CVS proposes 13,000 square foot store; Planners recommend approval, 3-2
Three out of five commissioners on the Hastings Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of a site plan presented by CVS Pharmacy Monday evening. The plan will be seen next by the City Council Sept. 16.
The CVS proposal includes a roughly 13,000 square foot building situated toward the east side of the site, with a 71-stall parking lot along Vermillion Street and 15th Street and a drive-through lane wrapping around the east side of the building. The store would offer a variety of items and services, including a drive-through pharmacy. At this time, a MinuteClinic is not planned for the Hastings store, but CVS representatives said that could change.
Because the location of the proposed building doesn’t fit with the city’s Vermillion Street Corridor Development Guidelines, city staff proposed an alternate plan that shifted the building to the northwest corner of the block, backing up against 14th Street with a parking lot between the building and 15th Street.
The alternate plan allowed for more green space on the east side of the block, explained Community Development Director John Hinzman, and pushed the store farther from the residential area east of Sibley Street while meeting the city guidelines that Vermillion Street buildings be situated along the street.
One of the reasons for the shift was to provide more space for vegetative screening between the store and nearby residents, as the CVS plan allowed only a narrow green space between the drive-through lane and Sibley Street. But CVS contends that its preferred placement of the building is the best way to shield residents from traffic coming into the store while ensuring the business will be successful. Commissioner Adam Estenson agreed with CVS.
Accessible parking is a priority, said Peter Coyle of Larkin Hoffman, Attorneys at Law, representing CVS at the meeting. The positioning of the building on the site also affects the interior layout, and the proposed plan features a layout that is proven to work. The building itself serves as a barrier, he said. The store’s least busy side is facing the residents, and only drive-through traffic would be moving through the area. The staff alternate proposal shifted the 14th Street access in line with the 15th Street access, moving vehicle traffic closer to residents.
Two local business owners spoke in favor of the CVS proposal. Christine Schaffer, who has owned Hastings Gift, Garden and Floral on that site for the past 23 years, made four arguments for the CVS plan. First, the city’s alternative would allow for faster traffic through the parking lot, she said. Second, she said that putting the building on the corner would cause traffic problems as it would block the sight lines at the intersection. Third, she said that while the city had more green space on the east side, the CVS plan had more in the front of the building, where it would be visible. That would make the site more appealing, she said. Lastly, she addressed parking concerns.
“It doesn’t work to not have parking up front,” she said.
In her years operating her business there, one of the constant hurdles she has to overcome is letting people know where they can park. There are Hastings residents who still don’t know that there is more parking than is available on Vermillion Street, she said.
Gerald Fair owns the Great Clips property on the corner of 15th and Vermillion streets as well as the Fair Office World property on 14th and Vermillion. He has been in business in that location 25 years. He said when he built the office building, he was advised by another business owner not to put the building against Vermillion Street, but he did anyway.
“It is the biggest mistake I have ever made,” he told the commission.
“People still don’t know I have a parking lot.”
In response to the city’s alternative, Fair also noted that the building could cause traffic problems because it would limit visibility. It would also block all the signage on the south side of his building.
Fair endorsed the CVS site plan, saying it would invite people in and would shield a lot of traffic noise from residents to the east.
A neighborhood meeting was held in mid-May regarding the proposal, and residents there preferred the CVS plan over the city’s alternative, said Estenson, who attended the meeting.
Two residents spoke against the plan Monday and said they worry that opening a CVS Pharmacy here would cause other pharmacies to close.
Commissioner Tom Bullington noted that the Planning Commission can’t decide whether or not the city should have another pharmacy; rather, its job is to make sure new developments meet the city’s technical requirements.
The site plan as proposed includes three driveway access points; if approved, vehicles would be able to enter and exit the parking lot from 14th, 15th and Vermillion streets. An initial review by MnDOT, which owns the Vermillion Street right-of-way, indicated that MnDOT might not approve of a Vermillion access point, as it prefers to close direct access to the highway whenever possible.
The proposed Vermillion Street driveway is located at the same spot as the current Great Clips driveway. While city staff agreed that a Vermillion Street access would be desirable, the city and commissioners recommended that it be moved farther to the north, away from the intersection.
City staff and representatives for CVS seemed to agree that shifting the Vermillion Street access north would be possible; what’s not yet known is whether or not MnDOT will allow the access at all, or whether a firm denial from MnDOT would put an end to the development process.
Mike DeAngelis, a CVS media spokesperson, said that it’s too early to make that determination.
“We are in the very early stages of our plans for a new store in Hastings, which is not scheduled to open for about 2 more years,” he wrote in an email. “As such, we prefer not to speculate on any pending decisions.”
Not all commissioners agreed with the site plan. Chairperson Mark Vaughan pointed to the Vermillion Street Corridor Development Guidelines and the work that went into preparing that document, saying he wasn’t sure the commission should disregard the recommendations made there.
Vaughan also questioned whether or not the commission should approve the site plan before knowing whether or not MnDOT would approve Vermillion Street access. He referred to the Kwik Trip proposal, which ultimately was withdrawn because of access restrictions.
The question of access was brought up by others as well. Bullington asked if it would be wiser to table the item until MnDOT gave an answer, but CVS representatives said they’d prefer to keep the process moving, to help push MnDOT to a decision.
Another concern Vaughan had was the size of the proposed store, and how it would fit into the neighborhood.
“I think it’s too big of a building on too small of a spot,” he said.
Commissioners Vaughan and Russ Rohloff voted against the site plan. Bullington, Estenson and Bryan Alpaugh voted to recommend approval. The 3-2 recommendation will accompany the site plan to the city council, where it will face a final vote.
Because the site plan includes rezoning part of the block, there will be another public hearing at the council level. That public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.