COLUMBIA— The summer of negotiations between CVS Pharmacy and city planners about rezoning land near Flat Branch Park culminated when city staff issued a report calling the CVS's proposal "unsupportable."
The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Daniel Boone City Building. The City Council will make the final decision.
Staff's main objections, as enumerated in the 82-page report, are the building's drive-thru, its aesthetics and the impact it would have on Flat Branch Park.
"It just doesn't fit," said city planner Steve MacIntyre, who prepared the report. "That's the bottom line. We can't recommend something that doesn't fit."
If the city rezones the land, CVS would demolish three buildings and cover part of Flat Branch with a parking lot.
MacIntyre acknowledges rezoning the land from its current mix of commercial and industrial designations would bring it more closely in line with surrounding properties, but approving the store would muddle nearly every plan the city has for the "gateway" — the entrance to downtown at Providence Road and Broadway.
CVS has postponed the Planning Commission vote twice in order to revise its building designs. The latest version — MacIntyre said it's the fourth — includes a brick façade, a display window along Broadway and a pocket park.
"Despite these architectural embellishments," the report reads, "city staff believe that the lack of a pedestrian-oriented entrance onto either Broadway or Fourth Street, combined with the location of the drive-thru lane along Fourth Street frontage, and the one-story auto-oriented nature of the request as a whole to be undesirable at this major gateway to downtown."
City staff members have joined a chorus of city groups who have been lobbying the Planning Commission and City Council to block the development. The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council and the Historic Preservation Commission have each written strongly-worded letters denouncing the CVS proposal.
MacIntyre said rezoning proposals are not simply "a black and white situation where there's a right answer and a wrong answer."
"But in a case like this, there's enough indication of what would be preferred on this corner — based on existing community plans — that it's really our duty to forward that information along and point out that it doesn't comply with what may be envisioned there," he said.
Robert Hollis, an attorney for the property owner, Mark Stevenson, submitted the application to rezone on July 1.