By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Although there are still several hoops to jump through and miles of red tape standing in the way, residents of Walnut Hill heard last week from the developer who plans to build a Dollar General store in the rural Florida Panhandle community.
Buckley Davis of Thomasville, Ga.-based Teramore Development, along with two consultants who are assisting him in evaluating community interest and answering questions that might arise, appeared before 17 people, most of them Walnut Hill residents, for a February 11 “meet-and-greet” at the Ruritan Club building.
“Bringing a Dollar General store to the Walnut Hill community, that’s what we’d like to accomplish,” Davis told the assemblage, adding that the company’s site selection for the retail outlet — a vacant lot at the intersection of Fla. Highway 97 and Arthur Brown Road — and its planned size have created a few snags.
“We came across some development restrictions that are currently in place with the county,” he explained, noting that Walnut Hill falls into a “rural mixed use” zoning category, which limits construction of “any commercial store or building of that nature” to 6,000 square feet. “Currently there is no conditional use option or permits … for the county. The smallest Dollar General model we ever had was 8,000 square feet, so we will have to ask (the Escambia County, Fla. Commission) for an increase in that size.”
Allara Gutcher, one of the consultants, said one of the main purposes of the meeting was to determine whether residents actually wanted a larger store, which could lead to other larger stores.
“The purpose of our meeting tonight is to get your opinion on allowing a large store, or the largest of our stores (“about 15,000 square feet,” she guessed), so that things like Dollar General, CVS (Pharmacy), Walgreen’s or other mid-size stores could come into the communities like this and put up a retail establishment.”
Although a few concerns were expressed, most of the crowd voiced approval of the plan. The concerns ranged from the store’s proposed location, on a sharp curve that has only a flashing light and has been the site of “a lot of wrecks,” to the effect such a store would have on other retail stores in the area.
The new DG outlet would feature numerous grocery items, including fresh and fresh-frozen produce, as well as pet food, pet supplies, and health and beauty items. Walnut Hill residents are purchasing such items elsewhere, many of them at Piggly Wiggly and Family Dollar in Davisville (near Alabama-Florida line), about eight miles away.
“We’ve done surveys; we don’t think it will hurt their business at all,” said Lynn Cherry, the other consultant, who asked several questions about the desire and the need to have such a retail store in the community.
Dr. Cynthia Worrell-White said the developer’s site choice, formerly the location of a grocery store, was itself a sign of good intent. She apparently spoke for a majority of the crowd.
“One thing in your favor, you wanted to keep our rural character,” she said. “You’re not really going to an agricultural area, out in the middle of a field. This has already been a commercial site; it’s a good choice for that reason.”
Mervin Gibson added that the Dollar General “should be a big plus” for the community and its residents.
Davis promised another community meeting would be held when the process becomes more definite.