By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A CVS Pharmacy and a Chase Bank branch finally received the go-ahead from the Sebastopol City Council after one of the most contentious debates over the city’s identity in decades.
A Sacramento developer’s plan for one of Sebastopol’s busiest intersections was passionately discussed down to the last minute, winning at about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday on a narrow 3-2 vote after four hours of discussion.
The decision came after two years of controversy and two dozen meetings that centered on whether the pharmacy and bank branch buildings were a business and shopping boon to Sebastopol’s Main Street or just another variation of a suburban shopping center.
In the end, the City Council assumed the lead role in design approval.
“We have come to the point that we have a much better design than at the outset,” Mayor Guy Wilson said. “We have come from what was a pretty mediocre first effort.”
The council granted an appeal by Armstrong Development, which was contesting an earlier, second rejection by the city’s Design Review Board.
But it also added conditions that the developer include another entrance at the corner of Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues to accommodate downtown pedestrians and to convert a one-way drive to a grass-covered fire lane.
The debate began at 8 p.m. Tuesday in front of an audience of 250, but the crowd dwindled to 50 by the time the council approved the project shortly after midnight.
Wilson and council members Patrick Slayter and Kathleen Shaffer voted yes, while Vice Mayor Mike Kyes and Sarah Gurney were opposed.
“If you make the conscious decision to come downtown, then you have to fit in with the downtown,” said Gurney, who said she still is unhappy with the design.
Gurney also told the developer and CVS that they need to be willing to work with the city, or they should stay in their current location at the Redwood Marketplace.
Whether the two conditions added by the council will hinder the project remained a question.
The entrance at the corner of Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues would be meant for pedestrians frequenting the nearby Barlow project, which is under construction, and other businesses downtown.
The entry could be in addition to a door facing the parking lot.
CVS has resisted having a second door at that location, saying it creates safety and theft issues.
CVS also wants vehicle access at the in-only driveway on Petaluma Avenue. However, the council is requiring that it be planted with grass and be a fire lane so a plaza can stretch between the pharmacy and bank buildings uninterrupted by the driveway.
Armstrong spokesman Bill McDermott didn’t have an immediate response to the conditions after the vote and could not be reached for comment later Wednesday.
Councilman Kyes said that he was not satisfied with the redesigned pharmacy building, which has varied roof heights, peaking at 26 feet.
The developer is proposing to build a 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and 4,327-square-foot Chase bank branch at the site of the former Pellini Chevrolet dealership, which has been vacant for five years.
CVS and Chase would move to the 2.4-acre site from the Redwood Marketplace.
Supporters include Sebastopol Citizens, a group that says CVS followed the rules, made the necessary changes and should have had approval much earlier in the process.
“A lot of other issues are not being dealt with in the city because we are spending all this time on this issue,” said group co-founder John Henel. “This should have been approved a while ago.”
Critics contend that the two large buildings and parking lot are out of character with Sebastopol’s storefronts and small businesses.
A citizens group, Small Town Sebastopol, has filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging a negative declaration on environmental impacts, contending there needs to be a full traffic study of that intersection.
Helen Shane, a founder of the group, also said they oppose the design.
“We want something that looks like Main Street, that is pedestrian friendly and not a parking lot, and the height is not harmonious with the surroundings,” Shane said.
The design approved Wednesday is the fourth presented by Sebastopol architect Kevin Kellogg. It varied roof heights, added a brick facade instead of quasi-industrial metal siding, removed some parking, created a larger plaza, added clear glass windows and gave the driveway a one-way entrance.
The changes were made at the request of the City Council in February, but the redesign was still rejected by the Design Review Board on May 30.
You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@ pressdemocrat.com.