Hoping to voice their opposition to a proposed CVS expansion on land just west of Chestnut Cemetery, a standing room only audience gathered for the July 11 Apalachicola city commission meeting.
But instead of a contentious back-and-forth with the project’s developers, the audience heard little more than an earnest appeal from the attorney representing CVS to incorporate the alleyway into their plans, followed by a short pronouncement from the mayor that any decision regarding the matter would not be taken up at this time.
“I would urge we wait until we get a review from the city planning staff,” Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson told Carrabelle attorney Dan Cox following his presentation. “You have greater issues than this alley.”
In his presentation, Cox outlined the scope of the project between Eighth and Ninth streets, and between Avenues E and F. He said he was seeking permission to put improvements to the alley that runs through the proposed center of the property, between the two avenues.
Cox said the plans are to put in a gravel roadway for a portion of the alley, which could be used for parking or access to the building.
“We’re not here to talk about the site plan, or the size of signs or any of that stuff,” he said. “We’re prepared to talk about the alley.”
Cox said the alley is unimproved but has been used over time, and does not extend north of the property lines into what would be a portion of City Square. He said a drive-through lane for the proposed pharmacy would run east and west and cross the alley.
The attorney said the questions are whether a change would convert a public alley to private use, and what effect this change would have on the historic character of the area.
He said his research has found four instances where the city has approved improvements to alleyways, including one in 1985 to the Piggly Wiggly, in 1997 to a service station downtown and in 2006 by the Water Street Hotel.
“None of this created a great rush of people coming in to want to improve their alleys,” Cox said. “Historically what the courts have said is the traditional use of alleys is for utility ingress and egress, and that won’t be infringed upon.”
After the mayor told Cox it was premature for the city to consider the alley issue, City Planner Cindy Clark offered a few more details about the project.
“The city staff has almost completed its review, and we have contacted the stormwater engineer, and he’s almost completed review of the plans,” Clark said, noting the city’s stormwater rules are more stringent than state or federal laws.
She said plans have been submitted to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
When asked by City Attorney Pat Floyd for her views on the alley issue, Clark declined to offer a direct opinion on what Cox had proposed.
“I think that it’s premature,” she said. “I think there are some site-specific conditions that have a bearing on the type of material being proposed.
“I think there is a presumption that if you would grant an easement (that other approvals would follow),” Clark said. “I am not sure we’re there yet. I think it would be premature to move forward until we have a better direction. There are zoning concerns.”