Online Extra: Political Notes: Approval expected for Castro's first CVS
by Matthew S. Bajko
Now comes the exception to the rule.
One week after the San Francisco Planning Commission rejected a proposed Starbucks on upper Market Street due to new rules against chain stores, the oversight body is expected to ignore the restrictions and approve the first CVS Pharmacy in the Castro when it meets Thursday.
Last month the commission adopted a zoning change for Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street that says any formula retailer that brings the concentration of chain stores within a 300-foot radius to 20 percent or greater will not be recommended for approval.
It is meant to be flexible and allow chains with significant neighborhood backing to secure the needed permits to open. And any formula retailer rejected by the planning commission can still appeal the decision with the Board of Supervisors.
The first test of the new rules came last Thursday, May 9 when Starbucks went before the planning commission to seek approval for its fourth Castro location at 2201 Market Street at Sanchez. The proposed store had significant opposition, and according to planning staff, would have brought the number of chain stores in the area to 21 percent.
Staff had recommended the Starbucks be rejected, and in a 5-1 vote, the planning commissioners agreed, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a blog post. The vote had been expected, as planning staff had said back in February they would advise against allowing the Seattle-based chain open at the prominent intersection.
Friday Starbucks was still mulling its options and a company spokesman expressed disappointment with the vote against the proposed store. It has 30 days from last Thursday to file an appeal with the Board of Supervisors.
"We are currently evaluating our plans," Danny Cowan, a spokesman for Starbucks who works at the public relations firm Edelman, told the B.A.R. when asked if the company would seek approval for the store from the supervisors.
CVS is expected to have an easier time before the planning commissioners. The national pharmacy chain is expanding its presence throughout San Francisco and has won approval for several new stores.
A new location is currently under construction at Market and 7th streets, while a CVS recently opened on Portola Drive in the Miraloma Park neighborhood west of Twin Peaks.
Based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, CVS has spent the last year refining its plans for the Castro store, to be located in the ground floor space of the Market and Noe Center at 2280 Market Street. Radio Shack will remain a tenant of the building.
The former home of Tower Records, the storefront has sat empty for more than five years. CVS entered into an agreement to lease the space in 2011 with the family that owns the building.
A planned Trader Joe's at that location was killed due to neighborhood objections about traffic the grocery chain would create. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation at one point had looked at possibly moving its gay men's health center into the building but passed reportedly due to costs. (It is now moving forward with plans to build the new wellness and health center on Castro Street.)
To build up neighborhood support for its store, CVS abandoned plans to sell alcohol at the Castro location and dropped its request for 24-hour operations. It is also paying to completely rebuild the facade of the concrete building and install a new elevator and stairwell to the second floor and rooftop parking garage.
It is seeking a conditional use permit to combine several storefronts along the street into one 10,048 square foot space. CVS plans to have the store's hours be 4 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.
It also needs a variance in order to construct a metal lattice rain screen that would project 8 inches into the public right of way from the ground up for a height of 38 feet 6 inches. The company will also renovate the second floor retail space so it can be leased for commercial use or office space.
"The building was constructed in 1987, and currently features a dated and unattractive facade that no longer aligns with the aesthetic of the Upper Market Neighborhood Commercial Transit District," wrote Andrew J. Junius, with Reuben, Junius and Rose, LLP, on behalf of CVS in a May 6 letter to the planning commission. "The vacant retail unit is also currently configured in manner that is undesirable for most potential commercial uses."
The planning staff is recommending the store's application be approved with several conditions, such as restricting the sale of alcohol and 24-hour operation at the site. CVS will also be required to appoint a community liaison officer to deal with any neighborhood concerns during construction of the store and new facade.
Its survey of nearby chain stores found that adding the CVS would result in 18 percent of "the linear street frontage ... committed to formula retail uses" and not trigger the new rule.
"The project would provide an additional choice of pharmacy and basic everyday needs goods for neighborhood residents, resulting in prices that are more competitive and a greater availability of goods and services," states the staff report on the store.
Only one person has contacted the planning department to complain about the proposed CVS. Both the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District submitted letters in support.
Should it be approved, CVS hopes to have the new store open before February 2014.
The planning commission meeting begins at noon Thursday, May 16 in Room 400 inside City Hall. The CVS hearing is at the end of the agenda and likely will not begin until late in the afternoon.
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