Dollar General racks up $1,000 fine as city fights to protect the dark skies
April 20th, 2017 under Top Stories
By CAMERON DODD
PRESIDIO — How many people does it take to turn off a light bulb? In one local instance, that question is proving difficult to answer.
Dollar General’s Presidio store has accumulated more than $1,000 in fines from the city after continuously violating an outdoor lighting law for more than two months. The store received a 30-day warning from the city in early February that some of its parking lot lights stay lit all night without proper shielding, violating the so-called “Dark Skies” ordinance. Since March 3 the store has been racking up $25 in fines for every time the light is on all night.
Presidio resident Julia West lives in the neighborhood behind the Dollar General. She told the Presidio International she first noticed the problem light earlier this year. West brought the situation to the attention of the city administration in January of this year. She showed the city council photographs on her laptop of the store’s lighting at night and expressed concern that the light pollution threatens one of Presidio’s main draws for residents and tourists: the starry night skies.
The City of Presidio in June 2014 adopted an ordinance requiring businesses to turn off outdoor lighting by 11pm or when they close. The city that each October hosts the Texas Dark Skies Festival codified protections against light pollution into local law.
Violations of the ordinance earn businesses $25 in fines for every night the light is on. The law has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2015, but until now the city has not had to enforce it.
“With most people you just have to rattle the saber and they’ll fix the issue,” Presidio Municipal Development District Executive Director Brad Newton said.
The City of Presidio notified Dollar General on Feb. 3 that it was in violation of the law. The city gave Dollar General a 30-day warning to adjust the light or face the fine. After the 30 days passed without any change, the city started tally of the violations on March 3.
Local store manager Azucena Romero signed the notice, indicating management is aware of the issue.
That tally this week passed 45 days. The light continuing to stay on all night is costing Dollar General upwards of $1100.
The city has yet to receive a response from Dollar General about fixing the situation, Newton said.
“They keep ignoring our warning,” Newton said. “The local manager said corporate knows about it, but we haven’t heard one word from them.”
The Presidio International set out to ask why resolving the situation was not as easy as flipping a switch or hiring someone locally to adjust the lights slightly downward, both of which could have been done back in February.
Presidio Dollar General manager Romero told the Presidio International the light situation cannot be handled locally but she had notified the corporate office it.
“Nothing has been done,” Romero said. “Corporate knows about the situation but I haven’t heard anything from them.”
Romero referred the International to regional manager Michael Melendez, who said he is not sure if there are light switches in the building to control the parking lot lights. He has also notified the Dollar General corporate office about the lights.
“We sent them some pictures because they wanted to know which light is supposed to be fixed,” Melendez said. According to Melendez, they are working on fixing the problem soon but there is uncertainty about whether Dollar General or their landlord have control over the lights.
“We do apologize because we want to be good neighbors to our customers because they’re very important to our business there,” Melendez said. “We have people behind us and we need to respect them. If that light is bothering them we need to do what we need to do to adjust that. Whether its us or the landlord who will turn it off.”
According to Presidio County Appraisal District records, the building the Dollar General occupies is owned by a company called ARCDG, LLC and is managed by a Phoenix-based company called Vereit. The Presidio County Clerk’s office did not have any information on a locally registered business called ARCDG, LLC, and the Dollar General store is the only building in the county the company owns.
The Texas Department of State also did not have any information on a limited liability corporation called ARCDG.
Vereit’s company website shows it manages more than 4,000 commercial properties across the United States. Vereit manages more than 500 properties in Texas, including more Dollar Generals, Family Dollars and Advance Auto Parts stores, as well as fast food restaurants and several LA Fitness gyms. The company outsources its public relations, however, to New York-based Rubenstein Communications.
The Dollar General’s lease agreement stipulates they have control over the parking lot lights, according to Parke Chapman, a Rubenstein Communications spokesperson who handles public relations for Vereit.
“It’s really a matter that you would need to take up directly with them,” Chapman said. “Vereit is the landlord but they do not have control of the parking lot lights, which are under the tenant’s jurisdiction.
Still, the situation has yet to be resolved. The tally of violations this week passed 45 days. The city will likely have Presidio’s city inspector serve the Dollar General with a fine soon, Newton said.
An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of the Vereit headquarters. They are based in Phoenix, Arizona. We regret the error.