January 10, 2019

Belfast weighs proposal from Tractor Supply involving large commercial lot

Courtesy / Tractor Supply Co.
Courtesy / Tractor Supply Co.
An application to develop a Tractor Supply Co. store in a commercially zoned district on Route 3 in Belfast is under review by the city's planning board.

Belfast received its first application in 11 years for the use of a lot of 84 acres — singularly large for the city — along its Route 3 commercial zoning district.

The application, to develop a Tractor Supply Co. store, triggered a joint city council and planning board hearing on Jan. 8 to take public comment.

The 84-acre undeveloped property, a mix of fields and wooded areas, is located at 45 Belmont Ave. DMK Development of Norton Shores, Mich., proposes to construct a Tractor Supply store on about 6 acres, according to city documents. Property owner B&G Belfast Properties LLC, as required by city zoning, has submitted a master plan that identifies how future development of about 34 acres of the property would occur. The master plan identifies future development of a hotel, several small retail/service businesses, multi-family housing and senior housing.

The Jan. 8 meeting was the first of four public reviews associated with this proposal.

DMK Development proposes to construct a Tractor Supply store that is about 19,097 square feet, with about 15,000 square feet of outside display space on about 6 acres.

Tractor Supply (NASDAQ: TSCO), which is based in Brentwood, Tenn., has 1,750 stores in 49 states. In Maine it has stores in Scarborough, Sanford, Windham, Brunswick, Lewiston, Augusta and Oxford. It offers a wide variety of goods, including snowblowers, woodstoves, tools, outdoor apparel, pet supplies and more. In 2017, the company had $7.26 billion in sales. It has 28,000 employees. Tractor Supply, founded in 1938, calls itself "the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States."

Longtime debate over use of the parcel

Belfast's vacant parcel has triggered significant public debate over the years. In 2000, Wal-Mart proposed a store there. After public discussion, said Director of Code and Planning Wayne Marshall, the city council adopted a moratorium on the property's development and ultimately adopted an ordinance rejecting retail use on the property. Several years later, the council adopted an amendment that provided a process to review retail applications, for this property and others, Marshall said. The council then narrowly rejected, in a 2-3 vote, an application from Lowe's.

At the same time, the city started a process to say, 'What would be OK?'" Marshall said.

In 2007, the council identified the property as the only property in Belfast that could be developed for a larger retail store, a store larger than 75,000 square feet, provided it sold general merchandise, groceries or clothing, but not building supplies.

"This is the first proposal coming forward since then," he said.

As it turns out, the proposal doesn't fall into the "larger retail" category. Nevertheless, he said, the hearing was designed to take comment for a property fraught by past debate.

Neighbors of the property include Hannaford and Ocean State Job Lot — the two largest retailers in Belfast — as well as Renys and Hammond Lumber.

"This is an area that's been a prime retail development center in Belfast for a long time," he said.

However, the B&G property is unique not only for its size but because it's the only property in the zone that can be used for larger retail.

"It's the largest undeveloped property by a large amount" in the zone, he said. It's also subject to a unique review procedure that doesn't apply to other projects in the district, he said.

According to city documents, there are several unique provisions in city ordinances that apply specifically to any development proposed for this property.

The project is subject to contract rezoning, which involves the city and applicant entering a specific agreement regarding how the property can be developed. The applicant must prepare a master plan that identifies how the property is proposed to be developed. The purpose of the master plan is to help the city understand potential impacts associated with a proposed development. For larger-retail applications, the applicant is required to provide the city with funds to prepare a community and economic impact assessment.

The Tractor Supply proposal doesn't fall under the third requirement.

Representatives of developer DMK Development and Main-Land Development Consultants said the master plan conceptualized the development of multi-unit buildings for retail, a restaurant and a hotel, as well as four buildings of multi-family residential units to rent or sell and an assisted living center.

However, the Tractor Supply store is the only piece of the plan currently proposed.

Residents expressed concern about increased traffic, light pollution, stormwater runoff, drainage, decreased wild animal habitat, and the potential for urban sprawl, the Bangor Daily News reported. Ultimately, the council and board voted to allow the developers to proceed to the next stage of the application process.


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