Dear Planning Commission,
We are concerned about the proposed CVS/Chase Bank development in downtown Sebastopol. This development rests at a prominent intersection, which is considered a significant gateway to our town. As a community, we must carefully consider the impact on the character of Sebastopol that development of this site could have. What we allow to be built at this important location will visibly reflect our community values and set a precedent for future downtown development.
Sebastopol has been accepted into the CittaSlow movement. A core tenet of CittaSlow is “celebrating and promoting diversity and avoiding the ‘sameness’ that afflicts too many towns in the modern world.” Sebastopol also adopted a new slogan several years ago, 'Local Flavor, Global Vision'. The CVS/Chase Bank development is in stark contrast to CittaSlow principles and the values expressed in our city slogan. We are asking the Planning Commission to consider these questions: Isn’t it in our greater interest to encourage and support the development of local businesses over the expansion of chain stores? Does the CVS/Chase Bank development live up to our “Local Flavor, Global Vision,” slogan and promote a unique, sustainable downtown?
Our concern for the development as proposed is based on several core ideas.
Underutilized Site - The zoning code allows a developed floor area ratio of 2.0 on this site. The CVS/Chase proposal has a FAR of 0.18. While we do not believe the site needs to be built out to achieve the maximum allowed FAR, the proposed FAR is unacceptably low for a key downtown site. This level of density is more typical of a suburban strip shopping center, and not appropriate for an urban infill site. Such a low FAR wastes land in our urban core where we should be developing most intensely. The zoning also allows for a 3-story building while the proposed buildings are only single story.
Missed Development Opportunity - If the current developer were against increasing the size of the proposed project to match the FAR, the project should be designed so that future development could boost the site utilization. For example, a portion of the site could be set aside and lot lines adjusted, with the intention of allowing a future project to fully utilize the available entitlements. The proposed site is a gateway to downtown. We should maximize the development potential, not minimize it. If not in the immediate time frame, then we should reserve the capacity for future expanded use. Ideally the project would include additional retail and/or another use such as office or housing (youth hostel?) on upper floors.
Excessive Parking - The proposed development is extremely overparked, providing approximately 50% more parking spaces than required. If the excessive parking were a means to landbank a portion of the site for future development, that might address concerns about future site utilization. We should study other existing developments downtown (Rite Aid, Safeway, Whole Foods) to see the impact of parking lots on the urban landscape. For instance, North Main Street lacks the urban feel of the blocks between Burnett and McKinley Streets because of the large surface parking lots and chain store retail. The welcoming, pedestrian friendly portion of Main Street creates a unique downtown atmosphere and attracts visitors; this is what we should be encouraging throughout downtown.
While we appreciate the parking provided for Frizelle Enos along Abbot Avenue, we request adherence to the zoning code minimum for the site. In fact, we recommend considering less parking than required. In support of a pedestrian friendly downtown, we should move away from projects that are auto-centric. If parking is a concern, then the city could work with the developer to create a parking garage on this, or another downtown site. A parking garage with retail frontage is a very appropriate building type for an urban infill location, compared to a surface parking lot with a large percentage of unoccupied spaces.
Non-Sustainable Development – A related concern has to do with the sustainability impacts of the CVS/Chase Bank development. According to the proposal, this development is projected to produce greenhouse gas emissions above the BAAQMD significance threshold. (These are proposed to be mitigated with a purchase of CO2 emission offsets.) The proposed model of single-use buildings in a sea of parking is one of the primary development models that have gotten us where we are in terms of sprawl development and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the city's website, the city has development ordinances promoting mixed-use development and reduced parking requirements downtown. This is great and exactly what we should be promoting. Unfortunately, this project has neither a mix of uses nor a reduction in parking and is therefore expressly against stated city policies.
It is important to recognize that CVS is currently located at Redwood Marketplace. Due to the proximity of this location to several residential neighborhoods, residents of the north side of Sebastopol can now walk or bike to a full-service pharmacy. If CVS moves downtown, residents will be forced to drive to the drug store, further contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions.
Evidence of Need - Downtown Sebastopol is already served by a full-service pharmacy located in the Rite Aid, along with a second pharmacy inside the Safeway. We see no evidence of need for an additional pharmacy on the proposed site.
Sebastopol is a unique community dedicated to a vibrant downtown that reflects our expressed values. From the city’s website stated sustainability programs, to our honored place in the CittaSlow movement, we take pride in our long-term commitment to a healthy, vital downtown. We ask the Planning Commission to carefully consider the information we have provided, and thoughtfully study the significant impact that the CVS/Chase Bank development would have on our downtown.
Sincerely, SESAW Committee Paul Fritz, David Ferrera, Eric Spillman, Lars Langberg, Corey Hitchcock, Michael Jacob, Cary Bush, Alia VanHoorn, Dan Arendt, Holly Hansen, Tina Grob