Less than 24 hours after downtown's community planning group shot down plans for a 10,800-square-foot CVS store proposed for the Gaslamp Quarter, the citywide Planning Commission approved the same plan — by the same 2-1 vote ratio as the vote against it.
Wednesday evening, the Downtown Community Planning Council, part of the city's reconstituted redevelopment agency, heard complaints and concerns from the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, the Gaslamp Quarter Association, the Downtown Residents Association, and others before rejecting the plan on a 14-7 vote. The group had rejected it the first time it came before them in May with a unanimous vote.
But the next morning, the planning commission approved it on a 4-2 vote.
The planning group — all neighborhood planning groups — are advisory bodies, according to Brad Richter, assistant vice president of planning for Civic San Diego, which replaced the outlawed redevelopment agency. The Planning Commission is a decision-making body, and its decisions can only be challenged by appeal to the city council or by lawsuit.
Boos Development West's Brian Charles said CVS is pleased with the approval and pointed out that the plan for the 5th Avenue and J Street store had been changed to include the community concerns before Boos brought it back to the planning group, and to the commission.
"it was a very interesting process," Charles said of the overnight turnabout. "We listened to community concerns and made changes, including eliminating alcohol sales and adding entrances, and we will continue to listen."
The store is planned for about a quarter of the building frontage on both Fifth Avenue and J Street, where it will replace a Reeboks store, a Quiksilver store, and a women's clothing boutique.
The Gaslamp was declared an historical district in 1980, and its zoning limits the street face of facilities to 150 feet to try to keep the district looking quaint, visually interesting and boutiquey. Because the store wraps around the corner, it has 198 feet of street face, which was one of the issues remedied by adding a second full entrance complete with cash registers so it would be a true second entrance, Charles said.
The interior of the store goes deeper than the street face, so it takes up about a third of the building's footprint on the ground floor.
One of the quirks of zoning CVS encountered was that, had the store size been reduced by 801 square feet to 9,999 square feet, it would have been permitted without such intense review under the zoning rules.
"That was the space the landlord gave us — we couldn't really give back 800 square feet," Charles said. "This is really pretty small for a CVS store — our stores average 15,000 square feet."
Another community concern raised by the Downtown Residents Association is that CVS already has a store a few blocks away at Sixth Avenue and Market street. That store has become something of an eyesore, residents said, with homeless people on the sidewalk around it — it has a two-and-a-half star rating on Yelp.
"Its sidewalks are full of trash and is a magnet for homeless and panhandlers," Marsha Sewell wrote in a letter to the planning group..
"The public had a lot of concern that the other store had become an eyesore and a nuisance," Charles said. "Corporate hadn't heard about that and we are going to see what we can do to improve there.... We want to be a community resource."
The Sixth Avenue store sells beer and wine, while the new store will not, Charles said.
"Sixty percent of our sales are health and beauty items," he said. "We aren't invested in alcohol sales."
The historical association, in a letter to the planning commission, called the project "the antithesis of the type of building that should be permitted in the Gaslamp Quarter ... we cannot support a super-sized drug/liquor (store) on 5th Avenue — the antithesis of the type of building that should be permitted in the Gaslamp Quarter."