After two years, 25 public meetings, hours of sometimes acrimonious debate and under a cloud of potential lawsuits, the Sebastopol City Council on Tuesday is expected to make a final decision on the controversial CVS Pharmacy project.
"It is a conspicuous location, different members of the community have differing expectations of how that space should be utilized, and people care a lot," said Mayor Guy Wilson.
Armstrong Development of Sacramento is proposing to build a 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and 4,327-square-foot Chase bank branch at the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership on one of the city's most prominent intersections.
CVS and Chase would move to the 2.4-acre site from locations elsewhere in the city.
The City Council has given all necessary approvals for the $10 million project, including approving a negative declaration of environmental impacts — except for an approved design.
The debate has raged over whether the impact report should have included a full traffic study, whether the design fits with Sebastopol's Main Street character and whether the city should take into account alleged corporate malfeasance by CVS and Chase.
The council finds itself in the unusual position of being involved in the design process, the final approval necessary before construction can move ahead.
"The issue is completely about the design, it is downtown and it needs to fit in," said Vice Mayor Michael Kyes. "The city has a business plan, and the plan is to design a downtown that is attractive for its residents and tourists. The pharmacy and bank are perfectly legitimate businesses to put downtown. What we need to decide is have they developed a project that fits in with the rest of the downtown."
In this, the fourth design, Sebastopol architect Kevin Kellogg 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. Board members said the project still looked like a shopping center-style complex with two buildings and a large parking lot.
Armstrong contends, however, that it has met all of the guidelines set down by the council and is asking the council to overturn that rejection.
"I think we have satisfied a lot of people who were critical of the project," Kellogg said. "There are some critics that are taking a hard line against the project, there is no compromise and it seems to be a philosophical point of view rather than working within the parameters of the design review guidelines."
Regardless of how the council acts Tuesday, there is the possibility of litigation.
The Committee for Small Town Sebastopol already has filed a suit challenging the environmental impact report, contending that it failed to include a full study on the impact on traffic at that already-congested intersection.
"The real issue is that a proper traffic report was not done, so the council and the public did not have all the facts to make a good decision," said committee spokeswoman Helen Shane. "I believe that had a traffic study been done, we wouldn't be here today."
Armstrong Development and CVS have had a stenographer at the last Design Review Board and City Council meetings, and could also sue the city if the council doesn't uphold its appeal