El Dorado supervisors vote against formula business ordinance

Dawn Hodson
Mountain Democrat


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. — An urgency ordinance proposed by El Dorado County Supervisors Lori Parlin and George Turnboo that would restrict formula businesses in the county was shot down Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Parlin and Turnboo proposed the ordinance based on concerns the rural character of the county was threatened by formula businesses like Dollar General and other chain stores. The ordinance would have imposed restrictions on chain stores pending a study that considered zoning and other land use regulations where the projects were proposed. Both Turnboo and Parlin represent districts that include rural areas where Dollar General has tried to move in.

Three Dollar General stores proposed have been in the county in recent years. A Dollar General was planned for Georgetown by developer SimonCRE Abbie but was abandoned after a lawsuit would have forced the builder to prepare an environmental impact report.

Another project application for a Dollar General in Cool is currently being processed by the county. Woodcrest Companies plans to build a 9,100-square-foot retail store on Northside Drive and lease it to Dollar General. After hearing opposition from residents and because of a design overlay on the property, the Board of Supervisors last summer directed Woodcrest to conduct a “focused” environmental impact report on the project’s traffic and public safety impacts. The draft is complete and the EIR is now being finalized, according to county Planning Department staff.

Design overlays require specific design standards be met in a designated area to protect the character of the area or to create a character beyond the base zoning.

A third Dollar General, also to be built by Woodcrest Companies, has been proposed for Fairplay near the corner of Fairplay Road and Mt. Aukum Road. The lot is zoned commercial but it has no design overlay requirements and doesn’t need to go before the Planning Commission, according to county staff.

Robert Peters, deputy planning director, said a building permit for the Fair Play Dollar Store was under review, with the review expected to be completed within a few weeks. Once finished the company can begin construction.

Providing background on the growing controversy, Parlin noted that in the 1970s and ’80s the county created area plans for more than 20 communities, including Georgetown, Cool-Pilot Hill and the Fair Play-Somerset-Mt. Aukum area. But those plans were shelved when the General Plan was developed.

Citing the Dollar General proposed in 2019 for Cool and the Dollar General proposed in 2021 for Somerset as examples of the county’s failure to subsequently put in place policies that protect its rural character while accommodating reasonable growth, Parlin said she planned to ask the board to add a Formula Business Ordinance to the 2021 Long Range Planning Work Plan but the recent Dollar General applications forced her hand, resulting in her proposing that an urgency ordinance be passed to give the county time to study if it wants such an ordinance on the books.

Turnboo said he had already received over 300 emails from residents in his district opposed to a Dollar General. A petition is also reportedly circulating in the community against it. “Small businesses are trying to survive,” he said. “People out there do not want it,” he continued, adding that there are concerns the store would bring trash and drugs to Pioneer Park, more traffic and water and septic are also issues as EID does not provide service to the area.

An email from Daniela Devitt, president of the Fair Play Winery Association, states, “The Fair Play Winery Association, representing 22 wineries in the Fair Play/Somerset area, strongly opposes Dollar General’s effort to move into our area. We are a lovely rural community that attracts visitors because of the areas’ beauty and uniqueness. Over the past several years, we have made progress to make our area unique and attractive. One of the exceptional qualities of our area is that we consist of small businesses. Our area does not have commercial franchises or chains. To the contrary, without exception, our wineries and business are smaller, family owned and regionally focused … “

Supervisor Sue Novasel questioned why Parlin didn’t bring the issue to the board two years ago. In response, Parlin said she didn’t know “we’d be inundated with Dollar Generals” but had planned to bring it before the board. Novasel also said she didn’t like that the urgency ordinance applied countywide rather than to just certain areas of the county.

Joining Novasel in objecting to the formula business urgency ordinance, Supervisor Wendy Thomas said that while the county needs design standards for different communities, what Parlin was proposing was an economic policy and that was different. Supervisor John Hidahl also objected, arguing that while there were many urgent activities in the county, the urgency ordinance was the wrong vehicle to deal with them.

Economic Development staff said such an ordinance would prohibit a lot of formula businesses in the future if passed.

People calling in to the meeting were almost unanimous in their support of the urgency ordinance, expressing their opposition to the Dollar Store. Issues raised included traffic impacts, light pollution from overhead lights and the potential pollution of Perry Creek from water and sewage generated by the store.

One of the owners of the gas station and mini-mart Gray’s Corner, which is located in front of the site where the Dollar General store would go, said, “Big business may put me out of business and everyone here would lose their jobs.” Owners of the store for 14 years, she said she worries about the trash and homeless people Dollar General would attract as well as its impact on other local stores in the area. She said she also wondered where Dollar General would put the leach field for its septic tank.

A longtime resident, who asked their name be omitted, was more philosophical, saying while he won’t shop at the Dollar Store, the free market will determine if the store is successful or not. “I don’t really like it,” he said, “and I won’t give it my business. But it’s their property and this is free market capitalism. It’s their right … And if people don’t shop there, they won’t stay open.”

A representative of Woodcrest Real Estate did call in to ask supervisors to deny the ordinance. County Counsel David Livingston noted the county had received a letter from the developer threatening legal action if the ordinance passed.

Laurel Brent-Bumb, CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, also opposed the ordinance. “If we aren’t growing, we are dying,” she said.

In the closing discussion among supervisors Parlin insisted that rather than kicking the issue down the road, the board needed to act. Novasel continued to oppose the ordinance, saying it was too much to impose on the entire community and instead should be addressed individually by those communities affected.

Up for a vote, the motion to approve the urgency ordinance failed on a 3-2 vote with Supervisors Parlin and Turnboo voting yes and Supervisors Hidahl, Novasel and Thomas voting no.

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