Sebastopol, CVS and a citizens group have reached a tentative settlement in a pair of lawsuits over the drugstore chain's downtown project. The settlement allows the company to move forward with its pharmacy at the busy intersection of Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues after agreeing to drop a proposed drive-thru window, the feature that drew the most heated opposition.
"I think it's a big win for the city," said councilwoman Sarah Gurney. "This settlement reflects the preferences of the community."
The agreement, which was reached Tuesday and must be approved by the council later this month, puts an end to an issue that had roiled the city for three years. Two new council members were elected in 2012 on a wave of opposition to the project.
After the city in 2011 signed off on the initial plans for the development on the 2.5-acre former Pellini auto dealership, a group called Small Town Sebastopol sued the city and Armstrong Development, saying the environmental study for the proposed CVS and Chase Bank was flawed. The new city council in late 2012 placed a moratorium on drive-thrus, which essentially halted CVS's plans. CVS then sued the city over the ban.
City Manager Larry McLaughlin said the settlement frees up money the city had budgeted to fight the costly lawsuits.
"I'm very happy that the bulk of the money for litigation expenses will be able to be devoted to other uses," he said.
As part of the settlement, CVS and Armstrong Development agreed to drop their opposition to the ban on drive-thrus. The developer will also divide the property into five lots instead of the originally proposed two, which will allow for other businesses at the location. The pharmacy will include solar panels on the roof, and there will be no vehicle access to the site from left turns, which could have created traffic headaches.
CVS will pay the city and Small Town Sebastopol $150,000 to mitigate traffic impacts and to cover Small Town Sebastopol's legal fees for the litigation.
Helen Shane, a leader of Small Town Sebastopol, said she still thinks CVS is not right for the downtown location, but the settlement is an acceptable compromise.
"We felt it should never have gotten the green light to begin with," she said. "The settlement was the best we could do. The 600-pound gorilla did not get to sleep anywhere it wanted in Sebastopol."
Once the city council approves the settlement, the project will go through another round of public hearings to consider the modifications to the development, likely in the fall, McLaughlin said.
Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations for CVS, said in an email the company is looking forward to getting the project back under development.
"The agreement is consistent with our long-standing commitment to ensure that our store design complements the surrounding community," he said.
"We are confident that a CVS/pharmacy will be a vast improvement to the current site and we look forward to resuming development of our new store."
Those who object to drive-thru windows say that they represent a bygone era when automobiles were king. Long lines of idling cars add harmful gases to the environment, opponents say.