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CVS Pharmacy, Chase Bank suing Sebastopol over drive-thru moratorium

Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 4:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 9:59 a.m.

The developer of the CVS Pharmacy-Chase Bank branch project is suing Sebastopol, a city where debates over development are often lengthy and virulent.

The suit claims that a 45-day moratorium enacted by the City Council on new drive-thrus, an integral part of the CVS Pharmacy project planned for the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership, jeopardizes their proposal that already has the necessary approvals.

An ordinance banning drive-thrus would be “arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory,” according to the suit filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Christmas Eve.

Sebastopol, like any city in California, is entitled to re-evaluate its policies while using emergency ordinances to maintain the status quo, Larry McLaughlin, interim city manager, said Monday in defense of the City Council action.

McLaughlin also denied that the ordinance was directed at the CVS Pharmacy project, but meant to address the issue citywide.

McLaughlin admitted, however, that the ordinance could mean that, if the City Council decides on enacting a ban on drive-thrus, that CVS would be affected.

“If you have not received a building permit or started building, the city can changes its laws,” McLaughlin said. “Nothing is frozen in place because you have a project approval. Cities are free to change their laws.”

Controversy over development is standard fare in Sebastopol.

The Northeast Specific Development Plan was decisive three years ago in a City Council election, opponents of the O'Reilly and Associates' new facility almost drove the iconic business out of town in 1996 and the Laguna Vista subdivision is still up in the air a decade after it was first proposed.

Currently, Armstrong Development Inc. of Sacramento is planning to build a CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch on 2.5 acres at Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues, one of the city's most prominent and busiest intersections.

The $10 million project has received design approval and environmental clearance from the City Council.

Although the developer still needs to get final approval on some design issues, the approvals that it has are the major ones necessary.

The project was approved, after three years and two dozen often-emotional public hearings.

The project was also an issue in the November City Council election, in which Vice Mayor Robert Jacob and Councilman John Eder were elected at least partially on the strength of their opposition to the CVS project.

On Dec. 18, the newly composed City Council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance putting a 45-day moratorium on drive-thrus, which could be extended to a year, while the Planning Commission and City Council study their use.

“Traffic and public safety on the Highway 116 and Highway 12 corridor is of particular concern of Sebastopol residents,” Jacob said. “Drive-thrus being of an auto-centric, traffic-driven use, it seems appropriate we look at how to reduce that impact on Sebastopol as a whole.”

Bill McDermott, vice president of Armstrong Development, could not be reached Monday for comment.

A drive-thru had been cited by the developer as a reason that CVS wanted to move from its present site at the Redwood Marketplace on Gravenstein Highway, where the addition of a drive-thru is not practical, to the new site.

The ordinance and the uncertainties it raises jeopardizes the project, in which millions of dollars has been invested, according to the suit.

The suit was filed by Armstrong and by Longs Drug Stores, the West Coast chain bought by CVS in 2008, and asks the ordinance be voided, for a preliminary injunction and for attorney's costs.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

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