In a controversial and uncommon move Monday, the O’Fallon City Council resurrected the Dollar General proposal that it rejected Jan. 17.
The only way the project could be placed back on the agenda again for a first reading was if an alderman who voted no made a recommendation, and it was seconded by someone who also voted no, and then a majority voted to reconsider it.
Through approval of a series of agenda items, including first reading in a 9-4 vote, the proposal returns to the Community Development Committee at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at the Public Safety Building. They can advance it for second reading.
The 6.49-acre project includes relocating the Dollar General from Southview Plaza to a new 10,640-foot space at 648 W. Highway 50, which is at the northwest corner of Highway 50 and Lawn Avenue.
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The project, developed by Terry Johnson of Triple Net Management, also includes a 12,150-square-foot retail center and 10 two-family duplexes or villas to be built in two later phases. The residential development would front an extension of Hillcrest Drive in the Countryside Glenn subdivision. Johnson is a commercial real estate broker/developer with 31 years’ experience in the O’Fallon, Shiloh and Fairview Heights area. He developed the commercial lot across the street from this development.
Under Mayor Gary Graham’s report, he asked the council to reconsider the proposal, which had been recommended by the Planning Commission, Community Development Committee and the city’s Community Development staff. The agenda stated: “Mayor was asked to place this ordinance under his report for reconsideration.”
Opposing nearby local residents in attendance at every council and committee meeting addressing the plan had spoken out about crime, detrimental impact and property values Jan. 17. That night, in a 5-7 vote, aldermen shot the development plan down on first reading.
Residents returned Monday to express their dismay about the plan resurfacing.
Mark Pietukowski, who lives closest to the property, asked the council to not reconsider it. “The process worked, which is the way it should be,” he said.
He did not think Dollar General would leave town — as has been mentioned — and could find another suitable location so that the city wold not lose tax revenue. The residents have maintained they are fine with office or low-level retail, but bristle at a high-volume Dollar General, with noise, trash, lights and other issues.
“I do not want to look at the back of Dollar General,” he said, stating that would be his front view.
His wife, Valerie Pietukowski, said they listened to the citizens.
“We don’t think we’re being all that unreasonable,” she said.
Burt Gedney, another nearby resident, was concerned about the proposed buffer zone because “we’ve seen too many zones that don’t work. Hotels shining lights directly onto residences and people have to use blackout drapes.”
“We’ve been at every single meeting. This was defeated fair and square. Aldermen listened to us, heard us,” he said. “It’s an election year. Did politics convince the re-motion? Why change your mind? We are your median residents. These aren’t junky little homes. We are Nos. 2 and 3 in household income. We are voters. We live in an established, old neighborhood. The city plan document says it will protect old neighborhoods. If you are not going to do that, then take it out.”
Gedney said public servants should “serve the public.”
“Us, not Dollar General, not Triple Net,” he said.
Gary Hursey, an O’Fallon Township trustee, expressed support for the project. He said the new Dollar General plan was “the prettiest one I’ve ever seen.”
He acknowledged the Southview location was “atrocious, horrible” and that Terry Johnson built “really quality buildings.”
“Something will go there,” he said, adding he thought that Dollar General would be a positive.
On Monday, only Kevin Hagarty, Robert Kueker, Herb Roach and Matt Smallheer maintained their opposition, while Ned Drolet, previously opposed and representing Ward 6, where the project is located, was absent.
Appointed alderman Christopher Hursey switched and made the motion. Richie Meile, also changed his voted and seconded the motion. Aldermen Gene McCoskey and Matthew Gilreath had been absent Jan. 17, but they joined those in favor. Others voting in favor were Jerry Albrecht, Courtney Marsh, Ray Holden, David Cozad and Harlan Gerrish.
Drolet went out of town Saturday and will not return until Feb. 22, which is after the next council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21 (moved because of President’s Day.) Through his son, John Drolet, a former alderman, he sent a statement requesting the council table action on it.
As one of the two aldermen representing Ward 6, Ned Drolet expressed disappointment that other aldermen had not asked him about the development. He did not know why the matter was resurrected, and brought up the likelihood of allowing the two absent aldermen Jan. 17 to vote again. He wanted the same courtesy extended to him so that he could be given an opportunity to vote, especially since he represented the ward in question.
Drolet was an alderman 1999-2013. He returned and was elected in 2015.
Graham commented to John Drolet that 14 aldermen serve all the 30,000 residents. They have a right to support what they want, he said.
Ned Drolet’s request was not granted, nor was Kueker’s amendment to move it back two weeks.
Roach had wanted an amendment assuring the buffer zone would be put in place no later than six months after start of construction. However, city officials said that was not feasible. If an unmonitored cul-de-sac was constructed without development, that might become a gathering place for underage drinking, Police Chief Eric Van Hook pointed out.
Graham supported development along the Highway 50 corridor as a top priority. He noted sales tax for the city and property tax for School District 90. He noted that fencing and landscaping are part of the project. He said the new special census would confirm the population was well over 30,000. He also admonished residents for what he perceived as threats in a few contentious exchanges.
“The whole situation reeks of unethical behavior in our opinion,” Valerie Piekutowski said after the meeting. “But based on everything we had heard, it had the outcome we expected from the city of O’Fallon.”
The nearby residents had previously brought up traffic and drainage issues, but Johnson had agreed to an alternate street design with a cul-de-sac at the Jan. 9 Community Development Committee meeting. The Public Works department has been working on drainage relief plans in the Countryside Glen neighborhood.
The zoning amendment to the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map, changing the property from single-family to multi-family dwellings and retail, was approved on second reading, with aldermen Hagarty, Kueker, Roach and Smallheer voting no.
The zoning amendment was a necessary component to the project. Its approval means the Dollar General, or another retail development, can go there.
Holden, representing Ward 6 since 2013, supported Dollar General, much to the dismay of residents in attendance. He did not speak during the discussion.
“I can only say he should have supported his constituents and that is very disappointing. He is running unopposed in April, unfortunately,” Valerie Piekutowski said.