(June 14) JOSHUA TREE— Over the strenuous objections of dozens of Joshua Tree residents, the county board of supervisors upheld the county planning commission’s previous approval of Dynamic Development LLC’s application to build and operate a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General retail store in this desert community..
Many in Joshua Tree pride themselves on the rustic character of their town. They resisted the Dollar Tree proposal, maintaining the presence of a national corporate retail establishment would compromise the Old West ambience of a desert town that relies on tourism. In January the planning commission by a 4-1 vote approved the proposal by Dynamic Development in conjunction with the Goodlettsville, Tennessee–based Dollar General Corp. to establish the store at the corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Avenue in Joshua Tree. Locating the outlet in Joshua Tree is part of a larger business strategy of the corporation which 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.
Mark Ostoich, an attorney representing Dynamic Development, said the project met all the criteria of an acceptable property use.
Gus Romo and Ernie Perea, planners with the county’s department of land use services who previously recommended that the commission approve Dynamic Development’s conditional use permit application, set the groundwork for their boss, Terri Rahhal, the planning director for the county, who was tasked with reiterating the planning division’s earlier analysis and findings and building a case to justify the store at its proposed location after several town residents together with the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance filed a timely appeal of the planning commission’s approval.
Romo and Perea maintained 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 stated in a jointly authored report and recommendation. “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 Community Plan zoning designation subject to approval of a use permit. Therefore, the proposed development and retail use are considered compatible with the surrounding land uses and general plan land use designations.”
Last year, before the project came before the planning commission, local residents militated against 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.
This time around, the board of supervisors held a hearing that incorporated a video hook-up with the meeting room at the Joshua Tree Community Center, allowing Joshua Tree residents to lodge their protests without having to make the 200-mile round trip to the county seat to be heard.
Peggy Kennedy contradicted Romo, Perea and Ostoich, insisting the project was “inconsistent with the goals and policies in our Joshua Tree Community Plan.”
Levon Kazarian, the owner of Crossroads Café, said the influx of corporate retailers in Joshua Tree would destroy the community’s “unique rural character.”
Tom O’Key, who owns 20 commercially zoned acres in Joshua Tree, said the county would force an end to the non-corporate ethos of the Joshua Tree business community with the approval of the Dollar General.
Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce President Eva Soltes said the county was giving Joshua Tree a “black eye” by approving the project and local artist Shari Elf said the Dollar Tree represented “a cancer” that would metastasize to consume the town.
One of the appellants, George Kopp, said that Joshua Tree is a vestige of the past that offers a window on the American West before it was besmirched by corporate influence.
“Joshua Tree was targeted by a different type of investor that was focused on quality of life,” Kopp said. “We created a vibrant downtown district. This chain store is out of scale, out of character and out of compliance with our community plan.”
Douglas Carstens, an attorney with Chatten-Brown & Carstens, reminded the board, “The Joshua Tree Community Plan protects independent, privately-owned business in the downtown district.”
Third District Supervisor James Ramos, in whose jurisdiction Joshua Tree lies, joined in with the project’s opponents in criticizing the size and nature of the proposal. “Joshua Tree’s economic plan says to encourage and support small businesses,” Ramos said. “I believe a community has its own right and destiny.”
There were local residents, however, who supported the project. A number of them, including a few who acknowledged they were being paid by the proponent to attend the meeting, wore yellow shirts bearing the slogan, “Dollar General Supporting Local Families.”
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. The Dollar General would provide much-needed services to the low-income people of Joshua Tree,” said Gonzales.
Rahhal said that the county was not bound by the Joshua Tree Community Plan and its precepts, and that it could not be cited as the grounds for keeping a business such as Dollar General from locating in Joshua Tree. “The Joshua Tree Community Plan articulates a vision of the community,” Rahhal said. “lt sets their vision. It is not the sole source of regulation for land use, though.”
Ramos vote was the sole one to overturn the planning commission decision. All four of his board colleagues voted to uphold the January approval of the project.