Dollar General proceeds with third Alpine store after threatening legal action

ALPINE — Despite pushback from locals and resistance from city officials, Dollar General will build a third Alpine location after threatening the city with legal action in order to obtain a building permit.

The location, at 1911 N State Hwy 118, will be Alpine’s fourth dollar store altogether — the city is currently home to a Family Dollar in addition to two Dollar General stores.

Locals lined up at a City Council meeting in October to protest the company expanding its considerable presence in the city of 6,000, voicing concerns about noise, light, traffic, safety and dwindling grocery options. Some residents have pointed to the documented impact of dollar stores in rural and low-income areas — the proliferation of the stores has been linked to the loss of other businesses, including traditional grocery stores, which critics say is deepening problems of food inequity.

In response to the loud resistance from locals, Alpine City Council attempted to stall the building plans — at the meeting in October, council took no action on a replat being sought by the company to consolidate 10 parcels into one, which was necessary for construction to move forward. “Council decided to listen to what the residents had to say,” Mayor Catherine Eaves told The Big Bend Sentinel at the time.

But according to Alpine City Attorney Rod Ponton, the city could not legally deny the replat or refuse to issue a building permit for the location. In a press release circulated by the City of Alpine on Friday, Ponton cited the Texas Local Government Code in stating that replat applications conforming to applicable state and city regulations must be approved — that being the case, the application was approved on December 8, he said.

The city’s hesitance to issue a building permit had already placed it on the wrong side of the law, Ponton said. When the city attorney sent a letter explaining that the city had taken no action on the replat request and did not wish to issue a permit, Dollar General responded on November 16 by threatening legal action against the city. And if taken to court, the city would not have had a leg to stand on, legally speaking.

“Cities can’t block legal businesses doing legal things on private property if they’re otherwise complying with zoning and setback and building standards,” Ponton told The Big Bend Sentinel. And Dollar General was operating within the bounds of the law. 

“This is not a bordello, it’s not a sexually oriented business, it’s not a drug selling business,” he said. “It’s not doing anything illegal.”

Mayor Eaves said she sympathizes with locals’ concerns over the incoming store — though “not every Alpine resident is against it,” she said — but the city’s hands are tied. 

“I get what the citizens are saying who really don’t want it in their front yard, but there’s nothing that can be done,” said Eaves.

The process of paving the way for the new dollar store began in the summer, when the land’s previous owner — Horse Apple 118, LLC — requested it be annexed into the city for commercial use for the purpose of constructing a Dollar General (at the time, the property fell outside city limits). The city approved the annexation, a decision that later generated some controversy — at the October council meeting at which the requested replat was discussed, Mayor Eaves said she had been under the impression the annexation was legally required, though Ponton maintained he had no memory of saying that was the case.

In a letter to the editor published in this newspaper, Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Amit Rangra expressed frustration with the city’s process and perceived lack of transparency around the annexation approval — if the annexation request had come before the P&Z commission first, Rangra argued, citizens around the site would have been properly notified and would have had the opportunity to attend public meetings on the matter.

Eaves penned a rebuttal stating it was not standard procedure for such a proposal to appear before the commission ahead of City Council. She also said notices regarding public hearings were published in the Alpine Avalanche and on the city’s website.

In any case, both Eaves and Ponton concluded that approving the annexation was the best possible option for Alpine, given the circumstances — building on county land would have exempted the company from city building regulations, and Alpine would not have received any property or sales tax revenue from the business.

“It was in the county at the time, and there were absolutely no regulations,” said Eaves. “Someone pointed out you could’ve had an adult bookstore go in there, because there would’ve been no regulations.”

Eaves said that Dollar General will enjoy a reduced water rate as a perk of building on city land — Alpine, meanwhile, will benefit financially, and the city will be able to enforce ordinances.

“They’re going to have to follow city ordinances — they’re going to have to follow dark sky ordinances,” said Eaves. “The residents of Alpine are going to benefit from the sales tax revenue and the property tax.”

When reached for comment, an unsigned email from “DG Public Relations” stated only that the company was “still finalizing a due diligence phase” for the new location.