As a lot of you know... I was involved in a recent petition and fight against a proposed Dollar General in Inlet Beach where I live. A few of you (3) had some unkind words regarding my involvement and jumped to some incorrect assumptions. I thought I would use this blog to explain my involvement and in the end how we used technology and social media to help us win.
If you want to see the PDF I used at the BoCC meeting last week you can download it here.
The Dollar General part is at the 1hr mark. I speak at 2:44.
This whole issue with Dollar General became a concern of mine and my neighbors back near the beginning of July. The proposed store is just around the corner from my house. After researching the proposed store through public records requests of the design, application, etc we had several concerns.
Size/Scale of Store
OK... so as you can see on the below map....
This store's only exit for traffic was onto a residential street... North Walton Lakeshore. The intersection of 98/NWL does not allow for a legal left turn to return to PCB. That said, cars often do it... illegally. The assumption with the traffic study was that cars would not make the illegal left turn to return to PCB (1600') but would rather drive 4500' RT to Orange Street... make a U-turn and then head eastbound to PCB. Our concern in my neighborhood was that cars that did not make an illegal turn would take the 2nd shortest route... 1900' through my neighborhood.
In Inlet Beach we have a 'neighborhood plan' that sets rules for land usage, need, size/scale. With respect to the size/scale we found that this store was not of the neighborhood commercial scale. It is important to know there is a difference between commercial and neighborhood commercial. As a matter a fact this store was the biggest square footage/acre of any other business I could find... even a Super Wal-Mart.
As for the need of the store many people felt that we simply did not need it with several big shopping plazas going in up the street as well as a CVS, Winn-Dixie, and Publix a mile away.
So, how does one try to get answers to something like this and in the end stop a store? Well, it is not easy. Ask my wife as to the amount of time I spent researching and emailing elected officials, planners, engineers, etc. I was also not alone... I had a lot of others in Inlet Beach helping me. It really was an orchestrated effort with people coming from different backgrounds and walks of life.
A big part of it was the creation of an online petition through Change.org. This enabled us to get the news out and solicit support from others in the area. This is always tough down here bc so many land and home owners don't live here. Going door to door would be very difficult and yield few results. By going the online route we could solicit via email, Facebook, Twitter, and SoWal.com message boards. Facebook is probably where we were most successful. Once people signed the petition we could then send messages to our supporters regarding meetings and times for the Design Review Board, Planning Commission, and Board of County Commissioners. To make a difference you need numbers and for people to see your passion. Not everyone needs to speak at the meetings. Only a few need to do that, but your presence matters.
We also utilized the media to get the word out. Our station, 13, Beach Breeze, and Walton Sun all did stories on our efforts. In full disclosure I did nothing different to get coverage from channel 7 than anyone else does. I simply sent an email. Some meetings they came to... others they did not because of staffing, other stories, etc. The station mentioned my involvement every time for full disclosure.
Not to be lost in this process... our group met with the developers of the store. You see, Dollar General does not own their stores. Someone builds the stores and owns the land and building and then leases it to Dollar General for 15years. Dollar General does not own a thing.
The developers worked with us regarding the design of the store to give it more of a 'beachy' feel and I think they succeeded. See below...
Two things they would not do were to make the store smaller and change the ingress/egress to help prevent traffic cutting through our neighborhood. That is how we ended up fighting the proposed store.
Some of you that emailed me assumed we proposed the store only because it was a 'Dollar General' or a discount store. That simply is not true. There were concerns about how other Dollar Generals in SoWal have conducted themselves with respect to maintenance and code violations with outdoor merchandise sales, but that was the extent of it. As a matter a fact... Dollar General being opposed because it is a discount retailer was not even mentioned in my presentation.
The process for a store like this can be quite long... in this case... 4 months or more on our end and much longer on the developer's. There are tons of meetings and hours of effort. I can see how people give up. Luckily when you have numbers others can pick up the slack when others are out of town, etc. For me I did a lot of the organizing, but because of my work schedule I could not attend many meetings with the exception of the finally Board of County Commissioners meeting.
I hope this ends my time as a 'public activist'. I found the experience quite interesting and found the use of technology to enact change fascinating. Maybe you can use our blueprint to find success in future public battles like this in your community.
Anyway, if you have any additional questions regarding our efforts or my involvement please do not hesitate to contact me.
Chief Meteorologist, WJHG-TV