. Opponents said those traveling that short distance to the Dollar General turn-off, at a lesser rate of speed, will have to be wary of faster-moving highway traffic.

Randee Koenig, a Monona council member and also the executive director at Garden View, said she supported Dollar General coming to Monona, but that her residents don’t necessarily want it in their backyard. She added that, even if the DOT proposes measures to make the area safer, it’s still not an ideal location.

“[Dollar General] is something the community needs for its elderly residents,” she said, “but I think it’s just as dangerous to get there as going to Walmart [in Prairie du Chien].”

Councilman Doug Bachman said some people already deal with a similar scenario.

“If you drive out of Fisk Farm and Home to the vet, how far is that? It’s not very far,” he said. “This is the same.”

Trappe shared a letter from six older residents who wholeheartedly supported the store.

“We are speaking for many elderly who so desire to have a Dollar General store in Monona,” the letter read. “It is important that you understand, we feel the need to keep our business in town....This is exactly what we need to enhance our city. Shoppers coming to Dollar General naturally will give business to the other stores in town.”

Monona Chamber and Economic Development Executive Director Rogeta Halvorson said other business owners have also been supportive of Dollar General, mentioning that its arrival would compliment their existing businesses.

Subdivision property owners didn’t disagree; they just wanted it to be in the right spot. If not in their subdivision, though, where would Dollar General go? wondered resident Mary Ann Koehn. 

“I’m neutral,” she said. “Where else are we going to expand? Monona doesn’t have another place to build.”

Halvorson agreed, stating, “They want to go here because it’s within city limits and they’d have the infrastructure. It’s a great way to grow Monona and keep people here.”

Trappe said he also feels that Monona needs to grow, and that Dollar General could help with that. Yet, he added, planning and zoning also needs to take the public’s feelings into account.

“We’re here to represent the community,” he said. “We’re going to take your advice, even if we don’t agree. This gives us an idea of what the public is looking for.”

He asked whether creating stipulations upon approval would make a zoning change more palatable to residents?

“You can make stipulations with zoning,” Canton assured, noting that the commission or council could control matters like whether gas pumps can be put in, the kind of fence built or the types of plantings or lighting used.

When planning and zoning approved the Innovative Ag addition last year, Trappe said nearby residents had some of the same concerns about property values, noise, lights and truck traffic.

“I live a block away,” he remarked, “but after being there a year, I don’t notice any difference.”

Subdivision residents were unmoved by the suggestion, however, with many stating it would not make a difference.

“It sounds to me that people don’t want it there,” said planning and zoning member Lynn Martinson, who said, although he’s in favor of the store, “I sympathize with the property owners.”

Martinson said he questioned a subdivision covenant that says there has to be 75 percent approval of all property owners of record before a change can be authorized, telling property owners they need to determine how everyone feels.

He voted against a recommendation approving the zoning change, due to the residents’ feelings. Commissioner Stan Dull felt the same, sharing, “It’s pretty clear we don’t have 75 percent approval.” Kevin Brained also said “no,” citing highway safety concerns.

Noting a need for more business in Monona, commissioners Carol Grady and Dianne Philpott supported recommending a zoning change. Arlan Quandahl, who took part in the meeting via phone, said “yes,” as well.

“It’s the responsibility of the planning and zoning commission to consider what’s in the best interest of the town,” Quandahl said, adding that, at some point or another, most everyone faces changes around their properties. He said he’s talked to others who support Dollar General because of the property taxes and sales tax it would bring in. 

“The developer is willing to take steps to make sure the property is skirted behind it. Maybe we can take a look at reducing the speed limit,” he proposed. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for Monona and provides an opportunity for residents who are not comfortable going out of town to shop.”

With the vote tied at 3, that left the deciding vote to Trappe, who eventually voted “yes.”

“I get the point of the landowners,” he stressed, “but I want to let the council have an opportunity to make the choice.”

Trappe pled with audience members to consider attending and sharing their opinions at the city council’s next meeting, Monday, Oct. 17, beginning at 6 p.m., during which they will hold a public hearing on the rezone recommendation, before making a final decision.

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