CVS/pharmacy proposal draws big community response

LINDEN HILLS — Roughly 140 Southwest residents, most from Linden Hills, showed up at a community meeting April 8 to voice their opinions about a CVS/pharmacy planned for Sunnyside & France
avenues.

The meeting marked the start of a community process, organized and hosted by the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC), to discuss project plans and gather input from stakeholders.

“We can really make a difference when we’re open and transparent with one another,” said LHiNC chairwoman Linea Palmisano at the start of the meeting.

The planned pharmacy would replace the defunct Almsted’s Sunnyside Market and a gas station on two parcels of land totaling nearly 1.5 acres. Most meeting participants were generally not in favor of the project, though some supported it and others were undecided.

Community feedback will be used to inform developers and help LHiNC create a recommendation on the project. City Council members would consider that recommendation when deciding whether to approve the national pharmacy chain’s proposal.

Representatives from CVS’s developer, Velmeir Companies, presented preliminary plans at the meeting. Developers have not submitted an application for the project to the city yet. They agreed to go through the community process first.

“We really do take to heart the comments that Linea made,” Brian Alton, an attorney for Velmeir Companies, told meeting attendees. “We’re here to listen and to find out what your comments are about the proposal.”

After a brief introduction of the plans — which call for a roughly 13,000-square-foot building with the main entrance facing France and 45th Street, a drive through exiting on Sunnyside and a 52-space parking lot — meeting participants broke up into groups to list and prioritize their likes, dislikes, concerns and any other thoughts about the development.

The lists were shared later in the evening and many of them were similar. Most residents did not want to give up the well-used gas station and were concerned that a CVS, particularly its “big box” design, wouldn’t fit the character of the
neighborhood.

“A CVS doesn’t really match what Linden Hills is,” said 20-year Linden Hills resident Abra Coleman.

Meeting attendee Rick Kothe echoed that sentiment and tied the project to the neighborhood’s ongoing debate about large, newly constructed homes, the size of which was restricted last year by City Council action.

“If we have trouble with monster houses in this neighborhood, shouldn’t we have a problem with monster businesses?” he said.

John Heer, a resident of Edina’s Morningside neighborhood just to the west of France Avenue, said he thought the design “really turns its back on the
neighborhood.”

Further community concerns included light pollution, traffic problems, environmental issues, impact on property values, the desire for a local business and a bevy of others.

But some at the meeting weren’t so sure a CVS was a bad idea.

“Of all the things that could go in there, I think a CVS is a good option,” said four-year Linden Hills resident Steve Erickson.

Several other residents said they were torn about the proposal and would like to see something done soon with the Almsted’s building, which has been closed since September.

For the project as it was presented April 8, developers would need a conditional use permit for the drive-through and would need to up-zone one of the parcels.

Alton said to keep the project feasible financially, significant changes to the plan might not be possible. But Velmeir planned to review the community input and present a response at another neighborhood meeting in mid May.

Alton said if everything goes as planned, construction could begin this fall at the earliest.

For more information about the project including a report on the April 8 dialogue, visit www.lindenhills.org.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.