Home > Design the Details, Economics, Editorial > City likely to welcome new suburban development, downtown

City likely to welcome new suburban development, downtown

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The following forum was drafted by Mike DeVries and Fred Schaafsma. The two of them co-chaired the Division Street Steering Committee.  The resulting recommendations (GV) from that committee were delivered to the City Commission 8-months ago. They have shared the following with City Commissioners concerning tonight’s decision on the CVS Pharmacy (MyWHaT) at northeast corner of West Front and Division Streets.

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EDITOR’S TAKE

This CVS project hasn’t garnered much attention in-part because it has seemed inevitable from the start. The City Commission is theoretically able to reject or influence design of the CVS project, but with the current make-up it isn’t likely. The City has lacked the political will to take a leadership role in shaping what West Front looks like in a meaningful way. If they did, they’d have already  influenced the direction of this project through stronger zoning codes that reflect our master plan calling for a more dense, downtown development in this location. 

It is a tough position for the City because of  the 15 years that this property has been abandoned. A developer has presented and no one wants to be ungracious. It is easy to rationalize that perhaps this is best viewed as a step forward, however minuscule. It’s a tough bind. It is made worse by the lack of commitment by City Commissioners to the vision citizens have called for for decades–less suburban, auto-centric development projects in our city. 

Nothing to get too excited about as it is what has come to be expected.

CVS’s plans are in tonight’s packet (PDF)

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What’s your take? 

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$5 a month makes us smile.

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  1. February 21, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Over a decade ago Minneapolis took on a grand experiment of plopping the suburbs in to the city in an attempt at “urban renewal”. Block E is now a colossal failure, and we are once again trying to decide how to patch it up. The suburbs are failing for a reason.

  2. Max
    February 21, 2012 at 9:40 am

    This is stupid. Within short distance from that corner: Sixth Street Drug, Petertyl, Meijer, Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, and Thompson’s (2 of them: one in Oleson’s and one downtown.) Both Walgreen’s and Meijer pharmacies are drive-through. Most of them have a BATA bus that stops right in front of them. So why do we need CVS in this location? There’s no benefit in it at all. It will develop an ugly corner with yet another ugly box and parking lot that will divert traffic from the road across walking/biking space and making an even bigger mess than is already there. There is no advantage to it in terms of jobs or prices either. Most CVS jobs are low wage, part time. The drugs are no cheaper than any of the multitude of pharmacies already in close proximity to that corner. What good will this do us as a city? None that I can tell. Best to just leave the corner as is and continue the wait for something better.

  3. February 21, 2012 at 10:16 am

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with a number of the comments made by the gentlemen in their letter I do wonder what they believe would be both an economically viable as well as aesthetically acceptable use of that site, if not the proposed CVS. For example, it’s not clear from their letter if the size of the building as proposed is objectionable, or just the parking. And is the size too big or too small, in their opinion? Should it be two stories or is one ok?

    Clearly, they don’t approve of the proposed use of a pharmacy, but what use would they approve of? And do we want the City Commission deciding via zoning whether we have too many pharmacies in town?

    Also, would these gentlemen prefer another medical office building as was built kitty korner across Front and Division to the CVS? Apparently their goal (and mine also) is that this be a welcoming, walkable gateway use to downtown TC that isn’t car-dependent. Is another office building like that what they want as such a gateway use? It’s maybe not as car-dependent as the CVS, but is it a welcoming gateway?

    Or are the gentlemen looking for something more like the Mary’s Kitchen Port model of a two-story mixed-use building? Maybe, maybe not, they don’t say. And how economically viable is a boutique kind of store like Mary’s going to be on Front and Division? Probably not very, I would guess, at least not if/until that whole area is developed more densely.

    For what it’s worth, my position on this is the same as the one that I believe has been taken by Russ Soyring. That is, if there’s going to be a re-zoning then it should be consistent with the master plan and to C-4 zoning, and not to what the applicant has proposed. C-4 allows for a taller building and a wide range of uses, but it allows private parking only by special use permit. Maybe a CVS would be built there but it could be permitted with less parking. And then the zoning would already be in place so that 20-30 years from now when the market demands it then somebody would knock down the CVS and put in that three or four-story mixed-use building in its place.

  4. February 21, 2012 at 11:20 am

    The on the ground reality is summed-up nicely by a comment about this project on MyWHaT’s FB post, “…when I need something in the middle of the night I can now walk there instead of getting in a car and going to Meijer.” This project will be a consumer convenience for people who live near and pass through this area; used, but not loved. And why it’s best described as a convenience store than a pharmacy.

    You’re right, in the future, some 20-30 years from now, the community may be in a better situation to build the community it wishes to see.

  5. Mike DeVries
    February 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Mike,

    I appreciate your questions. It was intended as a Forum piece that is limited to 500 words, so maybe I can offer some more commentary to your questions.

    CVS presented their initial plan to the Div St Steering Committee last May and there was some discussion with them, but what was approved last night is basically the same design concept. Let’s not kid ourselves — it is an auto-oriented convenience store with a pharmacy as part of it. Pharmacies do not need to be 13,500 sq ft. If TC is trying to enhance and encourage walking, biking, and other means of transportation that are not reliant on a personal automobile, why do we need a drive-through for this business to succeed?

    I have a problem with any developer bringing in their program for development that doesn’t fit with the current zoning and development pattern that TC presents. CVS designs their buildings to be auto-centric, hence that drive-thru and large surface parking lot. It has been very successful for them, as witnessed by the 7000+ stores in their chain. But it is a suburban development pattern, not a compact, urban one that we have been trying to promote in TC.

    I am disappointed that the Planning Commission didn’t work with them to design a concept that could later on be integrated into a functioning intersection. The last two+ years have had an incredible amount of energy by multiple constitiuents, groups, officials, and consultants working to find a solution to the Division Street corridor that could make our city much safer and inclusive of various modes of transit along this stretch of divisive roadway. I was traveling much of the time at the end of the year and was unable to attend the Planning Commission meeting on January 4th – I wish I could have been more involved about it then or before.

    It is my understanding that CVS originally had their building in the middle of the block, with parking on the corner. I am not privy to the details of that configuration but think that a building that faced Front St and had entrances on the sidewalk, with an entrance drive on Front similar to the current one, but tight to the building would allow for parking behind on the alley and at the Front-Division intersection that could have been well landscaped while providing for an opportunity to improve the intersection in the future by adjusting/removing parking for the overall improvement of the corridor and store use and functionality.

    It was our hope that the CC would vote NO and send CVS and the Planning Commission back to further refine the project so it would fit in with TC. There are numerous instances where national chain stores have altered their style and brand image to create something that was local in feel and effect while providing the services that have made them successful. I am pleased that CVS is interested in improving this location but I do not like the suburban-type program that it will now build, even with the improved building and plant materials. I had hope that TC will demand more in the future.

  6. February 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Mike, thanks for fleshing that out for me. Having submitted forum pieces myself I appreciate your frustration with the 500 word limit, and didn’t catch that this was such a forum piece.

    I forgot that there was a drive-through as part of the proposal and am very disappointed, as you are, that it wasn’t somehow taken off the table. I agree that it is also very disappointing that a more urban/walkable proposal in general wasn’t brought to the table. However, I do wonder to what degree the fact that this project was brought via a conditional re-zoning may have somewhat pre-destined the outcome. Under the state statute, as you may know, the City is not allowed to impose their own conditions on the approval of a project like this. So, at least in the technical legal sense, the City didn’t have the freedom to work with the developer to design the project as they would under a special use permit, in terms of attaching the City’s own conditions to any approval.

    However, practically as opposed to legally speaking (and here’s where I’m at a disadvantage because I’m not in TC but in Virginia) the law here may only be more or less determining of the outcome. I do wonder if the PC and/or CC had pushed harder to voice disappointment with the site plan and the drive-through (and maybe some did) then perhaps seeing a possible denial on the proposed re-zoning coming the developer would have put something else on the table.

    I agree with you that hopefully TC can position itself better in the future to get a handle on a project like this. Perhaps the City might consider up-zoning some of those areas in the master plan indicated for more dense development now and not later. The area where the CVS is proposed is, I believe, indicated in the master plan to be zoned to C-4, which would only permit parking by SUP as well as not permit drive-throughs at all (I think). Of course, it would also permit larger, taller buildings, which some might object to. And, there are probably legal and political hurdles with such up-zoning of property prior to the owner asking for it. But it would be one possible way to get the kind of development that at least in the master plan TC says it wants. And here it could have possibly prevented the drive-through as well as the excess parking.

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