This Could Happen to You

Sprawl and poor development decisions pop up everywhere; infill that adversely effects its surroundings can happen almost anywhere, even in a historic district in picturesque Vermont.

Let’s use Fair Haven as an example. Traveling through Fair Haven, VT on VT Route 22A or VT Route 4 you’ll pass well kept historic buildings; the highways lead to a large open town green surrounded by historic commercial blocks, civic buildings, and significant homes overlooking the green, including two historic residences constructed of marble. This area is the Fair Haven Green Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Standing on the edge of the town green.

While driving into town from Route 4A West, something jumped out at me. See below.

Fair Haven, VT. Dollar General has moved in next to the public library.

What? Dollar General sits next to the Fair Haven Free Library, a 1908 Carnegie Library. And on the other side is the Fair Haven Grade School – in another historic building.

Fair Haven Grade School, Dollar General, Fair Haven Free Library.

This is located in the Fair Haven Green Historic District – a nondescript modern strip mall type shopping building sandwiched in between two architecturally significant buildings and adjacent to many more. It’s like a slap in the face – and it’s not even my town!

It gets worse. Take a walk further down the green and this is your vantage point:

The Dollar General sign must be at the very edge of the property line. Talk about ruining the view shed. Click and zoom in for the full effect.

Taken out of context, this library now looks like it’s the owner of the Dollar General sign. How did this happen? Granted it is just a sign, but in a state that outlawed billboards and in a historic district like Fair Haven, it’s unfathomable. You could say that a sign isn’t a billboard, but if you consider relative size to the building it’s in front of, that Dollar General sign might as well be a billboard. And to clarify, I’d have the same opinion regardless of the sign in front of the building. This is not an issue of Dollar General, although I was ready to be up in arms about yet another Dollar General. However, Google Maps shows the street view as a Ben Franklin store in the same building with an equally large sign in the same location.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any information about the development of this lot. The questions to ask are: (1) How did this happen? (2) Was it a question of zoning? (3) Why did no one stop it? (4) Why wasn’t a better infill design chosen for this lot? (5) Has the Town fixed the problem so this doesn’t happen again?

I’d consider this a cautionary tale, especially as small scale sprawl continues to be a threat. Since it’s not a strip mall, it’s easier to slip through the cracks. Chain stores are not necessarily the main issue here – poor “architecture” is the bigger problem of the moment. Be on the lookout, because poor development results in adverse effects to historic properties and districts and a decrease in quality of life (it’s all connected).


10 thoughts on “This Could Happen to You

  1. Andrew H. Deci says:

    I’d add to your list of questions:

    (1) Does the community value preservation? If they do, is there concept or value of preservation reflective of the level of preservation that you and I are familiar with?
    (2) Were there local architectural/preservation controls in place when it was developed?
    (3) If there were local architectural/preservation controls in place, were there specific guidelines or directions for reviewers/developers to use?
    (4) Are there local architectural/preservation controls in place now? Are there specific guidelines or directions for reviewers/developers to use?

    I guess my point is, even though a NR district has been identified in the community, is the local community committed to a high-level of preservation? If not, our role as preservationists is not to disparage past mistakes, but to build and/or enhance the local consensus.

    Without doing ANY research, my first opinion of the picture is that it looks like the store was built in the late 1980s/early 1990s and probably before any local controls were in place.

    My $0.02!

    • Kaitlin says:

      Great questions, Andrew. I was able to learn that the store was in fact built as a Ben Franklin back in 1966 (familiar year, huh?). Also, Fair Haven no longer has a town plan and is no longer a Designated Downtown in Vermont. Seems like the town could get itself into trouble if it doesn’t get its act together soon.

      So, no, there were no controls in place. And apparently there aren’t now either. But, if you could see the rest of town, you’d be dumbfounded that this building could be there.

  2. Jen Parsons says:

    I’ve noticed 2 Dollar Generals get built in what seems like minutes. Concrete block construction, no windows…Hideous logo signs… One in Richford and one in Enosburg. It appears DG is taking over VT. It is so ugly. They could try harder. I mean, do we really need signs that light up in the markets that they are in? I’m pretty sure everyone can see that they are there. A sign change could go a long way to the DG problem, throughout VT. Just observations–it appears DG and Maplefield’s are taking over. While I enjoy the Maplefield’s coffee selection, I do kind of miss weird gas stations. Everything is just so boring…

    • Kaitlin says:

      Ugh, yes, Dollar General is popping up everywhere. As far my chain disdain goes, it’s up there with Walmart and similar big box stores. Dollar General doesn’t even try, and a sign change could go a long way, I agree. There are proposals for Dollar General in Ferrisburgh and North Moretown right now. yuck. Just what we do not need.

      Good point about Maplefields. No longer are gas stations unique… they are so predictable and boring.

      Another big box going up everywhere is Kinney Drugs.

  3. Nancy says:

    Interesting article, but I’m not sure I 100% share your opinion. Based on these pictures, the building appears to be a rather sympathetic infill: it’s set back on the property lot, even back farther than the Carnegie library. It’s size is also in keeping with the scale of the adjacent buildings, and it even appears as if some effort has been made to match the design and colour of the roof to that of the library. By preservation standards, the building is true to its time, is reasonably respectful to, and compatible with, the adjacent historic properties- I know a lot of neighbourhoods that would kill for infill as sympathetic this! The sign is unfortunate, but perhaps this could serve as a catalyst for the town to pass a more comprehensive signage by-law!

    As far as questions go, I’m also really curious to know what existed on the site prior- why did this plot of land slip into the contemporary, and not others?

    Anyway, just my two cents!

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Nancy. Yes, I suppose the greatest disparity between the historic buildings and the “new” development is the sign. It should not be there at all, especially because the building has an equally large sign on it. And, it’s not a high speed traffic area, so passers-by would be able to see it.

      However, I’d have to disagree with you that this building is representative of its time. To me, it’s just another large box store built in the second half of the 20th century and does not contribute architecturally about the 1960s (when it was built) or to the town. The building is set back much further than it appears in these photographs, thereby creating a large parking lot in line with the historic structures. Thankfully, as you mention, the scale is generally in keeping with the other buildings. However, there is no regard to the facade. I do not think that the building is compatible or sympathetic.

      But, of course, that’s just my opinion. Thanks for weighing in.

      I am also curious as to what existed before hand. If I find out, I’ll let you know.

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