A vacant pasture north of Taos may soon be home to a national chain that specializes in discount housewares, groceries and clothing.
Taos County officials have confirmed that a developer is in the early planning stages to add a Family Dollar store in El Prado. The location of the proposed store would be near the Overland Ranch complex, just north of the intersection of U.S. 64 and Ben Romero Road.
According to Taos County Planning Director Rick Bellis, nothing has been approved for the store or site, and nothing has been formally submitted to the county.
While the company says the store would be an added convenience for residents north of town, developers may have a fight on their hands.
Last week, word of the proposed store created an uproar among some community members who voiced opposition to the project. A posting on Facebook from Taos resident Gregory Weeks was addressed to “friends united against a northside Family Dollar.” Part of the posting read: “Many feel sick to their stomachs at the thought of a Family Dollar store being built in El Prado. With our community united, this will NOT happen.” A meeting was held Tuesday evening (Oct. 25) to organize community members who were opposed to the project.
But Family Dollar spokesman Josh Braverman said in an email to The Taos News that Family Dollar is a “neighborhood store.”
“Our vision is to be the best value and convenience retailer serving the needs of customers in our neighborhoods,” Braverman said. “We work hard to be part of the community.”
Braverman said small store sizes allow the company to adapt stores to their surroundings. He said that the company currently plans to open the 8,000 square-foot El Prado store sometime during the second half of 2012.
While the financial slowdown has hurt many companies, Family Dollar recently announced that it plans to open up to 500 stores nationwide in 2012. In the last two years, Family Dollar stores opened in Peñasco and Questa. The existing Family Dollar in Taos is located in Cruz Alta Plaza beside Albertson’s.
The Hutton Company based in Tennessee is developing the project in El Prado. According to the company’s website, The Hutton Company is currently working on Family Dollar stores in Las Cruces and Santa Fe.
The land on which the proposed store would be built is now owned by Jim Leahy, who also owns the nearby Overland Ranch complex. Leahy told The Taos News that the developer had shown interest in buying the property and that he had no opinion on how it would be used if sold.
The land has not yet changed hands, and county planning director Bellis said in an emailed press release that he was told the sale is contingent on the project getting a green light from the county.
Bellis said the county has met twice with the current property owner to go over preliminary designs. Bellis said the county raised concerns about parking, lighting, signage, the direction of the entrance, and “whether the design is context sensitive to the character of the neighborhood, the surrounding buildings in the area, and to the site.”
Preliminary drafts of the project are undergoing revisions, and Bellis said a full application would probably not be submitted to the county before the end of the year.
Under the current land use code, Family Dollar will have to apply for a Special Use Permit for commercial use in a rural agriculture zone. Bellis said the store would probably need a parking variance as well.
The Taos County Planning Commission would need to approve the Special Use Permit, and the Taos County Commissioners would have a say on the parking variance. Bellis also said the developer would be asked to participate in a neighborhood meeting to explain the project and address residents’ concerns.
“This type of early dialogue has worked well in the past in helping to inform the public, reach consensus (where possible) and to let the developer know what community concerns they are going to need to address in getting approvals,” Bellis said in the release.
Bellis said final approval would require at least two additional public hearings. Anyone interested in receiving information about the project should email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (575) 737-6304.