West St. Paul says a planned store violates zoning for discount stores, but the chain says it isn't one.
In a dispute over West St. Paul's zoning code, Dollar General is objecting to the city's classification of its retail outlets as "discount" stores.
Although the Tennessee-based company describes itself as having the nation's largest chain of "small-box discount stores," it is disavowing the label in its pursuit of a West St. Paul site because the zoning for the location on Robert Street does not allow "discount" stores.
The spot at 1214 Robert St. was formerly occupied by Ace Hardware. Dollar General likes the location because it is available, said Chris Meyer, real estate manager for the chain.
The city would welcome Dollar General to other locations along Robert Street that are zoned for discount stores, said Community Development Manager Jim Hartshorn.
"We would like them to come in. We have plenty of locations available for them," Hartshorn said.
Meyer said no one has suggested other locations to him.
Hartshorn said the chain is set on the one location and won't listen to other ideas.
The company appealed the "discount" classification to the city's Planning Commission last week but was again rejected.
"Dollar General, along with most general merchandise retailers, frequently uses the word 'discount' in its marketing and promotional materials,'' Dollar General attorney William Sheahan wrote in a letter to the city. "The choice of language used by a store to entice customers, however, is by no means controlling or even relevant to a zoning use determination."
The city defines a "discount store" as one that offers all or nearly all of its merchandise at discount from the manufacturer's suggested price, and General Dollar does not meet that description, Sheahan said.
Planning commissioners listened to the arguments but said it is their job to uphold the zoning code. While they denied the appeal, they directed city staff to update the zoning code to make it clear where a store like Dollar General would fit.
Dollar General may now appeal the zoning decision to the City Council, which has the latitude to overrule the Planning Commission.
"It doesn't do the city of West St. Paul any good to have any vacant buildings, but we have to uphold the zoning ordinance," said Commission Chairman Jim Callahan.
Commissioner Delbert Gerdes cast the one vote against denying Dollar General's request. He said that General Dollar's use of the word "discount" in its advertising "makes it hard for us to not go by the words in our own zoning code" but that the store would be useful to the shoppers of West St. Paul.
If Dollar General appeals the decision to the City Council, the council could consider it in March.
Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287