City advisory boards criticize downtown CVS proposal

Friday, August 23, 2013 | 5:38 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 28, 2013

COLUMBIA — Two city advisory boards have denounced plans to build a CVS Pharmacy downtown as the Planning and Zoning Commission prepares for a pivotal vote.

The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council and the Historic Preservation Commission penned letters to the city protesting the "awkward" proposal to build a second pharmacy at Broadway and Providence Road.

The planning commission expects on Sept. 5 either to endorse CVS's rezoning proposal or to recommend the City Council deny it. The letters stress the proposal's effects on traffic, Flat Branch Park, historic sites and downtown's aesthetic. 

Brent Gardner, chairman of the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council and a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, paraphrased the arguments.

"It's just the wrong location," he said. "There is no need — zero."

The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council also noted the pharmacy's entrance would face the Walgreen's store across Providence Road, and a blank wall would face nearly a block of Broadway. City officials have spoken with developers about sprucing up the wall, possibly with a mock entrance, but critics remain unimpressed.

"A 'faux' corner entrance makes this a 'dead' corner," reads the letter from the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council. "A fake-front building may be appropriate for a frontier town or movie set, but it is not appropriate for a significant corner of a vibrant downtown."

Both committees pointed out the CVS parking lot would cover 160 feet of Flat Branch and build a 16-foot retaining wall abutting Flat Branch Park. 

"This dramatically changes the complexion of the park," Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Brian Treece said. It also "forecloses on expanding the park."

"If Flat Branch creek is covered with a parking lot, we'll never see it again," Gardner said. "Once it's covered with asphalt, it's gone."

Both committees also took issue with the proposed building's stucco facade.

"Instead of proposing a building that is historically and culturally appropriate to downtown," reads the letter from the Historic Preservation Commission, "the applicant is forcing a suburban prototype into an urban setting."

The seven members of the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial because

  •  Developers would demolish three "cultural assets" — McAdams' jewelry and antique store, alleyCat Yoga and the old ice house —to make way for the pharmacy and its parking lot.
  • The Flat Branch area includes historic sites, including Columbia's original homesteads, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot built in 1909, and the butcher shop built in 1851 by John Lange, a free African-American. Although none of these sites would be directly affected by the proposed construction, the Historic Preservation Commission says the development would undercut their value. 
  • Flat Branch Park represents an investment of more than $1 million in state and federal funds. The proposed CVS would "greatly diminish taxpayers' investment in this area."

The 16-member Downtown Columbia Leadership Council outlined similar complaints, as well as others:

  •  The proposal flies in the face of every study the city has conducted on how to improve downtown Columbia, especially the 100-page Charrette Report conducted in 2009. 
  • The intersection of Broadway and Providence Road, known as one of the "gateways to downtown," currently consists of a vacant lot and an "older two-story masonry building." The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council views the CVS proposal as a step backward.
  • Building a CVS on that corner would not only preclude expanding Flat Branch but might also disrupt the city's plans to build an African-American Heritage Trail.
  • CVS wants to incorporate a parcel of city property on the street corner into its proposal. The land is currently a small parking lot, but plans suggest CVS might use it as green space.  "The City of Columbia should not abrogate its rights to taxpayer-owned property at this corner for the benefit of private enterprise," reads the letter.

Robert Hollis, the attorney representing CVS, did not respond to a request for comment. Developers will meet Monday with city staff for a closed meeting. 

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