Columbia Planning & Zoning approves CVS pharmacy

Columbia's Planning & Zoning Commission approved a controversial CVS pharmacy Thursday night over the objections of city staff.

The pharmacy would sit across the street from the Walgreen's at the corner of Providence and Broadway, on land currently occupied by the Ice House and the buildings housing McAdams' and Alley Cat Yoga, respectively. City staff objected for several reasons. First, the project would include a one-story, single-use building with a car-oriented property layout as opposed to the pedestrian-oriented, multiuse buildings several city comprehensive plans have envisioned. Second, staff said the city's traffic engineering department was not satisfied with the proposed right-turn lane onto Broadway from Providence. Third, staff said they did not like the fact that the project would completely enclose 157 feet of Flat Branch Creek.

Testifying before the commission, Robert Hollis, CVS' legal representative for the project, noted that current zoning laws governing the lot would allow virtually anything to be built on the site, including junkyards and warehouses. He said the project would give the city an opportunity to put something more constructive and aesthetically pleasing on the lot. In addition, Hollis noted Walgreen's and CVS stores open across the street from each other all the time as a form of competition.

Columbia resident Pat Fowler said she did not object to the idea of a CVS opening in Columbia but felt the location was wrong, a sentiment echoed by several members of the commission. She said Flat Branch Park is a refuge within the city and offers small children a place to play and that the vegetation surrounding the park shields occupants from traffic. She said the store's proposed landscaping and architecture, while acceptable in itself, would not go well with the park.

Commission members debated the project for almost two hours before approving it. No one on the commission objected to the idea of a CVS opening in Columbia, but several questioned whether it was the right building for the space. Matthew Vander Tuig objected strongly to the plan's traffic pattern. He said a proposed drive-thru pharmacy window let traffic out too close to the intersection of Fourth and Broadway. Andy Lee disagreed, saying the project was much better than the lot's current occupands and would create healthy competition that may help drive prices down.

After a motion to deny CVS' zoning request failed by one vote, the commission decided to recommend changes to the project. In all, the body has three recommendations. First, make further changes to the right turn lane to improve traffic flow. Second, move the drive-thru window farther south to reduce conflict with traffic. Third, reduce the height of the parking lot's light poles from 28 feet to 16 feet. This last change came after several people raised concerns about light spilling into the park at night.

The commission ended up approving the project by a 6-3 vote. The city council still has to decide whether to give the project the green light and must vote separately on the commission's amendments.