By Lauren Korduner, Special to the Independent
CVS Pharmacy will forego liquor sales to quell objections to its proposal to take over Laguna Drug, the national retail chain announced this week in appealing a denied conditional use permit.
“CVS Pharmacy listened to the concerns of local residents regarding alcohol sales and decided to remove alcohol sales from the proposal,” said CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot.
Planning Commission members acted on a staff recommendation to deny the application in its entirety. Staff cited the sale of alcohol as a concern and included comments from the police department in its report. According to the police, the 239 Broadway St. building lies in a “high problem area” defined by numerous open container, public intoxication and other alcohol-related citations and arrests.
“It’s relatively rare that the police weighs in and expresses concerns,” Commission member Ken Sadler said during the June 7 hearing.
But the commission’s critique of the application extended to other merchandise as well.
City staff argued CVS’s attempts to differentiate its product mix were “insufficient,” noting significant product overlap with neighboring retailers.
Commission member Susan McLintock Whitin acknowledged that other chain stores operate downtown and quickly named seven to illustrate her point.
Sadler agreed with Whitin’s assessment, noting that the fact CVS is a chain does not give the commission sufficient cause for denial.
However, he added, “They have some unique challenges to meet.”
In seeking to overturn the decision by appealing for review by the City Council, CVS’s proposal will include dedicated local products, but Lanctot could not provide any details. “As this is still a proposal, specific vendors have not yet been identified,” she said.
When asked whether the changes CVS announced would satisfy Planning Commission’s concerns, Commission Chair Sue Kempf declined to comment. “I cannot comment on possible determinations of the Planning Commission outside of the public process,” she said.
CVS Pharmacy and Laguna Beach share the unique distinction of banning tobacco from its respective shelves and streets.
In 2014, CVS removed all tobacco products from its shelves, being the first national retail pharmacy to do so.
The city recently expanded its no-smoking ordinance, the first in Orange County to ban smoking from sidewalks, streets and alleys in addition to public beaches.
“We believe the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products does not belong in a health care setting and are proud to have taken this step in support of the health and well-being of our patients and customers,” Lanctot pointed out.
In its June 21 appeal filing, CVS representatives Pacific Planning Group claimed, “opposition to the application was based on the identity of CVS, as the proposed operator, rather than the nature and quality of the proposal to continue a drug store use at this location.”
Opposition to a downtown CVS store gained momentum prior to Planning Commission hearing. Sheila Bushard Jamison, owner of Bushard’s Pharmacy, circulated a petition urging the commission to deny CVS’s permit request. She gathered more than 1,200 signatures. And several opponents testified during the June 7 hearing.
As did supporters, such as local resident and downtown property owner Sam Goldstein. One of his tenants, the national retail chain Tommy Bahama, “created a whole new image to fit into the community,” Goldstein said.
CVS’s appeal describes the Planning Commission’s decision as “arbitrary” and says the continued use of the space as a retail drug store is “entirely consistent” with downtown specific plan policies.
CVS Pharmacy’s appeal is tentatively set to be heard by the City Council Aug. 22.