After more than two years of discussion, and a lengthy back and forth with city officials to bring plans in conformance with the land development code, Apalachicola’s planning and zoning board in October finally said no to controversial plan by CVS to build a new store on seven commercial lots spanning two blocks across from Chestnut Cemetery.
The unanimous vote followed a nearly five-hour quasi-judicial hearing that attracted a large audience of city residents, the core of an organized group that has stood in opposition to the project ever since it was formally unveiled in April 2015.
“Let me be absolutely clear on this point: We are not opposed to a new CVS,” said Apalachicola resident Diane Brewer, a key organizer to the informal group. "We oppose the CVS project’s location in our historic district and use of the city’s alley.
Dan Cox, the Carrabelle attorney who has represented the CVS developers for the past year, argued that the project, revised several times after talks with the city’s planning department, in no way violated the land development code and therefore warranted a certificate of appropriateness and approval of the site plan, as well as permission to move off the site, hopefully to another location and not to the landfill, a small house.
The debate centered on what that code says regarding lot coverage, stormwater drainage and architectural compatibility.
Cindy Clark, Apalachicola’s city planner, argued the CVS developers had yet to configure a project, in their six revisions, that would satisfy the requirements for lot coverage. She said the project, including drive-thru, would cover 10,116 square feet, with another 14,314 square feet of parking, contributing to a total of nearly 33,000 square feet on six-and-two-thirds lots, well in excess of the 24,000 square feet allowed by the rule that does not allow for more than 60 percent lot coverage.
Clark told P & Z that the proposed locations stands within a 130-acre drainage basin, one of the largest in the city, that is “the least equipped with conveyances to accommodate any flow.” She said about 600 cubic yards of muck on the site would be replaced by 900 cubic yards of compacted dry material.
The city planner said a precedent has been set to have developers pay for infrastructure changes to accommodate their projects, citing the creators of the Water Street Hotel, which had to invest $1 million in changes to the stormwater drainage system, and the developers of the High Cotton mixed-use development, which had to spend $200,000 on infrastructure.
P and Z Member Fred Vogt, a retired Connecticut architect, along with Lynn Wilson, was the most vocal opponent all evening. Wilson hammered away at three main issues, how trees would be handled on site, the height of the building and how the traffic flow patterns would work.
Architect Yann Cowart said the architecture was designed to be “typical vernacular to the Florida Panhandle” and that the height and look of the front had been “simply done from a proportional scale to match the surrounding architectural elements.”
Tallahassee attorney and Apalachicola resident Bonnie Davis argued that the C-2 designation, which allows pharmacies, was never intended to accommodate such a large scale commercial activity.
Prior to the vote P & Z member Uta Hardy said she hoped CVS would not abandon Apalachicola and that she hoped the company would scale back the project or find suitable space in Eastpoint.
Vogt read from the intent of the land development code, which clearly sought to limit overcrowding and preserve aesthetic appeal. “It (the CVS) is too complicated,” he said. “It doesn’t belong there, in more ways than one.”