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PD Editorial: It's past time to approve CVS project


After two years and 25 public meetings, Sebastopol has run out of good reasons to deny the CVS Pharmacy project targeted for the old Pellini Chevrolet dealership. Only poor reasons remain.

One of those is the notion that the project should be rejected based on the corporate reputations of the development's primary tenants — CVS Pharmacy and Chase bank.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that approving the design is tantamount to endorsing the conduct of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, whose management blunders are blamed for the company's massive trading losses.

"Would you let the KKK move into our downtown, or the American Nazi Party? I hope not," wrote Sebastopol resident Shepherd Bliss in a July 31 email to City Council members and others. "Dimon and his Chase have done as much, or more, damage in the U.S. as these other groups have."

The City Council, which meets tonight to consider this application one more time, needs to bring this discussion down to earth.

First, CVS and Chase already have branches in Sebastopol serving local customers, so the issue of pulling up the draw bridge on outside corporate malfeasance, even if valid, is moot.

Second, the City Council is not voting on whether to restore the Glass-Steagall Act or strengthen the Dodd-Frank law. It's voting on whether to approve the design of a project at Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues — a 19,000-square-foot project that's 13,000 square feet smaller than the empty buildings that now occupy the site.

The project would provide nearly twice as much parking as would otherwise be required and signficantly improve traffic flow and safety in the area. For example, there are now four driveways that empty onto Petaluma Avenue from the site and three that feed into Sebastopol Avenue. This project would leave the site with just one driveway off of each road.

In addition, the applicant has responded to 17 suggestions/directives made during the design review process in an attempt to make the project a better fit for downtown. These include lowering the height of the pharmacy, changing the architecture and adding trees and landscaping to an area that offers only weeds and asphalt at the moment.

Third, this is an issue of design and design alone. The council has already found the project to be consistent with the general plan and zoning rules and has given its formal approval. All that's pending is approval of the look and feel of the project, which the Design Review Board appears committed to rejecting, a position that, should it prevail, could leave the city open to litigation.

Finally, it's important to remember that the idea that the city can control use, beyond the usual limitations on specific businesses such as porn shops, is an illusion. Is there any question that this project would have been approved by now if the application had been made by a pair of locally owned business? But once approved, there would be no guarantee that these companies would stay in business or even be acquired by some large businesses, such as CVS or Chase.

In the end, planning officials cannot pretend they are the guardians of the gate, keeping out whichever businesses — or individuals, for that matter — they like or dislike based on subjective and arbitrary rules. To presume otherwise is an invitation to litigation.

Is it easy to imagine a better project on this site? Of course. But there's no reasonable reason to reject this one. The Sebastopol City Council should follow the advice of city staff, uphold the appeal of the CVS project, approve the design — and allow the city to move on.