$10 million development subject of suit by critics, hearing by City Council
By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sebastopol loves a good debate, and little is as contentious in this west county city of 7,500 as development.
The controversial Northeast Specific Development Plan, as an example, decided a City Council election three years ago before it was ultimately defeated.
In 1996, opponents delayed O’Reilly and Associates’ new facility by four years and almost drove the iconic business out of town. And the Laguna Vista subdivision is still in limbo a decade after it was first proposed.
Attention is now turned on the CVS Pharmacy project proposed for one of Sebastopol’s most visible corners.
“People choose to come to Sebastopol and they really want to hold onto the nice parts of the community, the small-town character,” said Mayor Guy Wilson. “When there is a perceived threat to the small-town character, there will be much concern and that does translate into civic debate.”
On Monday, the City Council will hold a hearing on the CVS proposal, which already has been before the Design Review Board eight times, the Planning Commission twice and the City Council twice and is the subject of a lawsuit by opponents.
“I can safely say it has taken an inordinate amount of time,” said City Attorney Larry McLaughlin, who has compiled an eight-inch file on the project and at some point will calculate the hours to be billed to the developer.
Armstrong Development Properties of Sacramento is proposing to build a 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and a 4,327-foot Chase Bank branch at the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership.
Both CVS and Chase have locations elsewhere in Sebastopol.
The $10 million development at the 2.4-acre site is being challenged by the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol, which believes it will increase traffic and emissions and is out of character with the city’s small-town feel.
Opposition leader Helen Shane of Sebastopol has said that instead of CVS and Chase, they want to see a pedestrian-oriented development of shops facing the streets with apartments on the second floor.
However, the issue of what should be built there is not on the table, only what the proposed project will look like.
The City Council on July 5 on a 4-1 vote already has overturned the Planning Commission denial of the project, giving the CVS proposal the go-ahead without having to conduct a full environmental report.
Since then, the Design Review Board after hours of emotional testimony turned down the proposal, ruling it was too modern and out of character with small-town Sebastopol.
Armstrong Development is appealing the denial, saying it was outside the board’s jurisdiction and the decision was made on emotional issues that were not relevant.
“We have had eight Design Review Board meetings and have made hundreds of changes,” said Bill McDermott of Armstrong. “We feel confident the design conforms to everything that is in the city’s design guidelines.”
The city staff is recommending that the appeal be granted, finding that Armstrong has met city guidelines and agreeing the opponents’ issues are not relevant.
The hearing on the appeal will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at a special City Council meeting.
You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.