Photo by Valerie Shelton – Property owner Richard Ginder Jr., asks the city council to consider his plan to have a Rite Aid built on the corner of Shaw and Armstrong. The council’s decision on the Rite Aid project was 2-2, which is a technical denial.
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
A 2-2 vote taken by the Clovis City Council on March 21 effectively denied plans for a new Rite Aid location on the southwest corner of Shaw and Armstrong.
The 7.22 acre property is currently zoned as office professional and the proposed resolution would have changed that zoning to general commercial, which would be needed to accommodate a Rite Aid.
City staff recommended the council deny the zoning change because it is inconsistent with the city’s general plan. The planning commission previously denied the zoning change and residents in the area voiced opposition to the rezoning and the Rite Aid, citing traffic, lighting and noise concerns as well as concerns that the Rite Aid would compete with established businesses across the street in the Clovis Country Shopping Center.
City Associate Planner Orlando Ramirez said although changes were made to the plan to try and address some of the residents’ concerns that staff still recommended denying the zoning change.
“The applicant modified the use for the site, removing one of the buildings located behind the Rite Aid and they have confirmed the pharmacy would not be operating as a 24-hour use,” Ramirez said. “They also changed the orientation of the site so the drive-thru use was redesigned to be on the west side away from the neighborhood. The relocation of the drive-thru could, however, create a stacking problem with cars and at this time staff cannot support the request to amend the general plan.”
Ginder and others working with him in support of the project, including representatives from Rite Aid, explained they feel there is a need for the Rite Aid pharmacy in that location and that it would not be disruptive to the neighborhood.
Bill Robinson said the current zoning on the property is not appropriate as Ginder has not been able to attract tenants for office space. When the property was purchased in 1998, the thought was that office spaces would work well there, however with the office environment changing the property has remained vacant. Since Shaw Avenue is a high-volume street, that corner is much more attractive to general commercial businesses and a business like Rite Aid would infringe less on the community then other large commercial businesses, such as a restaurant, that may also be drawn to that location with a general commercial zoning.
“What was originally perceived to be an ideal location for multi-office use when purchased has not drawn interest from the real estate market in several decades,” Robinson said. “Additionally, going into the recent recession it became painfully obvious to people in the real estate industry that Class A office space has been grossly overbuilt. Along with this fact came the downsizing of office space mostly for lack of need and in an effort for businesses to survive. During this time, a typical office model evolved and became more compact due to changes in how office workers function. There are many more field workers and telecommuters and more outsourcing than there was even just 10 years ago. Even record storage has evolved into being off-sight in the cloud and a thumb drive can hold a whole filing cabinet. The proposed general plan rezone is on the intersection of two major streets not in the neighborhood but close to residents and customers who already travel through the area.”
Jim Halferty of the Halferty Development Company that represents Rite Aid, said that the existing Clovis Rite Aid on Shaw and Clovis would be closing soon and the new Rite Aid in this location would retain the customer base in Clovis as well as save 21 jobs.
“We’re here tonight because Rite Aid has been in this community for nearly 30 years, starting as a Payless Drug Store that was bought by Rite Aid,” Halferty said. “We’ve served the community well and on average this store fills 2,000 prescriptions per week so there is a need for this for customers in the community… When the store closes in 2017, there are 21 people who will lose their jobs and I would like to see those jobs preserved.”
Council member Lynne Ashbeck questioned the need for another pharmacy in that area. Currently the Clovis Country Shopping Center on the northwest corner of Shaw and Armstrong has a CVS pharmacy as well as a pharmacy inside the Save Mart grocery store. Then, just down the street on Shaw and Fowler there is a Walgreens pharmacy as well as a Neighborhood Wal-Mart grocery store that has a pharmacy.
“It is becoming like a gas station model where you have one on every corner and we have to look at what will happen in 30 years,” Ashbeck said. “In 30 years, it might be all online or some drone is going to deliver prescriptions, who knows. You have to imagine the community in 30 years and I have to consider that. You have these long strip malls that are now being vacated because they are not the right model and now we have these free standing drug stores and that is not going to be the right model someday and future council members will go, what were these people thinking? What will we do for reuse of these buildings in 30 years?”
Halferty acknowledged that the business model could change again in a generation, but for now he said Rite Aid’s research supports the corner drive-thru model.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen also expressed concern about the project. His main concern was that the community, planning commission and city staff weren’t on board and he was hesitant to go against all three. Whalen suggested Rite Aid look elsewhere in that area where there are already places properly zoned for general commercial.
Halferty’s response to Whalen was that Rite Aid’s research has shown this as being the best location and that others, such as locations in the Loma Vista area, aren’t ready for a Rite Aid yet.
Ginder also noted that in exchange for granting the zoning change that would allow Rite Aid to set up shop on that corner that he is reducing the total build out planned for the site by 7,000 square feet.
“I’ve done a lot of development here in Clovis and the developments I build are of the highest quality and are not disruptive,” Ginder said.
Residents opposed to the change spoke up at the meeting, stating that they feel the current office zoning is more appropriate for the area.
Resident Jim Garcia, who lives on Fairmont Avenue across the street from the property, gave the council a list of reasons for why he was opposed to the Rite Aid and rezoning, including concerns that other pharmacies conducting business in the area would be compromised. Above all, he said, his main reason for not supporting the change is that it goes against the Clovis general plan.
“I think Clovis in unique in that it sticks to the plan,” Garcia said. “I lived in Fresno some time ago and was very disappointed with their planning. I look at Blackstone, growing up in Fresno since 1955 I’ve seen it run a muck, Fulton Mall was fine when it was just Fulton, but they put in the mall thinking it was a good plan and a good idea and now they are tearing it out. I agree that they do studies and things do change constantly, but how soon will they change? You mentioned earlier that pharmacies might go the way of mail order as technology is changing and what is going to happen to that Rite Aid then? It will just sit there. I’m driving down Shaw and I cross Clovis Avenue going east and I see how well it’s been developed on Shaw. It looks great compared to the west side of Clovis Avenue on Shaw where there is so much density I can see why a lot of businesses are closing; they are being pitted against each other and that is why everything is going a muck. I moved into this neighborhood thinking we were going to stick to a certain plan.
“I see across the street there is the Save Mart and the businesses in that shopping center are doing well and that is because we are sticking to the plan. That corner is a good corner because Clovis sticks to its plan. It’s a good plan and we spent a lot of money on that plan. We you start derailing from the plan, you start looking like the rest of the Central Valley.”
Ashbeck and Whalen voted against the proposed changes, while Mayor Nathan Magsig and council member Jose Flores voted to go ahead with the rezoning—with the 2-2 vote, the project was effectively denied. Whalen and Ashbeck did agree to deny the project without prejudice, meaning Ginder would not need to wait a year before bringing an updated proposal before the planning commission and council.