Amidst Heavy Local Opposition, County Okays Joshua Tree Dollar General

SAN BERNARDINO—Over the organized vocal protests of more than four dozen opponents, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission last week voted 4-1 to give approval for a conditional use permit of a 9.100-square foot Dollar General store at the corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Avenue in Joshua Tree.
Gus Romo and Ernie Perea, planners with the county’s department of land use services, recommended that the commission approve Dynamic Development’s conditional use permit application, asserting that the 1.45 acre site is compatible from a land use standpoint with the applicant’s plans.
“Surrounding land uses consist of single-family residential uses located within commercial zoning to the south across 29 Palms Highway, single-family residential uses within multi-family zoning to the north across Commercial Street, vacant commercial land to the east across Sunburst Avenue, and vacant commercial land to the west across Mountain View Street,” Romo and Perea told the planning commission in their report and recommendation with regard to the proposal. “This area of 29 Palms Highway is designated for commercial development and intended to cater to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The project is considered a general retail use permitted within the Joshua Tree Commuity Plan zoning designation subject to approval of a use permit. Therefore, the proposed development and retail use are considered compatible with the surounding land uses and general plan land use designations.”
For months, however, local residents have been militating aginst the project proposal, objecting to the imposition of corporate “cookie cutter” forms in the rural desert area, resulting in the county land use services division upping the “minor” permit required of Dynamic Development to a conditional use permit. The project opposition culminated in the public comment period for the January 17 hearing before the county planning commission. That opposition included residents, property owners and business operators from the Joshua Tree community.
Peggy Kennedy said that the project was “inconsistent with the goals and policies in our Joshua Tree Community Plan” and that assertions the store would elevate the local economy were specious, given Dollar General’s reputation for providing minimum wage employment and no benefits, as she said was documented in complaints lodged with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Levon Kazarian, the owner of Crossroads Café said the advent of corporate retailers in Joshua Tree would ring the death knell of the community’s “unique rural character” and damage the viability of the traditional businesses that have maintained a rustic desert aesthetic. “I think the more chain stores you bring in, even with western architecture, you start to dilute the unique character,” he said.
Tom O’Key, who owns 20 commercially zoned acres in Joshua Tree, said the county should perpetuate the non-corporate ethos of the business community rather than forcing it to end with the approval of the Dollar General, which he called “an abomination.” He said the county’s land use services division was not applying the desert community’s standards to the development of the area and was instead using citified standards where they were not appropriate.
“You don’t know what a gem we’ve got,” O’Key told the planning commission “If I wanted, I could put 17 of these stores on my land and the zoning would permit me to do it, but I would never even consider it.”
One area resident, Julian Gonzales, called the opponents a bunch of namby-pamby  “imbecilic personalities” consumed by a “not in my back yard” mentality.  He accused them of being anti-growth. Gonzales said the Dollar General would be a convenience to local residents and would represent a positive economic step for the community. “If you don’t move forward, you die,” said Gonzales.
Mark Ostoich, an attorney representing Dynamic Development, said the project met all the criteria of an acceptable property use. Romo said the Dollar General was “not a big box retailer” and as such was of the sort and intensity of use that would blend well with the town’s rural atmosphere. While Romo acknowledged that the store did not appear to be favored by a majority of the residents in Joshua Tree, he said the project complies with the county’s development code and its standards and there was not sufficient evidence of harm to the community or a meaningful clash with the  Joshua Tree Community Plan to prevent the  Dollar General from being approved.
For the Dollar General Corp., which is based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, locating in Joshua Tree is part of a larger business strategy. It has established a Dollar General store in Yucca Valley and has already obtained approval for a Dollar General store in Twentynine Palms. Having three stores along State Route 62 will create a synergy and economy of scale with regard to supply and delivery, corporate officers believe.
Opponents said they plan to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision, sending the final review of the project to the board of supervisors.

Leave a Reply