By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A controversial proposal by CVS Pharmacy to build at one of Sebastopol’s most visible intersections was in limbo Wednesday after the City Council rejected its design plans.
Now the developer, who declined comment, must decide whether to revise the design, give up the project already approved by the City Council after a year of discussion or consider legal action.
The council’s decision late Tuesday night came after more than four hours of council questioning on design details, from the size of a portico on the southwest side of the building, the placement of the trash receptacles and the size of plaza to how many windows actually would allow people to look in from the outside.
Finally, the council voted 3-2 to uphold the Design Review Board’s decision to reject the design.
“I am not willing to say that what was submitted to the Design Review Board is the best that can be done,” said Mayor Guy Wilson.
Bill McDermott, a vice president for Armstrong Development of Sacramento, which is proposing the plan for a CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch, had appealed the design repeal to the council. He argued the company already had changed many aspects of its design, had met city guidelines and that the Design Review Board had overstepped its authority.
“This is a better project because of the outpouring of involvement in town,” said SG Ellison, Armstrong vice president of development. “This is a better project than when we submitted it, it fits well into the community.”
Armstrong Development already has received the necessary approvals from the City Council to go ahead, but the final piece is approval of the design.
The Design Review Board rejected the developer’s proposal as being out of sync with Sebastopol’s Main Street character.
The project, along with a list of City Council objections and suggestions, could now go back to the Design Review Board, where it has been discussed before in emotion-charged meetings.
Ellison complained Tuesday that those board hearings were too raucous, denying them the chance to get a fair hearing. He even asked the council to provide an intermediary or mediator, if they go back.
Zachary Douch, design board chairman, said Wednesday he was confident the project could get a fair hearing, the developer has a better understanding of what is wanted and a resolution could be reached.
But Douch also acknowledged that emotions were high at those hearings.
“It was a tremendously contentious application and not for just design review reasons,” Douch said. “There was a lot of emotion. There is a reaction amongst the Sebastopol public against the notion of having CVS and Chase on that site. It has clouded the atmosphere of the meetings.”
In the end, the deciding factor was where the project was to be located, at the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership, and whether it was part of Sebastopol’s downtown core or a transition zone between retail and industry.
“I do like the design of this building. I do not believe that this is Main Street,” said Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer. “This is a transition zone, this is an industrial location and this building fits in with the buildings on Sebastopol Avenue. A block away we are selling tractors.”
Councilwoman Sarah Gurney disagreed, saying it was the first intersection seen as people drive in from the east and is part of the downtown core.
“I don’t see it as a transitional zone,” Gurney said. “I think our city wants a downtown that is a grid of streets that is more than two blocks square.”
Architect Kevin Kellogg of Sebastopol said the architecture tries to reflect both, with storefront, sidewalks and trees that are all associated with Main Street.
“We believe we have emulated the architecture of Main Street,” Kellogg said.
Wilson, Vice Mayor Kyes and Gurney voted for the denial, with council members Patrick Slayter and Shaffer voting to grant the appeal.
Armstrong Development is proposing to build a CVS Pharmacy and a Chase Bank branch at the intersection of Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues, at a cost of $10 million.
CVS and Chase already have facilities elsewhere in Sebastopol and would relocate to that corner, the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership.
The opposition has been led by the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol, which wants something other than CVS and Chase at the corner, and has also filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging the council’s decision to not require a full environmental impact report.