The San Bernardino County Planning Commission on Thursday approved a building permit for a Dollar General retail store in Joshua Tree after a four-hour public hearing in which dozens of people appeared in protest of the project.

The Tennessee-based company plans to build a 9,100 square-foot store on the northwest corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Street. It will be the first national chain retail store to open shop in the desert community.

The small-box retailer has significantly expanded its High Desert footprint in the last year, opening stores in Yucca Valley, Barstow, Apple Valley and Victorville. A second store will soon open in Barstow and another is set to break ground in Twentynine Palms, said Tim Saivar, principal architect for Dynamic Development LLC, the company tasked with building the stores.

Residents and business owners who attended Thursday's meeting in opposition to the project pleaded with commissioners to reject the proposal, saying Dollar General is not conducive to the independent mom-and-pop business climate of their community. They clutched octagonal red signs that read, "Shop local! Support Joshua Tree Businesses."

The point they hoped to drive home was their strong desire to preserve the rural character of Joshua Tree, and that Dollar General's presence in their community could open the door for other unwanted chain retailers to come in.

They feel the store would be a blemish on the delicate and tranquil landscape that is home to Joshua Tree National Park, which encompasses 1,234 square miles, attracts more than one million visitors a year and generates roughly $60 million annually.

"So make no mistake, it is character which is at issue here. With the exception of two gas stations, this would be the first national chain store in Joshua Tree," said resident Bonnie Kopp.

Rancho Mirage resident Kerri DePierro, who owns the 1.45-acre parcel where the store is to be built, said Dollar General is exactly what Joshua Tree needs to inject revenue into its economy.

She said Joshua Tree's unemployment rate hovers at 13 percent and that Dollar General would bring in 15 full-time jobs and five to eight part-time jobs.

Mark Ostoich, an attorney representing Dynamic Development, told the commission that the proposal complies with all guidelines of the county's general plan and development code and Joshua Tree's community plan, and therefore should be approved.

The commission concurred, voting unanimously to approve the project.

Joshua Tree resident Jay Babcock said the community will appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors. He said a collection pool has already been started to raise the roughly $1,200 to file the appeal.

"We'll have more than enough money to do this," Babcock said.

joe.nelson@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-386-3874