Armstrong Development Properties, Inc., — the corporation behind the proposed CVS/Chase project at the site of the former Pellini Chevrolet — eased the suspense last week by filing a new design for the controversial development that is widely considered to be the heart of Sebastopol.
The 7-page document, submitted on April 11 along with a revised 8-page site plan, addresses concerns voiced in a series of design review board (DRB) and City Council meetings that have been going on for more than two years.
The new proposal is expected to go back before the DRB on May 16.
In February 2010, CVS/Chase submitted its initial proposal and from April to June 2011 there were four DRB and Planning Commission meetings, with the Planning Commission denying the project on June 14 last year.
City Council overturned the Commission’s decision in July and approved an application for an alcohol use permit and the abandonment of Barnes Avenue, which will be widened and improved. The city would then retain the rights to the street and be able to reacquire it at any time.
The final months of 2011 saw several long and contentious meetings, which culminated in the denial of the design and an immediate appeal by Armstrong.
There were multiple hearings in January and February this year, with up to 250 people crammed into the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center voicing support or trepidation during the marathon meetings.
The two council votes reflected a split, with councilmembers Patrick Slayter and Kathleen Shaffer voting in favor of letting the project go through and Mayor Guy Wilson, Vice-Mayor Michael Kyes and councilmember Sarah Gurney denying the Armstrong appeal of the DRB denial.
For two months there has been rampant speculation as to whether Armstrong would reapply and return to the DRB, walk away from the project, or engage in litigation with the city.
Further complicating matters, is the pending litigation by an organization dubbing itself the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol — comprised of Helen Shane, John Kramer and Jane Nielson — which is threatening to sue in order to get a full environmental impact report on what they consider to be an inadequate traffic study. Armstrong would be on the hook for all legal fees, including reimbursing the city, at least in part, for staff time devoted to the lawsuit.
Among the design issues voiced by dissenting councilmembers was the height of the building and a design that did not “reflect and compliment the character of the downtown core area”; the size and shape of a proposed portico; the location of a “pedestrian plaza,” which initially was slated for the corner, but has now been located between the two proposed buildings.
The shape of the buildings and materials have been altered, in order to be “based on the adjacent Main Street retail area rather than … create a bridge between the historically industrial area to the West of the property.”
Additionally, Gurney took issue with the windows proposed in the initial design, wanting them to be clear and unblocked and was critical of its “boxy” design, although Slayter — an architect — took issue with the “ambiguous” term.
Armstrong’s proposal attempts to address those issues, as well as Kyes’ issues with the location and screening of the dumpsters.
In a nod to the traffic issues that were raised, the new design has eliminated a two-way driveway on Petaluma Avenue, making it a one-way entrance only and the dumpster area has been completely redesigned, facing away from traffic on Sebastopol Avenue (Highway 12).
On Tuesday, Wilson said that he hadn’t had a chance to look at the new plan in detail, but that from a cursory glance, it looked as if Armstrong was trying to address the issues Council had raised.
“It looks like they’re trying to make a conscientious effort to comply,” he said.
Wilson is also heartened by the belief that the community has learned to be “more sensitive to everyone’s rights” and the discussions will be less contentious.
“I’m confident the next DRB meeting will be held with more sensitivity and respect,” he said. “It’s up to the city to give the applicant due process and a fair hearing.”
According to Planning Director Kenyon Webster, the process will be the “same as before with DRB.”
“I would expect a lengthy presentation and public comment at the first meeting (expected sometime in May), with Board comments, possible further revisions at next meeting, then back for action,” he said. “It may take two to four meetings. Once the Board acts, their decision can be appealed to the City Council.”
As to the pending litigation, the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol is sitting at the sidelines, waiting for the process to work itself out.
“We are looking over the recent submittal from Armstrong, and will make our decisions in due time,” Shane said.
Armstrong representative William McDermott was unable to comment.