COLUMBIA — Days after the Columbia City Council denied CVS Pharmacy's proposal to rezone a corner of Broadway and Providence Road for a new store, city staff was buzzing with what-ifs:
What if CVS just builds within the land's existing zoning? What if this plan was the best deal the city would get? What if the city has exhausted its leverage?
Carlson Consulting Engineers, a firm representing CVS, has filed paperwork that indicates the pharmacy will indeed attempt to develop the site under the current zoning, and city government is pondering its next move.
"It's a unique case for us," City Planner Steve MacIntyre said. "It's definitely the first of its kind, where developers really try to call our bluff, so to speak."
Questions remain about the pharmacy's backup plan. CVS tried to rezone in the first place because half of the land isn't zoned for parking or a drive-thru, and the pharmacy needs the city's cooperation to build over Flat Branch.
CVS spent this past summer negotiating the store's details with city staff, which resulted in a plan that included a pocket park and several architectural embellishments. Nevertheless, city staff still objected to the plan's core — a single-story, single-use building and a parking lot on the doorstep to downtown Columbia.
Representatives for CVS have neither moved to restart negotiations with the city nor submitted any new development plans for a pharmacy.
Robert Hollis, the attorney representing CVS, did not respond to requests for comment. After the council rejected the pharmacy's modified plan Oct. 21, he said CVS would build "whatever meets building codes."
City staff will wait until the pharmacy's plans become more clear to engage CVS, Community Development Director Tim Teddy said.
Mark Stevenson and Roth Properties own the 1.4 acres where CVS hopes to build. Carlson Consulting Engineers, on behalf of the landowners, applied Nov. 11 to consolidate the site's six small plats into a single, cohesive lot — something property owners do before selling or developing a piece of real estate.
The city does have some recourse if staff decides to continue opposing the pharmacy.
Covering the creek
CVS needs to cover part of Flat Branch, a stream that begins downtown, to make space for its parking lot.
A box culvert — a concrete structure that funnels water below ground — has already been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the city would need to agree to maintain it. The Columbia Public Works Department has expressed no such willingness, Teddy said.
Teddy said the city would rather add green space around the creek than cover it with a parking lot. "It's a public drainage way, so the city ought to have some say in what kind of construction, if any, takes place on it," he said.
MacIntyre said the box culvert "seems to be where the biggest questions lie, and I think that is going to be the linchpin."
The pharmacy's drive-thru might need to go through the Board of Adjustment if it lies in the northern half of the property, which is zoned for C-2 central business district commercial use.
The southern half of the property is zoned M-1 for manufacturing and allows for a drive-thru, but arranging one within the diminished area for parking could prove problematic.
MacIntyre said that the city could restrict the drive-thru in some ways, but that planners have to balance that with reasonable access.
"I don’t think we’ll be able to say, 'No, you can’t have any sort of a drive-thru,'" he said.
The city owns a small parking lot on the southeast corner of the intersection. In previous plans, CVS incorporated the lot into a pocket park.
It's unclear how the lot could figure into the surrounding development, but planners said it will remain city property.
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