Residents work to ensure Seattle's new CVS stores fit in

SEATTLE -- It's not every day you hear neighbors actually complaining a proposed development is too small and should be taller, but in the case of Wallingford that's exactly what happened when residents learned of CVS Pharmacies' plan to put up a new, single-story building along a main commercial corridor in the neighborhood center.

"Some felt there should be housing incorporated into the project, several floors of housing, and evidently the Design Review Board felt that, too," said Lee Raaen, president of the Wallingford Community Council.

CVS Pharmacies has plans to build three stores in three Seattle neighborhoods, including Wallingford. While some Wallingford residents don't like the idea of yet another drug store opening in the neighborhood -- there are two within a block of where the new CVS will be located -- Raaen said others felt the look and feel of the proposed building didn't match the neighborhood and didn't offer enough benefits for the community.

"At the time CVS presented the design it looked like every CVS design in the country," Raaen said. "It doesn't belong in our urban neighborhood; it's the type of thing you would see in a suburb."

And, Seattle city leaders agreed. In September, the City Council approved emergency legislation requiring new developments to meet minimum density standards in urban villages, such as Wallingford.

"The purpose of the legislation is to prevent valuable property in these areas from being developed with projects like stand-alone stores with large areas of surface parking. Such projects are contrary to our Comprehensive Plan and Neighborhood Plan policies for these areas and could limit our ability to meet our goals under the Growth Management Act," Councilmember Richard Conlin wrote in a recent blog post about the CVS proposal.

While the interim legislation doesn't affect projects already in the permitting process, Conlin said it helps ensure future projects fit in line with neighborhood plans. And, it seems the Rhode Island-based drug store chain is listening.

Following a series of meetings with community leaders, including several from the Wallingford Community Council, CVS revamped its design plans for the corner of Northeast 45th Street and Meridian Avenue Northeast, which originally included tearing down the existing building and putting up a brand new one. CVS also started working with Schemata Workshop, a local architectural firm, to help the company meet design standards and interests in Seattle. Based on that feedback, CVS unveiled three new design plans during a follow-up design meeting earlier this month.

"The designs submittedare a lot better than the original design," Raaen said. "They agreed to a lot of changes that the community council land-use members suggested."

Each of the three designs are built around keeping the building's original faade and appearance, with slight variations, and remodeling the interior.

"They also reduced the signage, so it's not as glaring and obtrusive," Raaen said.

While each of the new design plans include recommendations made by community members, none of the three proposals include additional stories for housing. During the second design meeting, Raaen said a CVS representative shared the fact that the company is leasing the site from the original property owners, who have owned it for a long, long time, and it is the property owners who do not want anything but a one-story building on the site.

"CVS said they can't buy the property; the property owners don't want to sell," Raaen said. "They only have a 25-year lease, so they can't incorporate an apartment building when they may have to give it back in 25 years."

The Design Review Board has not yet released its report or recommendations for the project following the latest design meeting. A representative from CVS said they are still in on-going discussions about the project and would not share any more details on whether the company was leaning one way or another with its design options.

CVS Pharmacies is also planning to open a store in Uptown, which will include a second story with office space, and one in West Seattle.