By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Dozens of people lined up Monday night to try to sway the Sebastopol City Council on a controversial CVS Pharmacy proposed for one of the city’s most prominent spots.
The crowd of about 250 people was about 2-to-1 in favor, based on a show of hands, with supporters calling the project well-designed and a plus for business, and those against wanting something smaller and more fitting Sebastopol’s small-town character.
Fifty-five people spoke to the council during the 4½-hour hearing. Before it began, Mayor Guy Wilson told the crowd that the council would make its decision at a follow-up meeting on Feb. 7.
Armstrong Development Properties of Sacramento wants to build a 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and a 4,327-square-foot Chase Bank branch at the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership at an estimated cost of $10 million.
The 2.4-acre site is at Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues, a heavily traveled intersection.
Both CVS and Chase would move to the Pellini location from facilities elsewhere in Sebastopol.
The development proposal already has been the subject of more than a dozen Planning Commission, Design Review Board and City Council meetings.
The City Council on July 5 voted 4-1 to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial of the project, giving the CVS proposal the go-ahead without having to conduct a full environmental report.
But the Design Review Board, after hours of emotional testimony, later rejected the proposal in a 3-1 vote, ruling it was too modern and out of character with small-town Sebastopol.
Armstrong Development appealed that denial, contending it was outside the review board’s jurisdiction and the decision was made on emotional issues that were not relevant.
The denial was not based on design but on the desire to reject the project on either imposed or personal beliefs, said Armstrong Development spokesman Bill McDermott.
He said the project was designed with a plaza, walkways under a trellis, seating on walls and rain gardens to capture rainfall. As a result, the CVS and Chase buildings would be unlike any others in the U.S., he said.
McDermott said the new complex would generate $5 million in construction activity, $500,000 in city fees, $500,000 in retail taxes, $30,000 in public art, $400,000 in public improvements and $100,000 in property taxes.
The Committee for Small Town Sebastopol opposes the development and has sued, contending the project needs an environmental impact report to address traffic issues.
Sebastopol planning staff members said Armstrong Development has met the city’s requirements and recommended the council grant the appeal.
Design Review Board member Peter Schurch said the site plan sets up traffic patterns that, at the peak, will have a vehicle exiting the site every 14 seconds and having to take a circuitous route to go west or north.
“It’s an easy place to get to but a difficult place to leave,” Schurch said.
Design Review Board member Lynn Deedler said the architecture was good but just inappropriate and unfit for Sebastopol.
Martin Webb of Sebastopol, however, said the project should be approved.
“These people have done everything that you have asked of them,” Webb said. “It is time to show that we want business in Sebastopol.”
Critics called it a big-box store that is more appropriate for San Jose than Sebastopol and it was important to keep Sebastopol’s funky, artistic and attractive remnant of small-town America.
“It needs to be rethought and downsized,” said Dale Miller, who complained about the traffic. “I drive it three days a week, and it is already gridlock.”